In FY 2019-20, Tk. 87,620crore (16.75 percent of the total budget allocation) has been allocated in the budget for education and training. This is the highest allocation ever for education in the country’s national budget. The University Grants Commission (UGC) of Bangladesh approved a budgetof Tk. 8,088.49 crore for the country’s 45 public universities.The commission also sanctioned Tk. 64.40 crore as research support for 37 universities, which is 0.80 percent of the total education budget for FY 2019-20.
In the budget speech the well-timed initiatives of Emperor Meiji, father of modern Japan, for the development of his country’s education was instanced. The Emperor outsourced technologically trained teachers from abroad to make Japan’s education system time-befitting. The highest importance in education budget has been given on quality education. Emphasis has been given on promotion of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and technical education. It was also mentioned that subjects like Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and Quantum Computing will be taught in specialized, modern classrooms. To teach these subjects, like Meiji, teachers from abroad will be outsourced if needed.According to Learner’s definition a university is a school that offers courses leading to a degree (such as a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree) and where research is done. It is universally accepted that the main job of a university is to create new knowledge. Knowledge is created through research. A university is thus a research institute also. The world’s renowned universities are giving the highest importance to research and producing a large amount of groundbreaking inventions every year.
Since technological advancements have transformed the nature of all professional work, universities have no choice but to go for research and technological innovations. Major public universities of Bangladesh often complain that the government allocation in the research is very inadequate. They do not have the equipment and facilities for research work. Lack of appropriate funding is one of the main reasons for the absence of Ph.D. level research. After meeting all the necessary expenses like salary, allowances and infrastructural maintenance, not much is left for upgrading laboratories and providing research funds for teachers and students. Postgraduate research results are the eggs for incubators and lead to innovations. That is why postgraduate research works is the pivot on which the primary functions of the university should revolve. To achieve the excellence of the university academically well qualified dedicated teachers and state-of-the-art laboratories are must.
Bangladesh is a developing country. No wonder our education system may suffer from economic crises. However, in many countries of the world, a large part of the university’s research budget comes from the private sector. Now time has come for our entrepreneurs and industrial-might at large to develop effective interactive relationship with the academia with a view to enhancing research capability for competitive advantage. A concerted effort is necessary for mutual benefit of universities and industries for innovations. It is heartening to note that the universities are presently undertaking some research programmes sponsored by outside organisations and thus boosting their research activities.
It has been known from relevant sources that albeit the allocation in research is very low, there is poor performance in utilising the allocated money for research. It is a matter of disappointment that many Universities cannot spend what is allocated. Even some universities don’t have any research activities. As a result, these universities simply have become degree giving institutions and turned to a factory of producing graduates for jobs in the marketplace. The state of the private universities is more disappointing. Only old knowledge is being disseminated. New knowledge is not being generated.
By 2030, Bangladesh must ensure quality education at all levels to achieve 10 targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4’s 10 targets) and to be promoted in the middle-income country. To achieve the excellence of the university, to ensure standard education, teachers may be outsourced for the time being from abroad if necessary. And to bring universities to world-class, GOB must allocate adequate funds for upgrading old labs and procuring new equipment for setting up new laboratories for science and engineering research.
It is believed most of the university teachers have envying strength of faculties and PhDs from world top institutions. Many of our competent teachers when going for higher studies are employed by universities and research organisations abroad. There is no significant intellectual difference between foreign and our faculties. There may exist subtle nuance in specialisations. Lack of government allocation, private sponsorship, monitoring-evaluation and aboveall, due to increasing disinterest in quality research after certain level in universities are resulting in gradually downgrading higher education and hence our universities are lagging in the race of ranking.Bangladesh can copy Meiji’s model, but it should adapt its circumstances with that of Japan to systematically develop independent capabilities in its way to advancements. It is known from the evolution of our first engineering college that when it was upgraded to a technical university in 1962, a partnership with Texas A&M University was formed, and professors from TAMU came here to teach and formulate the curriculum of the university. Thus, this strategy does make sense because no nation can produce everything it needs and wants due to brainpower and natural resource constraints at any given location.
The three main activities a university should perform to uphold the higher educational standards are creation of new knowledge through research, publication of this knowledge and protection in case of inventions and innovations and, dissemination of knowledge by teaching. The effective co-ordination of these activities renders the highest seat of learning to be a center of excellence. Attention needs to be paid simultaneously to all the activities of a university so that it can function as an effective institute, serve practical purposes and maintain good quality education meeting dimensions like equity, contextualization and relevance, sustainability and learning outcomes.
The writer is a Research Assistant Professor of Institute of Appropriate Technology, BUET, Dhaka