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OP-ED: Our need for more academics

  • Published at 11:56 pm January 9th, 2021
Dhaka University DU- Syed Zakir Hossain/DT
SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

How can Bangladesh retain its best talent in the higher education sector?

Bangladesh has ranked 112 out of 138 countries in UNDP’s latest Global Knowledge Index -- the lowest among South Asian nations.  

Out of the seven areas of measurement that helps to paint a picture of a country’s “knowledge performance,” namely pre-university education, technical and vocational education and training, higher education, research, development and innovation, information and communications technology, economy, and the generally enabling environment, Bangladesh has performed better in some measures compared to others. 

However, the overall performance -- a score of 35.9 compared to 73.6 by global champion Singapore and 44.4 by South Asian topper India -- is poor. Especially, the two areas where Bangladesh performed the worst are higher education, and research, development, and innovation, where the country scored only 24.1 and 16.4 respectively. 

For a nation undergoing rapid economic development driven by infrastructural strengthening, this is terrible news, especially because economic development needs to be complimented by knowledge development to sustain the former in the long term.

Post and Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar recently committed to creating job opportunities for talented Bangladeshis living abroad with the help of digital technology. This is indeed a plan worth praise. Bangladeshi professionals living abroad -- many of them alumni of top global academic institutions and working in renowned multinational organizations, have much value to add to the nation’s labour force. 

Their participation in various sectors of the economy relevant to their area(s) of expertise will certainly help to close the extant knowledge and skills gaps. The country right now relies too much on foreigners’ expertise when it comes to top positions especially in multinational organizations. However, while ready-made experts will help to fill the void in top positions of big organizations, a special emphasis must also be given on involving Bangladeshi academics working abroad in the country’s academic sector, either with the help of digital technology or by providing them incentive to come back home. This must help solve the problem in the longer run.

Bangladesh currently is enjoying a rapid economic growth, thanks to bold and intelligent steps of the government. However, to sustain the economic growth in the next decades, the country requires a continuous supply of adequately competent human resources. If the country is not equipped enough intellectually and in terms of skills to sustain the development, dependence on foreigners will only increase, which will be unfortunate for a nation currently enjoying a demographic dividend. 

For effectively developing our human resources, we need a sufficient number of trainers. And currently we are experiencing a dearth of adequately skilled trainers. An ever-increasing number of universities are breeding thousands of graduates every year, and yet, employers especially in the private sector suffer from an inadequate supply of quality graduates. 

The Global Knowledge Index indicates the same -- while Bangladesh scored a not-so-impressive but arguably acceptable 43.9 in pre-university education and 49 in technical and vocational education and training, as already mentioned, it has scored a poor 24.1 in higher education and an alarming 16.4 in research, development, and innovation. For Bangladesh -- a nation aiming for decades of sustained economic growth as it has enjoyed over the last decade, this is anything but good news.

This issue can be effectively addressed by encouraging competent academics practising in reputed universities abroad to come back to Bangladesh and work in the country’s academic sector. From personal experience of studying at a reputed university in Australia, I can attest to the fact that there are numerous Bangladeshi academics working in the top universities of the world, who have much to contribute to the academe in Bangladesh. 

They can contribute in three major ways -- helping to ensure that the system of imparting education in Bangladesh is in line with the best global practices (or innovating novel ways of imparting education suitable for Bangladesh), contributing to the intellectual and skills development of young students through teaching and supervising their research activities, and directly conducting research activities themselves. 

This will greatly help Bangladesh not only to improve the quality of its higher education sector, but also to ensure that its large number of young people who will be given the mantle of the nation’s leadership over the next couple of decades, are receiving quality education and training. An improvement in the quality of higher education in Bangladesh will also help decrease the number of talented Bangladeshi students leaving the country in search for quality higher education abroad and often settling down there permanently.

The government must design incentives to attract these academics to come back home leaving behind the luxuries and comfort of the developed world. Allotment of budget for research at public universities must be adequate for the academicians. The government’s budgetary allotment for education must also increase significantly if long-term improvement in the process of knowledge imparted to the youth in terms of method and resources is expected. 

Finally, toxic elements of politics and activism must be eradicated from public university campuses (here also, Bangladeshi academics from leading global universities may help with their knowledge of best global practices or through novel and innovative ideas). 

If we want to attract the best global Bangladeshi talent in the field of academia, we must make the environment conducive for their participation in the country’s academe. Otherwise, our prospects of becoming a self-sustaining knowledge economy in the foreseeable future will diminish, and with it our prospects of sustaining our economic and social development in the long run.

Sifat Mosaddek Bhuiyan is a communications professional.

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