Wednesday, August 15, 2018 | ePaper

Population growth and higher education in Bangladesh

  • Print


Dr. P R Datta and Mark T. Jones :
For anyone interested in Bangladesh and its future success, an important starting point has to be the current and projected population figures.  Even if there is a margin of error of ten per cent either way these figures should still cause pause for thought.
Source: www.populationpyramid.net
Whilst there are signs that by the middle of the century the rate of growth will slow a little, it is clear that population pressures are going to have serious ramifications for a variety of sectors. One sector it is certain to impact on is that of education, more especially higher education. It is evident that if Bangladesh is to maintain and hopefully enhance its economic position it will need to have many more undergraduate and postgraduate places. By the middle of the century it is reasonable to suggest that the country might well need between eighty and hundred additional higher education institutions, including universities. Ensuring that Bangladesh has the wherewithal to build, equip and staff high calibre institutions will demand foresight planning on a grand scale, something which to date has been conspicuous by its absence. If anything, development has been decidedly piecemeal in nature and largely haphazard. The central government has largely left matters to the private sector, something which many consider to be a high-risk strategy. Such is the crucial nature of the higher education sector to the national economy that it is vital that things are not left to chance. It is imperative that things are put in place so that the country can prepare and build up the talent base that will be essential if research excellence is to be a part of the national story.
The population figures underscore the challenge, it will be considerable. Ministries will be required to think and act in a co-ordinated manner, something that may at times feel alien. That said, the alternative is far worse, failure to adapt and plan now will almost certainly result in Bangladesh falling behind its regional and international competitors. One of the key signs of under investment and planning will be an increase in the brain drain of the brightest and the best, the very people a country should aspire to keep and cherish, will go elsewhere. A direct result of such a haemorrhaging of talent will be that Bangladesh will become far less attractive to foreign investors, and as a direct consequence the levels of Foreign Direct Investment will stagnate and decline. Any dip in FDI is bad news for jobs, and the prospect of employment for the many thousands leaving school and higher education institutions every year. All countries need to work at job creation, and encouraging inward investment is an important part of the equation.
So, what is to be done? Clearly those in positions of responsibility need to take a long hard look at the projected population figures, they cannot claim that they have not been made aware. It is essential that Bangladesh examine and where possible emulate best practise from elsewhere. One of the most important areas for consideration are in respect of the establishment of a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council. This could have several functions including, firstly the overseeing of the allocation and monitoring of research grants, secondly it would be charged with the responsibility of making sure that all accredited higher education institutions had a research output, thirdly it would require all licenced institutions to demonstrate a commitment to raising academic standards, fourthly it would monitor and encourage Bangladeshi academics to publish their research in internationally accredited academic journals. These four key priorities would help nurture and consolidate a research culture, one that is aspirational in nature and is outward looking, thus better able to be benchmarked against international competitors. Furthermore, there would need to be an increase in the number of specialist institutions, with those who excel in research fields being entitled to bid for additional funding based on merit. Overtime there would be scope for a premier league of specialist research universities, this would be akin to the UK's Russell Group (http://russellgroup.ac.uk/). Bangladesh also should consider having regional cluster partnerships, these could involve both public and private institutions forging meaningful partnerships and collaborations. In addition, all staff at high education institutions would be required to demonstrate continuous professional development, with academic staff having to show a willingness to engage in research and where possible write and submit academic papers for publication.
It is inevitable that there will be resistance in some quarters. Standards will only improve if complacency and indifference are challenged. There needs to be far greater transparency and accountability. To date too few institutions in Bangladesh have sought feedback from stakeholders, and as a direct consequence 'a like it lump it mentality' prevails. Some of the older academic institutions have lost their desire to be leading global players, and instead prefer to sit back and live off old reputations. Such attitudes have no place in a forward looking and dynamic Bangladesh. Some once leading lights will need to be pensioned off, and fresh faces and new thinking brought in. It will be a challenge, but then again, the alternative is far worse. If Bangladesh fails to plan ahead over the next few years, it will face a bleak future, one with rising youth unemployment, and all the social problems that go with a generation who feel dispossessed.
There are nascent signs of a growing awareness that things need to change. Now is as good a time as any to start putting things in place. Each higher education institution will become an important knowledge hub, one that cherishes research and forges meaningful relationships with local businesses and employers. Internationally there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that such links stimulate further research, with all the economic spinoffs that can result. Higher education excellence needs to become a way of life. Yes, additional resources will be required, and it is thus essential that all politicians regardless of their party loyalties appreciate the urgency and importance of this additional support. Hearts and minds need to be won over. The seeds of future success need to be planted now.
Training, coupled with improved national literacy and numeracy will be vital if progress is to be made. Bangladesh can easily set itself the task of emulating the likes of the Higher Education Academy (www.heacademy.ac.uk) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (www.hefce.ac.uk). Let the projected population figures provide the impetus. Whether we like it or not, change is coming. Now is the time for the higher education sector to make ready. Both the public and private sector have a role play. Government, mindful of its duty to serve all citizens, must show appropriate leadership, and budget accordingly, so that plans can be realised, ones that will yield research success and future employment. A targeted and systematic expansion of the higher education sector cannot happen over-night. It requires method, mechanisms, skilled manpower, and above all else vision.  Bangladesh relishes a challenge; may it rise to this one. Onwards, and upwards.
(Dr. P R Datta FCIM, FCMI is Executive Chair, Academy of Business & Retail Management, UK, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Business and Retail Management Research- A SCOPUS Indexed and SCIMAGO Ranked Journal. Mark T. Jones BA (Hons), FABRM is Consultant Futurist, Editor-in-Chief - International Journal of Higher Education Management)

