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Higher Education Reforms to Tackle 4th Industrial Revolution Needs

  • Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday
  • 3rd August, 2022 04:35:29 PM
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Education is the single most crucial factor when it comes to contributing to a country's overall growth and prosperity. Higher education institutions not only shape citizens into productive members of society but also develop the leaders of tomorrow. That's why the education system must be prioritized for the sake of the country's progress. In the past half-century, the education system in Bangladesh has been the subject of intense debate. Several times during her address, the Hon'ble Prime Minister stressed the significance of this sector. She has established several avenues for securing financial support for scientific investigation for universities. Indeed, institutions were unable to get enough funding for research. But, educators are not willing to do research even if they are paid more. Therefore, we need to direct our attention to higher educational institutions.

Under the leadership of the Hon'ble Minister of Education of the Government of Bangladesh, various reforms have been undertaken in this sector. Multiple reform initiatives focused on the primary, secondary, and higher secondary levels have begun rolling out. The curriculum has undergone extensive revisions to improve it and better prepare today's students for the future. Changes to the curricula have begun in pilot programs. In this regard, the Hon'ble Minister and the State Minister of Education deserve much credit. The Ministry of Education has also placed more importance on modernizing universities.

Like the Honourable Minister of Education, the Honourable Prime Minister has consistently emphasized the importance of research at universities. However, despite a supportive government, Bangladesh's academic institutions are yet to reach the research brilliance that is hoped for. Every time a global university rating is released, universities in Bangladesh receive harsh criticism for their low placement. Even though rankings aren't always crucial, they have taken on increased significance in today's highly competitive world. However, it doesn't appear very comforting to the country when vice-chancellors from different universities make unrealistic statements regarding this ranking.

Multiple stakeholders in the education field have long advocated for a more significant share of the government's resources to be dedicated to education. The annual budget increase is one of the most consistent features of the government's support for the field of education. Although we have not observed the expected increases, this year's funding is more than last year's. But this is an encouraging development. To guarantee quality education, however, I do not believe that just raising the money would suffice. In addition to monetary constraints, this industry has several additional challenges preventing it from reaching its full potential. Public institutions in Bangladesh, for instance, do not foster a climate conducive to research. A few faculties at every public institution are engaged in scholarly investigation. Their findings are being taken into account by national governments and have received acknowledgement on a global scale. However, it is also true that most educators are against research. Several factors contribute to people's unwillingness to engage in research. Institutions of higher education now lack a mechanism for recognizing outstanding academic scholars. It's also worth asking why professors would bother with research if it has no bearing on their job security at the university level.                                         

The university teachers, in Bangabandhu's eyes, represented the national consciousness. Inspired by this thought, in 1973, he enacted a law giving university teachers their autonomy. He didn't want the law to bind educators, who he saw as the nation's moral compass. The academic system has distorted Bangabandhu's generosity over time. In 1973, for instance, a teacher needed to publish more than one research paper before being considered for a higher position. Since then, we have continued with the same clause. Why would a university professor spend time researching if it would get him promoted to a higher position just by publishing more than one paper? Attention has to be paid to this matter now.

Obtaining a PhD is often a prerequisite for teaching at the university level in developed nations. Graduates with a Master's degree and a PhD are expected to have research experience. However, in the case of Bangladesh, a lack of research skills is the outcome of making a student a university teacher after obtaining a Master's degree. Furthermore, there is no opportunity for educating newly hired university teachers; thus, they lack the knowledge required for teaching. Since it is becoming more difficult for someone like him to teach as planned, he is also losing intentions of getting ready for research. It is also true that several academics have been attempting to broaden their knowledge of higher education by studying in universities abroad. However, many academics have been shown to attempt to take advantage of legal loopholes after a university has hired them to further their careers or get vital administrative roles.

While the University Grants Commission has developed a standard guideline for hiring faculty, it has not yet been implemented nationwide. Institutions of higher education established according to the 1973 Act make faculty appointments following institutional policy. It is reassuring, however, that some public universities have tried adapting their recruitment policies for faculty members to the new realities. The person at the university's helm is the primary factor in determining the institution's direction. Any vice chancellor may successfully administer the institution if that is his goal. However, if the vice chancellor decides to implement significant changes to how the institution is administered, he or she would undoubtedly encounter resistance.

The present government placed considerable emphasis on ensuring that the educational system is future-ready by adjusting to the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The most pressing need of the 4IR is for industries to interact more closely with academic institutions. Higher education institutions in the developed world can attract massive sums of money from the corporate sector. University faculty may utilize this money to do primary research, which has dual benefits: it raises the profile of both the individual researcher and his or her institution, which in turn informs public policy. The management of our institutions has been strongly encouraged to do so by our Honourable Minister of Education.

The current government has made it one of its top priorities to revitalize the educational system so that it can meet future demands. However, it is also true that raising substantial sums of the fund by connecting universities with industry is not feasible in the practical context of Bangladesh. Our country's industrial sector cannot match the generous funding of its counterparts in other developed nations; therefore, universities here get much less than their fair share. However, as our Honourable Prime Minister has shown through the building of the Padma Bridge, it is not a particularly difficult undertaking to raise finances provided the person in charge of the government has the right motives. No one in Bangladesh expected the country to be able to construct the Padma Bridge after the World Bank reversed its decision to finance the bridge due to allegations of corruption in 2012. The Padma Bridge, however, has been built with internal funds, as shown by the Hon'ble Prime Minister. Using her inspiration, our university administration should strengthen relations with industry and institute wide-ranging institutional changes.

In a free market economy, the survival of the fittest matters most. Thus, only the strongest will participate in any given competition; the weak will inevitably perish. Certification of students who have graduated from our universities may become an issue if we fail to create institutions of a worldwide level in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and if our universities fail to enter the global rankings. I do not doubt that the Minister of Education is an incredibly talented politician with a long list of impressive credentials. We anticipate that the universities of Bangladesh, under her direction, will be led by qualified professors and will be able to compete successfully in the international arena by enacting the kind of reforms essential to meet the challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The author is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi University