Wednesday, 10 August, 2022

Higher Education Sector Requires More Than “Perestroika”

Dr P R Datta

Higher Education Sector Requires More Than “Perestroika”
Dr P R Datta

It is encouraging to see how the country is progressing in all areas of economic development. The country has been growing and becoming a tiger economy over the last two decades. Future trends look very promising. The current government has undertaken and is successfully implementing several megaprojects. Bangladesh's people are benefiting from economic progress. June 25th, 2022 will go down in history as a watershed moment for the Bengali nation and all of Bangladesh. On that day, we all stood together full of joy and vitality, strengthening our self-esteem and indomitability and teaching us not to fantasise about luxuries but to be inspired to pursue our dreams. The Padma Bridge is a symbol of our pride and victory. June 25th is a day of realisation and confidence for all of us. This day will be lost in the annals of time. This is the greatest gift of this generation's Bengalis to future generations. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the audacious decision to carry out this megaproject, which she did successfully. A fantastic success story for the country.

Now is the time for Bangladesh's government to turn its attention to the Higher Education Sector and take another bold step to reform the sector quickly, as if it were another megaproject. It is critical, and there is no time to waste. The sector is at a crossroads. If we want to stay in the race of progress and development and feel proud of our country, it is time for the government to change the sector for the betterment of society. Our education system is degrading in quality and is no longer fit for purpose. The system is broken. When business and profit become the primary focus of higher education institutions, when corruption among management and leadership becomes the norm, when complacency becomes a habit of protecting our arrogance, and when inertia becomes part of institutional leadership philosophy, such an education system should be reformed in the manner of Perestroika. Perestroika is required in the higher education sector. Mikhail Gorbachev instituted Perestroika (restructuring of the system); soon, he took the power of the Soviet Union to revitalise the society. Many well-meaning individuals proposed numerous reforms to improve the country's sluggish economic performance in the Soviet Union, including the Higher Education sector. They worked to improve the system by implementing Perestroika. Thirty years later, the Higher Education sector in Russia is more robust, more agile, and of higher quality, with more than thirty universities in the QS World University ranking.

Such a Perestroika-style mega programme is essential if the Higher Education sector is to be revitalised. The entire sector requires concerted efforts from all involved parties, led by the government. When our children/parents learn that only four Bangladeshi universities are included in the QS world university ranking and are not even in the top 800. BRAC and North-South are listed between 1001 and 1200, whereas Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and Dhaka University (DKU) are in the 800-1000 range. The country of Bangladesh has 53 state universities and 103 private colleges and universities according to UGC. It is genuinely shocking. Is it challenging to improve the quality of the education system in Bangladesh? Not really. Only we lack the moral vision and strategic courage. Our education system is being ruined by a lack of leadership and a corrupt mindset. Higher educational "achievement," better jobs for graduates, and a solution to the "money problem" that "threatens" the industry is the significant changes we all want to see. We must think outside the box to safeguard the present and future generations. Rather than provide a comprehensive analysis of higher education reform, this write-up aims to shed light on one of the most crucial components of a high-quality education: a robust quality assurance system. The higher education sector may become more flexible, agile and comprehensive in providing high-quality education by combining effective and efficient management and leadership with solid quality assurance. This is the focus of this article.

Quality assurance aims to communicate that the Institution cares about its customers, i.e., the students, who are arguably the most important stakeholder. They must be persuaded that the product is worthwhile. If this occurs, QA principles must be owned not only by the institutions as a whole, but also by the employees, both academic and non-academic. The message must also ensure that staff and students work in a trusting environment, that the system is supportive and participative, and that transparency prevails in teaching and learning activities. Overall, the sharing and caring philosophy must be visible. Because quality assurance is pervasive, it must be holistic. Given the complexities of an educational system, this is not an easy task. All subsystems must communicate with one another, and the system must be reliable and visible to be functional. While I am aware that the University Grant Commission of Bangladesh has recently taken drastic measures to ensure that all Higher Education Institutions use a sound quality assurance system and, as a result, have produced a handbook of quality assurance system that requires all institutions to have a quality assurance cell at the institutional level. That's it. I visited several universities, but none take various quality assurance processes seriously. We must ensure that any policies are taken seriously and contextualised appropriately. Quality assurance systems must be monitored constantly to guarantee that the institutions are utilising them effectively. Otherwise, a manual like this would be of little use.