More News For this Category

Indigenous studies matter for natural science students

Indigenous studies matter for natural science students

Joanna Hughes :For many years, indigenous people and issues were not only disregarded, but also largely invisible in education. However, as the importance of their impact and influence is

What you need to know before you teach

What you need to know before you teach

Alyssa Walker :Happy World Teachers' Day! In 1994 in Paris, UNESCO proclaimed October 5 World Teacher's Day to celebrate the adoption of the rights and responsibilities of teachers and

Cheradangi High School: A story of educating rural Bangladesh

Cheradangi High School: A story of educating rural Bangladesh

Prof. Faisal Hossain :Cheradangi high school, located about 10 km from Dinajpur town, was first set up in 1931 during the British colonial period as a primary school. In

The digital disruption

The digital disruption

Joanna Hughes :Google the words "digital disruption," and more than a million hits come back. Google it again tomorrow, and the results will likely have multiplied. Why? Because we're

Photography, art and music fest at BUP

Photography, art and music fest at BUP

Mohammed Sadman Sakib, BUP : 'Sfuron' the term means to bloom or to unfold or to shine. The two popular clubs of Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), BUP Photography society

Revitalizing education in line of job, research and knowledge

Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :Education is a basic need for mankind as all as human resource development. In the present world, there is an ample scope for education. There

STEM students should study humanities

STEM students should study humanities

Elizabeth Koprowski :Once upon a time, the humanities reigned supreme in the halls of higher education. Philosophy, literature, languages, and rhetoric were seen as the pinnacles of learning and

Part-time jobs for service-minded students

Part-time jobs for service-minded students

Joanna Hughes :Just because you're in school doesn't mean you can't give back. In fact, students have a lot to offer when it comes to helping their communities. Not

Masters in Design Studies

Masters in Design Studies

Alyssa Walker :If you think you need a background in the arts to pursue postgraduate work in design studies, think again.  Both design and non-design undergraduates can pursue design

Recycle waste to recycle Dhaka for a healthy life

Recycle waste to recycle Dhaka for a healthy life

Mohammed Sadman Sakib and Sadia Jahan Rathi :Dhaka is the capital city of Bangladesh, which has a population of 7 million.  According to WHO the waste which is generated