Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Our Academia

Dr. Rashid Askari

Innovation and Entrepreneurship 
in Our Academia
Dr. Rashid Askari

Pedagogical orientation in the ICT age

In the beginning of the new millennium, with the advent of a new era, mankind stands poised on the brink of a new revolution called the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). It has become very high on the global agenda and we must know what it really means and how we should respond to it individually, socially, economically, politically, nationally, regionally and globally. The first Industrial Revolution, as we all know, used steam, the second electricity to mechanize production and the third used electronics and information technology to automate the manufacturing processes. Now the Fourth Industrial Revolution has emerged from the 3rd in the wake of the digital revolution that has been continuing for last few decades. It could be a fusion of technologies that combines the physical, digital and biological spheres. Compared with the previous ones, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is developing in geometric progression affecting almost every aspect of human life in the society. We have reached such a crossroads that may completely change the way we live, we work and we connect with each other.

We are living in an age of unprecedentedly high advancements in science, technology and innovation. The fastest growing connectivity with extraordinary processing power, enormous storage capacity, unlimited access to information and emerging technology breakthroughs in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Autonomous Vehicles, 3-D Printing, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Materials Science and Quantum Computing are real mind-blowing experiences which have revolutionized the methods of education and research in the academia.

Aims of 21st century higher education

On sober reflection, experts, in keeping with the brilliant ICT feats and global human needs, have set three basic aims of the 21st century education. First, empowering students with transferable skills/ competencies to cope with the fast-changing world. Second, helping students make the best use of ICT readily available to them and thirdly, striving to prepare an entire generation of learners worthy of the 21st-century workforce. The aims should be accompanied by four basic skills today’s students need to hone at their universities: a) Creativity/Innovation - using information/invention in new ways; b) Critical thinking - analyzing information and critiquing claims; c) Communication -  sharing information with others; and d) Collaboration - going into partnership/ teamwork. The 21st century teaching pedagogies should be framed in order that these 3 principal aims can be achieved and four skills can be developed in the broader context of the Digital Age.

Concept of digital Bangladesh

In 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched the Vision 2021 to transform Bangladesh into a digitized country premised upon four pillars i.e. human resource development, connecting citizens, digital governance and the promotion of the ICT industry. Accordingly, the universities of Bangladesh have drawn up their academic agenda in the light of these four missions. The central regulatory body ‒ the University Grants Commission under the auspices of government initiatives has formulated the higher education policies that focus on harnessing the skills and creativity of the students in order to achieve, among other things, the four goals of digital Bangladesh. Bangladesh National Qualification Framework (BNQF) has been established with the same end in view.

Graduates’ employability at the core

The urge to put emphasis on the graduate’s innovation and entrepreneurial skill has arisen, on one hand, from the country’s unemployment problem and from people’s high inclination for government jobs on the other. Statistics show that the employment picture in Bangladesh is not good. Only 37 percent of the male graduates and 43 percent of the female are unemployed and it is more than likely that the ongoing pandemic situation keeps increasing the number. The universities have now well awakened to the realization that with a view to increasing the graduate’s employability, which is also one of the major goals of the 21st century academia, they should place the innovation and entrepreneurship drives at the top of their agenda. The universities of Malaysia, Thailand and China are playing leading roles in this regard. They make sure that one hundred percent of their graduates are in employment.

Design of ‘IT Business Incubator’ to be developed at Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology     - sun photo


Silicon Valley spirit

Mention may be made here that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a Harvard graduate and Computer Science engineer from the University of Texas, is making every effort to transform Bangladesh into a fully digitized country. As the ICT Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister, he is committed to turning the IT industry into the country’s topmost revenue earner in the foreseeable future. He is very good at motivating the youth to make the most of their ability to get rid of the dependency culture and stand on their own two feet and pursue their career in an out of the ordinary way.

Joy’s personality is a winning combination of technological innovation and entrepreneur skills. He has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the ‘Young Global Leaders’. He has brought to Bangladesh the Silicon Valley spirit ‒ high technology, innovation, venture capital and social media. The idea of Digital Bangladesh is his brainchild which is aimed at transforming Bangladesh into a technologically advanced country by 2021. And over the last decade Bangladesh has made a major breakthrough in technological advancement which includes the increasing number of mobile phone and internet users, digital access to public services, mobile banking and ICT exports. Currently, more than 120 companies in Bangladesh are exporting ICT products worth nearly $1 billion to 35 countries and by 2021 it will rise to $5 billion. By the end of 2021, about 2 million jobs will be created in the ICT sector. The sustained growth of the ICT industry will make a substantial contribution to Bangladesh’s transformation into a digital economy by 2021, and a knowledge economy by 2041. And the universities would be instrumental in bringing about this transformation by way of fostering cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Establishment of hi-tech parks

