For its economic development, Bangladesh is embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The digital, biological, and physical worlds are coming together in the 4IR, and new technologies like 3D printing, robots, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence are being more widely used. Given how much these technological breakthroughs have changed the way we currently work, it is very difficult to imagine how jobs may look in the future. To tackle the challenges of the 4IR, one needs to commit to lifelong learning to acquire and sustain the relevant skill sets required to succeed in the ever-changing workplace in the future. The question is whether universities may escape their responsibility to produce graduates with 4IR-related skills. To help the national economy and produce graduates with 4IR skills, universities have a duty to perform.
The government of Bangladesh has swiftly responded to the current and future challenges that 4IR poses by approving the “Bangladesh National Qualifications Framework (BNQF)” with the objective of ensuring and verifying the effectiveness of all types of educational systems in the country. Although universities have historically been the main sources of knowledge creation and dissemination, they must not limit their responsibility to only these activities. Universities need to innovate for the future that accommodates both degrees, and intellectual and job-ready skills. The BNQF lays the groundwork for improving the quality, accessibility, linkages as well as public and labour market recognition of qualifications both nationally and internationally. One of the major contributions of BNQF is setting up a performance-based education model called Outcome-Based Education (OBE) for all post-higher secondary qualifications. In stark contrast to the Traditional Education (TE) system, OBE first time will be able to integrate knowledge with content and skills. It organises the entire educational system towards what is necessary for the learners to do successfully at the end of their learning experience. When establishing curricula and goals, OBE places a strong emphasis on the skills, including life skills, basic skills, professional and intellectual abilities, and interpersonal and personal skills. The OBE is now a widely recognised educational system for all levels, not only for tertiary education. OBE must, therefore, be implemented at all levels.
Whatever may be the reason, BNQF has a different definition of credit. Credits are a convenient numerical way to assess a student’s academic progress and to award certificates, diplomas, degrees, and other qualifications. Credits are also used to determine faculty-workload thresholds to qualify for the full-time faculty status. Degree equivalence is necessary because our students go abroad for higher studies and employment. It would be appropriate for us to adopt the definition of internationally recognized Credit. BNQC defines one credit as ‘for lecture, tutorial, seminar 1-hour face-to-face learning per week for 14 weeks and total learning teaching activities are forty hours’. A student will spend 840 minutes in class and additional 1560 minutes working out-of-class in 14 weeks, for a total time of 2400 minutes. It is not specifically mentioned that 14 weeks for a semester exclude exam weeks. The Carnegie Foundation first developed a credit system in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. Foundation considers 15-18 weeks excluding exam weeks for the duration of a semester. A course with one hour (of 50 minutes) of instruction per week and a minimum of 2 hours of out‐of‐class student work each week during 15-weeks is equated with one semester hour of credit or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time or the equivalent effort over a different time frame. One semester credit hour for a theory course will be awarded for a minimum of 1×50×15 = 750 minutes of formalised instruction that typically requires students to work at out-of-class work an average amount of time 1x2x60x15 = 1,800 minutes, for a total of 2550 minutes. For a laboratory class, the hours per week are all in class with no outside assignments. The minimum contact time per credit for the lab is 2x50x15= 1500 minutes or 2 hours per week for the length of a semester. The minimum duration of the semester system is 15 weeks, not 14 weeks as mentioned in BNQF. The minimum contact time including lecture and out-of-class work is 2550 minutes, not 2400 minutes. The trimester system (class of 13 weeks), and quarter system (10 weeks duration) are popular over the world. The world-class higher learning institution MIT, USA follows a quarter academic calendar. MIT defines courses by units. However, based on the total credit hour requirements of the one-credit course, MIT defines three MIT units as equivalent to one credit. There is also a USA credit hour equivalency with the European Credit Transfer (ECT). One credit is equivalent to three ECTs. It is common knowledge that enrolling in more than five courses (15 credit hours) in one semester will strain students. Considering 5 courses per semester universities abroad recommend 120 credits for a bachelor’s degree specifically for degrees in social sciences. The credit hours may increase if the program has laboratory classes. However, BNQF has mandated that all bachelor’s programs must satisfy a minimum of 140 credits. This criterion must be modified because it is quite high and unimplementable. Many universities abroad administer two short summer sessions to avoid the accumulation of retake courses.
There is a provision for review/revision and updates based on the needs of the time in BNQF. Hopefully, BNQC will review the definition of credit, minimum credit hour requirement for a program, different academic calendars, and short summer sessions for tertiary education.
The writer is the Vice Chancellor of East West University and can be reached at [email protected]