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To learn from the best

  • Published at 06:04 pm July 6th, 2019

What can teachers from abroad teach us?

Hiring academics from more developed nations for ensuring quality in our higher education is currently the main discussion in Bangladeshi academia. 

This is indeed a timely debate opened up by the minister of finance in parliament -- in this respect, it is very encouraging that our politicians finally have started taking education more seriously.

Certainly, the subject needs a close examination if the incumbent is serious about providing quality education at all levels. Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, during his early years, was keen in getting Malaysian students trained in more developed nations and spent large amounts of public money in sending students to Australia, the UK, and the US for higher studies.

This investment has contributed greatly to Malaysia’s higher educational institutes over the last two decades, as they now have established an education hub for providing quality education from the secondary to tertiary levels within the region.

Malaysia, being a country where English is commonly spoken, has an advantage over other Southeast Asian nations in attracting full-fee-paying students from neighbouring countries. Having said that, one must remember that the economies of Japan and Malaysia, in their early periods, had major differences. Japan had almost no natural resources, whereas Malaysia was abundant in tin, rubber, palm oil, and fossil fuels.

When one talks about the “look east policy,” the first thing that comes to mind is how these economies ensured quality education in their heydays, for example, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia in recent years and Japan in the past. Although late, the present debate in ensuring quality education in Bangladesh is certainly going in the right direction.

There are several ways to ensure quality education at the tertiary level, and hiring experienced academics from more developed nations is certainly a very relevant and cost-effective approach to achieve that. We have hardly taken any meaningful steps to begin collaborative research with experts from other nations, and to publish joint work internationally.

This does not mean the end of road, however.

On the subject of hiring academics from overseas, so far it seems that politicians, members of civil society, and local academics are in agreement.

One of the ideas is to attract our native academics now working at Western universities with high positions and with strong records in their respective research fields. 

It is encouraging to observe that, in recent years, there has been a trend in the sub-continent towards reverse migration in private sectors, particularly in the IT industries. Native experts are migrating back and nabbing opportunities created in their homelands.

A large number of academics of Bangladeshi origin are currently working in Australia, the UK, and the US.

This certainly would be a win-win situation and would create opportunities to develop collaborative research and introduce new courses in teaching. 

In this respect, two issues come to mind: To establish joint supervision at the post-graduate level, and to establish short-to-medium term research projects with the support of the funds available to foreign academics from their parent institutions.

Moreover, this would help cultivate and grow a “research culture” in the hosting institutions. 

These prospective academics can support the host in making collaborative initiatives in the areas of teaching, research, and services. In most universities in developed nations, the academic staff have three mandatory roles to play in setting the workload each year: Teaching load (40%), research (40%), and service to university (20%). 

The split workload approach of academics certainly makes a difference to ensuring quality education at the tertiary level.

Like it or not, our public universities have been running under capacity for a long time, although the demand for places runs very high each year from students completing their HSCs or A levels.

It is time now to create full-fee-paying places at public universities too, and it is indeed time to bring reforms in the age-old campuses, and make Bangladeshi universities effective and ready for the 21st century. 

Moazzem Hossain is a freelance contributor.

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