In developed countries learners are busy and have to work for studying as tuition fees are high whereas in developing countries universities can accommodate only limited portions of the aspirant students. So, online digital education is no longer an option but rather a necessity in both regions of the world. Now renowned universities including Harvard, Stanford and many others in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK have shifted their strategy and are approaching to people with a range of education programs.
This is referred to as Online Digital Education. Bangladesh has made remarkable progress digitally in different sectors but not much in online digital education as expected. Therefore, the country is yet to mark its presence in the global online education industry worth $375 Billion by 2026, which could easily be the third highest source of earning revenues after remittance and garments, if this sector is given due importance and carefully visioned straightaway. Even our closest neighbour India has responded to the context and started to recognize online degrees through its UGC. Now what should we do? Certainly, we should move forward in the same direction.
‘The Higher Education Framework for Digital Bangladesh’ may create a golden opportunity for us to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. There are few minimum requirements at certain levels, which need to be fulfilled for implementing the framework in Bangladesh. At the individual level, university teachers and students should have positive mindset towards online digital education and explore it as a challenge. At the institutional level, each university should provide institutional emails to its students, teachers and staff as well as ensure establishment of a Centre or Institute for online digital education. More importantly, it should have an integrated, all inclusive, easy to understand learning management system which is stable, scalable and easy to use. Finally, at the national level requirements we need to ensure minimum 3G uninterrupted Internet service nationwide, facilitate students in terms of Internet cost, laptop, interest-free loan, teachers training and more importantly, formulation of relevant policies and practices.
Now let's see the different aspects of the higher education framework for digital Bangladesh.
No.1- Higher education will be the 3rd highest sector for revenue alongside remittance and garments. It is the same concept of our garment products used in the developed countries with lower cost and comparatively better quality. For instance, without accommodation and food only tuition fees per year per student at Harvard University is around $50,000 and at Australian universities, it is more than $30,000. In Bangladesh, it is only $150 per year for local students at the public universities and probably around $1,500 at the private universities. There will be no extra cost for local students but we can make it $5,000-10,000 per year for international students studying fully online or blended.
No.2- Student number can be increased 2 to 5 times within the current setup or infrastructure of our universities. For instance, in several programs of many Australian universities, there are 90 to 100 students face to face while around 500 students studying online from different parts of the world. So, in order to ensure proper utilisation of available resources and quality higher education for all, we can make appropriate decisions in this regard.
No.4- There will be no unemployable educated - thousands of jobs opportunities at the universities in terms of teaching assistants (TAs) and learning advisors (LAs). The teacher task is to conduct the class of 50 to 100 students face to face while the TAs or LAs will take care of the 500 remote online students. For instance, there will be 20 TAs or LAs for 500 students and thus student engagement will be better, so as their learning outcomes. Also, there will be many learning designers and technologists deployed at each university. As each graduate has one TVET skill, they won't be the unemployable educated.
No.5- Higher education loan program (HELP) based on taxpayer income and demand in the market at home and abroad. There may be several categories of higher education schemes such as full-free, government-subsidised, and full-fee payment based on the taxpayer income. Government may provide further subsidies to those courses and programs based on their demand in the local job market. After graduation, when the students will get job or self-employed and their earnings will cross a certain threshold value such as 20 or 30 thousand Taka per month, s/he must pay the education loan gradually. The higher education loan should be interest free but needs to be indexed annually.
No.6- People will pay taxes spontaneously for their better futures. In order to get government loan or subsidies for higher education, parents or legal guardians of students should have income tax return cleared even there is zero return, otherwise, they will be considered ineligible for such opportunities.
No.7- Massive increase in the international student population. Our undergraduate education quality is comparatively better, so as our teacher student ratio, but stillwe have poor rankings of our universities. One of the main reasons is the smaller number of international students. In Times Higher Education ranking 2021 only Dhaka University and BUET are listed in the 1001+ range from Bangladesh and unfortunately, these two top institutions have only 3% and 0% of international students respectively whereas most of the Australian universities have around 40% international students and thereby earning billions of dollars every year from international students.
No.8- When the universities will have income from international students and external research grants, they can bring visiting professors and scholars from abroad, particularly those of Bangladeshi origin having academic excellence in both teaching and research at various fields. It will improve our graduate education and research, and the quality of publications and international exposures. Research funding on key areas of interests needs to be introduced as grants nationally.
No.9- Competitive environment for teachers and universities. Not all universities should offer courses and programs to international students. There should have a national ranking system of universities following the same pattern of Times Higher Education. Thus, competitive but congenial academic atmosphere will be created for both teachers and universities. Criteria for academic promotion and annual increments such as academic excellence, professional development, quality publications, and research grants need to be strengthened and followed in a systematic way with transparency.
Our university rankings will improve gradually, if the above tasks are considered sincerely and necessary actions are taken. We have many advantages such as our manpower cost is low, undergraduate education quality is good, teacher student ratio is better, etc. Now we have to focus on the international exposures in terms of both students and faculty members as well as graduate research, publications and funding. We should not also forget that higher education option is a right to every citizen, and it should be available for everyone if s/he wishes to. Now it is the right time for our policy makers to rethink the online digital education policy and facilitate prominent institutions to meet the local needs and excel in today’s transnational education system as a Brand of Education Bangladesh.
The writer is a Digital Education Expert & Director, Blended Learning Center, Daffodil International University