Integrity, accountability, responsibility, and transparency should be the cornerstones of every quality assurance system. Institutions should think that quality assurance requires a comprehensive approach. The community's and external stakeholders' participation is essential for maintaining and improving the quality of educational provision. Learners' representatives are present in quality assurance committees and quality assurance reviews. To increase student engagement with the teaching/learning process, learner input is sought for, acknowledged, and considered. To maintain the integrity of the services offered, especially those related to education, all institutions should seek to guarantee that distinct lines of responsibility are established. The internal and external review process and continuous monitoring operations formally codify and illustrate this.

Regarding accountability, it's crucial to recognise that the Institution has quality assurance and improvement duties. Staff, teachers, and students are urged to offer helpful criticism periodically. Training for continuous professional development (CPD) provides a valuable platform for discussing quality-related issues. Students are given course information and resources to aid in the acquisition process as part of the learning experience. Additionally, tactics like project work, presentations, group work, and, when practical, hands-on learning encourages active student participation. Institutions must promote individual study in a secure, intellectually demanding setting and inclusive of all cultures. To achieve reasonable quality procedures within the institutions, transparency is essential. Institutions must make an effort to guarantee that all stakeholders are given information that is pertinent, accurate, and presented clearly.

Quality assurance is a never-ending reflection, evaluation, reporting, and feedback cycle. The framework of this process is realised in policies, procedures, and proformas to provide consistency in standards and guidelines across Institutions. This process informs Quality Enhancement and ensures a better understanding by all parties involved. Regular classroom observations, combined with the appraisal process, assist all staff in setting goals and shaping a common approach that does not stifle individuality. All Higher Education Institutions must implement a quality assurance system in all areas of endeavour, whether in teaching, assessment, and learning, management and leadership, or communication with various stakeholders.

To establish itself as a preeminent educational institution, the Institution must strive to create an academic and administrative atmosphere devoid of tension. And this must be reflected throughout the organisation. This should only be achievable if the policy decisions are equitable at all levels of the organisation's membership. The citizens must own these decisions, which should be the leadership's top priority. At the micro-level, efforts must be made to streamline administrative and academic processes between and within departments, specifically: Administration - to ensure that the relationships between the subsystems that make up this unit are cordial so that together they can provide the best possible service to the students, keeping in mind that their needs are diverse; Faculty and students - the need for a long-lasting relationship and the development of a strategy to achieve it. While proper training and development programmes should be implemented at all levels, the leadership should pay particular attention to the softer aspects of leadership/management. Priority should be given to the subtle undercurrents that exist within the organisation and frequently impede its growth. Appropriate strategies should be established to mitigate their devastation on all levels.

If not addressed on time, problems inside any subsystem, no matter how minor, are contagious and can negatively influence the organisation. At any location, complacency is hazardous and should be treated as such. The organisation must be receptive to leadership and management initiatives to enhance productivity, equity, and efficacy. All staff members and members of the Institution's community have direct duties to actively participate in delivering quality services and in the Quality Assurance Processes. For the successful execution of Quality Assurance Policies, it is crucial that everyone cooperates and adheres closely to the applicable rules of conduct.

Higher education's influence on economic and social growth will grow in the coming decades. Higher education contributes to economic growth and development by stimulating innovation and skills. It's a way to enhance life and tackle social and global issues. Bangladesh has an ambitious vision for its growth, calling for a creative, tech-savvy, and internationally connected populace to produce a prosperous and egalitarian society. Higher education pedagogy must be "constructively aligned" with society's vision to develop critical, creative graduates. This transformation of higher education will require collaborative work to remove interrelated hurdles that hinder a rich and conducive learning environment for students. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted to construct a nation where everyone is equal, prosperous, and has access to high-quality education. The present government has adopted various bold steps, including expanding vocational and technical education, widening access to education for girls and liberalising the sector to attract private enterprises. Now is the moment for the government to make the industry more agile, competitive, and corruption-free and to uphold top-quality practices with thorough monitoring and accreditation. Non-compliant institutions must be punished. Our grads need character education and more confidence. I hope the Bangladeshi government takes this seriously to restore national pride.


The writer is the Executive Chair, Centre for Business & Economic Research, UK