Friday, 3 December, 2021

Thoughts on Quality of Higher Education

  • Md. Abdullah Al Hasan Chowdhury
  • 2nd November, 2021 04:53:06 PM
  • Print news
Thoughts on Quality of Higher Education


We are now living in globalized world. Globalisation brought nations closer to one another, enhanced cooperation among nations as well as ushered in a new era of competition. In this competition knowledge reigns supreme. Economy is now knowledge-driven and society is knowledge-based; so knowledge is at the centre stage that determines way to prosperity and advancement of a nation. Hence a nation lagging behind in knowledge is doomed to face existential threat bringing into focus the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest.

So question now arise how will we ensure advancement of knowledge or for that matter build a knowledge-based society? The answer is through education or quality education. So education is the pathway to knowledge and wisdom that leads a nation towards progress and prosperity. Quality education is now a buzzword in society as well as in educational arena. Bangladesh’s success in education is quite spectacular, especially from quantitative perspective, that is, in terms of achieving enrolment target in primary, secondary and higher secondary education. At tertiary level also enrolment recorded impressive rise. Some other impressive successes include fall in dropout rate, increase of female education at all level especially in primary and secondary level, establishment of new educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities, building infrastructure with learning facilities, use of digital technology in education even at remote and far flung areas of the country etc. Our literacy rate is now around 73%.Despite spectacular achievement as mentioned above when the question of quality of education comes we don’t feel comfortable as the expected level of quality that matches the international standard is yet to be achieved. Hence the main focus of education is now ensuring quality of education so that our system can deliver international standard education.

Quality education is now a common slogan not only in Bangladesh but also in international arena. UN sponsored SDG goal 4 involving education is focused not only on education for all, but also in a very categorical term calls for ensuring quality of education for the progress of human being.

Like other corner of the world pandemic hit hard the education in Bangladesh as well. But through using digital technology Govt tried its best to keep learning or academic activities running normal. Still now online classes are being held in all kind of educational institutions ranging from primary to tertiary level of education. Though due to fall of infection rate as per the Govt decision educational institutions partially resumed in person classes but whether the classroom based education will run in full depends on Covid situation. The authorities are closely monitoring the situation. Even introducing online education was not that much easy one, it had to cross so many hurdles in the beginning as the system was quite new to both the teachers and students. So they needed training to master the art and technique and get conversant with the system of online classes. Moreover due to digital divide access to internet was not even in all areas. Students from far flung and remote areas faced difficulty in accessing internet. It’s no doubt that online education is not an effective substitute for class room based education; hence it’s hard to maintain same level of quality in online education.

The main focus of this write-up is quality of higher education in our country. The number of higher education institutions during fifty years of independence recorded dramatic rise with the establishment of new universities both in public and private sectors totalling more than 100 universities, but as far as the quality is concerned the picture is quite disconcerting. Even the best universities of Bangladesh including Dhaka University, BUET and some other renowned universities both in public and private sectors could not secure place among the first 500 universities in international ranking. Though there is debate about criteria or parameters fixed for ranking which is alleged to have tilted towards western universities but it cannot be dismissed on ground of criterion only as south Asian nations like India, Nepal and Pakistan fared well with some of the universities having position among best 500 universities. So this situation in the arena of higher education must come to an end through diagnosing the real maladies and taking corrective steps as early as possible. As quality of education is high on the agenda of the Govt, Ministry of Education and UGC is working hard to ensure quality of higher education by going into the depth of the problems as well as identifying the challenges ahead. The Govt has already implemented a project for enhancement of quality of education through UGC and did some remarkable works to improve the situation. Many areas that need immediate reform have been identified through formulating a strategic plan by expert committee comprised of renowned academicians and concerned experts. The recommendation made in the strategic plan if implemented will undoubtedly contribute to changing of scenario in higher education toward positive direction.

As the economy is now knowledge-based higher education has a critical role to play in creating new knowledge through extensive research. Govt through HEQEP (Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project) project funded different universities for building research infrastructure by procuring expensive equipments and also giving grants through different Ministries and UGC for revamping research. This steps of the govt helped creating momentum in research. But this is not enough for developing culture of research which is an inseparable part of higher education but the universities and higher education institutions must come forward to create their own fund through the support of alumnus or from its own earnings for research. At least established and renowned universities both in public and private sectors should set example in this regard.