The government of Bangladesh has set up 39 high-tech parks across the country to create an investment-friendly environment and to pave the way for employment opportunities by promoting technology-based industries. Over 300,000 youths both males and females are likely to take up employment with it. Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA), established in 2010, is working for establishing more hi-tech parks, software technology parks and IT training & incubation centres across the country to attract local and foreign investors for the development of Hi-Tech/IT/ITES industries. It will create huge employment opportunities and skilled human resources. As far as human resource development is concerned, Bangladesh has already taken numerous initiatives to build a skilled and digital-ready workforce. More than five lakh graduates are being produced every year out of which about seventy thousand are trained as Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) professionals. According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Bangladesh has the second largest pool of online workers in the world.  The hi-tech parks will also create scopes for investment in the hi-tech industry to promote knowledge and capital-based business which includes Information technology, Software Technology, Bio-Technology, Renewable Energy, Green Technology, IT Hardware, IT Enabled Services and R&D (Research & Development) areas as its major investment sectors.

Creation of innovation hubs       

The government has planned to set up innovation hubs at both public and private universities to promote digital entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems. These innovation hubs also play vital roles in making the high-tech parks a thriving enterprise. With this view in mind, Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority has taken initiatives to run university-centric innovation hubs in order to provide new entrepreneurs with start-up facilities. Universities have been selected as hubs where students are given training and facilities for the office space and necessary funding to start their own business. Peer motivation is a key factor in this regard. Students are being motivated to generate interest among other students in making the best and fullest use of their potential for innovation and entrepreneurship. After necessary training, they are being provided with funds known as venture capital from different projects of World Bank, International Development Association, start-up projects, the ICT ministry and other private business organizations. They are also being employed in different high-tech parks in the country. Alongside are being provided start-up facilities to those software technology parks.

Start-up entrepreneurship

Start-up entrepreneurship is a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach where one learns business by building their innovative companies. Learners can have first-hand experience of a real world of business which is different from what they learn in academia. The government of Bangladesh formed the Startup Bangladesh Limited under ICT Division in March 2020 with a starting capital of taka 5 billion in order to facilitate new entrepreneurs and to help realize the vision of Digital Bangladesh by adapting to or innovating new ideas, creating new jobs and developing technical skills. This is a national entrepreneurship platform created to support the start-up ecosystem with a view to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and shaping the future of the country in this era of competitiveness of the world academia. The start-up teams are selected from the universities on the basis of competition. The ones who win the competition get the money, advice and necessary logistic support to implement their ideas. Those who do not win are also groomed afterwards.

Academic business incubators: Academia-industry collaboration

The country’s first university-based academic business incubator has been set up at the Chittagong University of Engineering & Technology (CUET). It is aimed at connecting industries with the academia in order to promote research and innovation cultures in the country. The main objectives of the academic incubator are to transform the ICT and related graduates into human resources capable of working with the 21st century global workforce; to provide congenial atmosphere of promoting entrepreneurship culture in the ICT sectors; to fill the need of the skilled manpower in the ICT and related fields; to explore the linkage between universities and industries for effective technological research and invention; and to promote knowledge-based software industry to realize the dreams of digital Bangladesh and shape its future.

Conclusion: Universities thrive on innovation

In this age of technological innovation, Bangladesh is committed to adapting to recent innovations and entrepreneurship drives for building up academic excellence and quality culture both in the academia and beyond. Currently Bangladesh has 53 public and 103 private universities. The present government under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina is committed to establishing universities at every district of the country for wider dissemination of knowledge and information and for ensuring resilient education. This will be appreciable if the quality of education improves alongside this increase in the quantity. But how to do it? The universities should be prepared as the vantage ground for nurturing the innovation and entrepreneurial skills of the students. Global quality assurance mechanism should be introduced to boost the power and professionalism of the teaching and non-teaching staff with a view to ensuring quality education and research through the deployment of latest ICT facilities. Our universities should facilitate the students with a wider spectrum of studies and broader career choice. They should win the stakeholders’ confidence by way of creating a sustainable culture of transparency and innovation. They should also look forward to forming partnerships and fostering relationships with universities across the globe to this end. A 21st century university thrives on innovation and entrepreneurship.


Dr. Rashid Askari: Bengali-English writer, columnist, translator and former Vice Chancellor, Islamic university, Kushtia, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]