Higher Education Sector in Bangladesh

Published:  12:24 AM, 29 January 2019

It is time to be pro-active rather than reactive

Change is constant, and for anyone surveying the economic and educational landscape it is evident that the dynamic is such that opportunities aplenty exist for those willing to look as well as see. Internationally, there is a growing appreciation that the world is on the cusp of seismic changes, especially in respect of technology and this looks set to bring about a revolution in the way in which things are done.

Developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform almost every sector of human endeavour, and yet as things stand there is a danger that many higher educational institutions have yet to appreciate the enormity of what is underway, let alone ensure that they are prepared to respond by being pro-active rather than merely passive or reactive.

Central to any development will be a willingness to anticipate change, and for this to happen it is imperative that Bangladesh has the mechanisms in place that will help encourage and monitor high impact research that is capable of being benchmarked with the best in the world.

Technology is moving at such a pace that the impending changes that are being described as the Internet of Things (IoT) will require an appreciation of what is already under way, as well as an ability to grasp the possible impact on individual lives and society at large. Already the signs are that the degree of connectivity will be such that homes, offices, factories, warehouses, ports etc. will become 'smart'.

Devices will access data as never before, and this will offer potential to respond to an extraordinary variety of human needs. IoT is likely to see transformations in areas such as healthcare, with the ability of 'smart' clothing and other accessories to play a positive and purposeful role in the diagnosis process. Such is the enormity of this technological revolution that our lives really will be transformed within a generation.

Data will play a central role and the levels of interconnectivity will be on an unprecedented scale. Businesses will see inventory tracking transformed and thus the potential to adapt productivity that should lead to far greater efficiency. What in the past has been subject to human frailty and imperfections will be much less haphazard.

Inevitably, many existing jobs and tasks will become obsolete, and yet new niche sectors are likely to emerge. The world of work will be transformed, and society at large will be required to recalibrate its focus.

So how on earth should Bangladesh prepare? Well, the most important thing that the country can do at this juncture is to establish a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council, with a view to giving a focus to academic research and ensuring that the country aspires to be in research mainstream internationally.

It is imperative that many more Bangladeshis are encouraged to undertake ground breaking research that is required to be submitted to non-Bangladeshi academic peer-reviewed academic journals.

A robust and outward looking research process enables a far more objective assessment of originality, something that fosters critical thinking and benchmarking. There are plenty of excellent examples out there that Bangladesh should seek to learn from and emulate. The following are just some that are deemed to be among the best:

*    Australian Research Council (www.arc.gov.au)

*    National Health & Medical Research Council (www.nhmrc.gov.au)

*   Ministry of Education Malaysia - Higher Education (www.mohe.gov.my/en/) 

*    Tertiary Education Commission (https://tec.govt.nz)

*    UK Research & Innovation (www.ukri.org)

*    University Grants Committee (www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/ugc/index.html)

The three greatest dangers at this stage are complacency, inertia and parochialism. There will always be those who fail to appreciate the need to take bold and imaginative steps. Sadly, some ministries and institutions are so preoccupied with day to day practicalities that they make no effort to plan ahead in any meaningful manner, and thus become unresponsive to the requirements of the age.

Then there are those who are quite content to think that what they are doing is more than sufficient; and appear largely ignorant or indifferent to what is happening in the world beyond their discipline, institution or nation. The very best higher education requires those who are curious, exacting, courageous and imbued with a well-grounded appreciation of the value of foresight planning.

As things stand, developments tend to be piecemeal in nature, and so it imperative that there is leadership across both the public and private sector. So crucial is higher education to national development, renewal and future prosperity that it needs to be a priority that is championed by the incumbent government and all who care about ensuring Bangladesh becomes a beacon for research and innovation.

Whilst these things take time and resources, once initiated they have the potential to transform an economy. The question is, can Bangladesh really afford to stand on the side lines whilst her competitors surge ahead?

The establishment of a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council would be an excellent first step. It would be a signal of intent, one that would tell the world that Bangladesh is fully committed to playing its part in global research excellence.

From there Bangladesh can set itself the goal of ensuring that it features more prominently in the World Intellectual Property Indicators, by ensure that it invents and seeks to patent its inventions and industrial design.

By focussing home-grown talent Bangladesh can help prepare for the challenges ahead, whilst making sure it keeps an eye on global competitors with a view to outdoing them through its own resourcefulness, ingenuity and targeted research. Let us not forget, it is the tree that we plant today that will provide fruit and shade in the future.

Dr P R Datta FCIM, FCMI is Executive Chair, Academy of Business & Retail Management, UK. Mark T Jones BA (Hons), FCILN is a Consultant Futurist, and
Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Higher Education Management

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