Published:  12:27 AM, 09 March 2019

Higher education in Bangladesh needs to prepare itself for a VUCA world

Higher education in Bangladesh needs to prepare itself for a VUCA world

It would do well for us all to reflect on the lives and prospects of the children born in Bangladesh in 2019. What will the country be like by the time they reach the age 18 and are on the threshold of entering high education? Certainly, many jobs that exist now will have been made obsolete by then due to increased automation and the further development in respect of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The world will be ever more interconnected, and the skillsets required for a future world of work and leisure will be very different. Whilst none of us can know the precise nature of how things will be in two decades time, we can appreciate that certain changes and trends that are already underway are likely to continue. The big question will be how prepared and agile is the education sector, especially the higher education sector, to rise to and meet the challenges and opportunities that the short to medium term future will bring?

Continued population growth means that demand for higher education, both public and private, is projected to increase year on year. On the current rate of growth Bangladesh is set to have a population of 194.5 million by 2037 (Source: Such growth will impact on all aspects of education and require considerable foresight planning, especially when it comes to investing in infrastructure, staff and facilities. On the strength of current data available the percentage of female students is likely to increase, and thus greater thought needs to be given to meeting their needs and requirements.

As things stand the country will require additional universities and colleges, some of these to be specialist subject providers with other institutions offering a broader range of practical and technical subjects.

In addition, the higher education sector will need to embrace the potential to increase stakeholder engagement through the offering of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), with these being offered in Bangla, but particularly in English in order to ensure that the workforce has maximum flexibility when it comes to employment opportunities at home and abroad.

There is an impression in some quarters that some higher education providers in Bangladesh are stuck in a 1980's time warp.  Students are lectured at, learning is by rote, and there is little or no scope or encouragement to develop independent thought.

As if this were not alarming enough, academics are often denied opportunities to engage in additional training and professional development and rarely if ever undertake new research that is put in the public domain. Such institutions have become academic backwaters that are uninspiring, dull and not fit for purpose. It is thus imperative that the Government shows leadership to ensure that all public and private providers are dynamic, innovative and accountable.

The establishment of a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council would be an excellent way to help maintain academic rigor and quality control across the sector. This is doubly important as the entire sector would benefit from being benchmarked against international competitors.

Central to any development will be the role of leadership, something that takes on an added significance when we consider that we are living in a VUCA world, one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Here are some ideas of how to respond:

*    Volatile/Volatility - Focus on preparedness, foresight planning and risk mitigation.

*    Uncertain/Uncertainty - Invest in information, collect it, interpret it and share it.

*    Complex/Complexity - Undertake appropriate restructuring, invest in new resources and hire/utilise specialists where appropriate

*    Ambiguous/Ambiguity - Examine and explore cause and effect. Seek to learn lessons and adapt accordingly.

Rather than retreating into the comfort of the familiar there needs to be a concerted effort to embrace change and ensure that Quality Assurance mechanism are in place to help focus minds. Far greater cognizance should be taken of Lean Management Systems, with a view to stakeholder engagement, efficiency and effectiveness.

Over the coming years, technology will revolutionize the world of study, work and leisure. Rather than being fearful of such change every effort needs to be made to come to terms with and embrace change. Sadly, many in the most senior roles find new technology totally alien and thus have yet to grasp the enormity of the change that is already underway.

For institutions to survive and thrive in a global market they will need to ensure that they hire and train staff at all levels to be technology savvy and ever ready to make the most of the potential that new developments will bring. Change is happening now, and it will not wait for those would rather pretend that it is not happening.

The best institutions invest money in research and development, and as innovators they ensure generous funding for physical spaces that foster and support creativity. A proven sign of a forward-thinking HE institution is one that forges long-term partnerships with industry. Knowledge transfer is very much the name of the game and this will require far less politics and far more openness and interaction.

If Bangladesh is going to be able to ensure that it has a highly skilled, intelligent and flexible workforce it will need to invest heavily in literacy across the board and make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education a priority. Many course programs and portfolios will require changing, and in some cases a radical overhaul with a view to adapting to changing priorities and expectations.

In order to bring about such change those in leadership and management roles will be required to be far more outward looking and willing to benchmark their institutions against the best in the world. Global Higher Education League Tables matter and as ever complacency and self-importance must be avoided at all cost.

So, let us return to the children born this year. The education that they receive in the next few years will shape their ability to make the most of the options available to them in latter life. New universities and campuses do not just happen overnight, they require thought, planning and investment over the coming years.

Tranches of research funding need to be budgeted for and will staff require on-going training. The decisions and action (or inaction) taken over the next five to ten years will directly impact upon those children who will be 18 by the year 2037. Bangladesh needs to ensure that its entire HE is ready, willing and able to shape a future for the adults of tomorrow and beyond.

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

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