Dr PR Datta
The knowledge economy becomes ever more important in respect of a nation's development. Already there is a wealth of creditable data that proves the link between investing in education at all levels and economic well-being.
Similarly, those countries that consistently pump money into research and development see healthy returns on their investment in terms of GDP and local jobs. Innovation has never been more vital even more so as the world enters the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), a time that will be transformative and potentially replete with opportunities.
Whilst the overall size of Bangladesh's economy is generally impressive, when key drivers of the economy are examined in closer detail the picture is a lot less rosy and raises serious questions about policy and planning.
A key indicator is that of the QS World University Rankings. These make for sobering reading as they clearly show that the Bangladesh Higher Education barely registers, and when it does the institutions that feature is losing ground year on year to international competitors.
Venerable institutions such as Dhaka University appear to have lost their way and give the impression of being content to live off past glories and of lack ambition and international aspirations. Such apparent complacency is not only damaging for the institution and the prospects for students and academics but is also harmful for the country as a whole.
Whilst some universities might prefer to be a big fish in a small pond, the reality is that that no institution can afford to ignore what is taking place elsewhere. Yet sadly, there are signs of institutional myopia in Bangladesh, something that urgently needs to be addressed.
So where are things at? The following data provides a useful snap shot, one that should give considerable food for thought.
Number of Universities in top 200: Bangladesh-0, India-0, Pakistan-0, Srilanka-0, Thailand-0, Malaysia-1, Indonesia-0, Russia-1, USA-46 & UK-29; Number of Universities in top 500: Bangladesh-0, India-7, Pakistan-2, Srilanka-0, Thailand-2, Malaysia-2, Indonesia-2, Russia-13, USA-87 & UK-48; Number of Universities in top 800: Bangladesh-0, India-19, Pakistan-4, Srilanka-0, Thailand-7, Malaysia-7, Indonesia-8, Russia-24, USA-123 & UK-66 and number of Universities in top 1000: Bangladesh-2 (bottom 200), India-24, Pakistan-6, Srilanka-1, Thailand-10, Malaysia-11, Indonesia-12, Russia-32, USA-173 and UK-83
By drilling down into the data, it soon becomes apparent that a number of countries have witnessed notable and sustained progress in the field of higher education. Both Russia and Thailand are cases in point. In Russia there has been a conscious effort at both a national and institutional level to drive up standards with a view to improving the country's international ranking.
Additional resources have been carefully targeted, scholarly research and output more closely monitored and efforts made to emulate something of the excellence and success manifested by the very best British and American universities.
Extra funding has been made available to encourage Russian academics to attend international academic conferences and there has been a greater onus on institutions to increase both research and the number of meaningful collaborations with international institutions.
The overall effect has been to make Russian universities more outward looking, reflective and research driven. Already this approach is yielding results with a number of Russian universities climbing higher in the world rankings.
This progress speaks volumes of the wisdom of the Russian approach, especially in respect of targeted funding and having a clear sighted and ambitious Research Council.
Similarly, Thailand has recognised that raising standards across the board in education acts as a dynamo for the country, not only economically, but in terms of its creativity.
Thai academics are actively encouraged to submit their papers to reputable foreign academic journals and as a consequence have gained much in terms of being more outward looking and appreciating the value of benchmarking.
Thailand with a population of 68.8 million has a GDP of 455.22 Billion US$ (World Bank 2017), Bangladesh in contrast has a population of 162.9 million and a GDP of 249.72 Billion US$ (World Bank 2017).
Those nations that are performing well in university world rankings all have a common denominator - namely a higher education research council, one that monitors academic output, as well as helping ensure that institutions seek to emulate best practise internationally.
Currently only Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology and the University of Dhaka are inside the top 1000 in the QS World University Rankings and all the signs are that there are a whole host of international universities working to outperform them. Here in lies the challenge.
Those looking to ensure Bangladesh's future prosperity would do well to direct their energies to ensuring the establishment of a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council as soon as is humanly possible. By so doing there will be a real opportunity to refocus the entire university sector to ensure that it is not only relevant, but ambitious.
Other countries have shown the way, now it is time for Bangladesh to rise to the challenge and demonstrate its ability and talent when up against international competitors. No one is saying the process will be easy, there is no royal road to learning.
The reality is that time and resources invested in a vision now will pay dividends in the near future, thus ensuring that Bangladesh earns international respect for its foresight and commitment to national development.
(The writer is Executive Chair, Academy of Business & Retail Management, UK and Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Business and Retail Management Research -- A SCOPUS Indexed & SCIMAGO Ranked Journal)