Quality education is directly linked to quality teaching by qualified and competent teachers. Apart from brilliant academic background of teacher they must be conversant with different aspect of pedagogy and andragogy. Like teachers at other level of education, university teachers also require to have latest pedagogical knowledge to ensure effective learning at tertiary level of education. So in the strategic plan there is a recommendation to establish a Training Academy for the university teachers to provide them with necessary pedagogical knowledge with experienced and renowned academicians. Establishment of academy for higher education has been included as a vital component in the proposed HEAT project.

Every year a big number of graduates come out from universities who aspire to enter job market as soon as they finish their study. But job market demands necessary skills and competence from graduates for entering the market. With limited number of jobs there is stiff competition in the market and ultimately those equipped with necessary knowledge, skill and competence come out successful or can make smooth entrance in the job market. But there are allegations from entrepreneurs that they are not getting deserving candidates and in most cases candidates lack necessary knowledge, skill and competence. So now the question arises how the skills and competence as demanded by the employer will be ensured. The question is very pertinent and directly linked to quality of Higher Education. Most important is that to achieve the target of vision 2041 we need a big number of skilled manpower with high level of competence. To achieve the necessary skill and competence alongside knowledge there should be an effective collaboration between university and industry.

This collaboration can be done in the following ways:

A) In academic council the representation of industry must be ensured by the universities so that they can give inputs as per the market requirement for preparation of curriculum and syllabus.

B)  Arranging internship of the student in the industry after completing theoretical parts for a reasonable period of time so that they get the practical experience for perfection of their knowledge thereby achieving the required level of competence and skill for entering the job market.

Though some established universities could make limited collaboration which is far below the expected level.   Situation needs to be improved as gaining momentum in research and raising skill and competence demands intensive collaboration between industry and academy.

Moreover internationalisation of education through collaborative research and exchange programme with foreign universities  is a must for gaining excellence both in education and research Some leading  universities including Dhaka universities and BUET have collaboration and joint research program with overseas universities but this needs to be expanded so that every universities can have meaningful collaboration with overseas universities of high ranking that will contribute to reaching global standard in  research and education.

Use of digital technology in research and education has become a compelling necessity, it is more so in this pandemic which helped the academic activities running whole over the world as alternative system of education. Even in normal situation digital technology in education had been in wide use worldwide for quality research, teaching and learning. Establishment of BDREN in UGC is a big step towards facilitating research and education in the arena of Higher education. It is now connected with global REN hence facilitating the researchers to access overseas libraries and universities for research materials. During pandemic BDREN provided unique service for holding online meeting and classes of the universities through zoom platform. As it is now the dominating technology and the world is poised for 4IR, in line with vision 21 and vision 2041 we must make sure maximum use of digital technology in education so that it helps raising the quality in education. Moreover to face challenges of 4IR, ICT education at tertiary level should be enriched with new disciplines so that it goes at par with the education of advanced countries.

As competence and skill is getting more focus in education alongside knowledge many universities in the world switched over to outcome based education which has already proved effective in providing necessary skill and competence including knowledge. Government and UGC must give serious thought to introduce outcome based education at the tertiary level replacing the present traditional system of education. Of course, Bangladesh Accreditation Council which has been tasked to accreditate higher education for ensuring quality of education is in active thought of outcome based education and already drafted rules for accreditation based on this system of education.

Another most vital issue affecting quality of education is governance in educational institutions. So far as the governance is concerned the picture is quite dismal and disconcerting. There is thread bare discussion on governance issues and some good recommendations have been made in the strategic plan to address it which include framing an umbrella legislature for public university, introducing performance based budgeting, fair recruitment of faculty on the basis of merit, bringing amendment to Private University Act so as to improve its academic environment as well as making the TRUSTEE BOARD more accountable.  There are lots of development works going on in the universities and there are serious allegations of extortion by student organisation involving tender as well as alleged involvement of authority in corruption. Even of late many VCs unfortunately have been made subject of controversy creating serious image crisis. The VCs as Academic and Executive head of the institutions must be protected from any kind of malicious attack on their image in the interest of maintaining congenial academic atmosphere. This can be done if VCs are relieved of the responsibility of development works of the universities and the responsibility of development work should be shifted to the concerned department of the Govt.

Government formed Bangladesh accreditation Council to ensure the quality of higher education. This institution must start accreditation work as early as possible so that all higher education institutions gets alerted and do the needful to maintain quality of education.

There are lots of other issues related to quality of higher education that cannot be touched upon here, but I think Strategic Plan for Higher education prepared by UGC through a HEQEP project with WB and GOB fund and finally got the Approval of the Honourable Prime Minister contains many recommendations which if implemented properly will contribute a lot to ensuring quality, skill and competence in Higher education.

The writer is an Additional Secretary, Road Transport and Highway Division.