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Private sector is driving change in BD’s higher education

Published : Sunday, 10 November, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 194
P R Datta

It is a sad fact that the wider world has yet to appreciate the degree of economic progress made by Bangladesh. Such are the levels of growth that every year thousands of people are lifted out of poverty. Those who study such progress recognise that the higher education is a key player, especially in respect to producing highly skilled graduates as well as leading the precious innovation that is essential for any nation in a globally competitive market.

It pays to appreciate the opportunities and challenges across the higher education sector, for only then can the right decisions be taken to carry the country further forward with confidence.  Traditionally the lion's share of Bangladesh's higher education has been publicly funded and as a result many universities have tended to have something of a dependency mindset.

Sadly, over the years an "us and them" attitude has developed across the university sector, with public universities choosing to have little or nothing to do with private providers, and private universities mistrustful of fellow private providers.

As things stand such attitudes are a serious impediment to progress, as the key to learning is knowledge sharing and neither the public nor private sector have a monopoly on excellence. It is imperative that there is a conscious effort to forge meaningful links and exchanges including attending respective conferences, careers fairs etc.

The entire country's higher education needs to be aware of the fact that whether public or private institutions standards can only truly be benchmarked and measured against international competitors.

Bangladeshi academics must work to put their academic output in the public domain, primarily by ensuring that research appears in reputable international academic journals, something which currently happens all too infrequently, which explains why the country's universities hardly feature in international rankings, or if they do they appear to be slipping down the global rankings year on year.
When it comes to rankings things need to change and change fast, or else Bangladesh will suffer an academic brain drain that will seriously impede the country's progress over the coming decades.
Whilst the public sector universities have a proud heritage it is important that they learn from some of the strengths of the private sector. Generally, in Bangladesh the private institutions are more alive to the needs of students and as a result are more responsive and adaptable. Being lean and responsive are much needed qualities in the marketplace, and this is as true of education as it is of any other offering.

 As a rule, the private sector has demonstrated a greater ability to forge meaningful partnerships with industry and this has opened up avenues for internships and work experience, something that all students can benefit from. The private universities also have a keener appreciation of the fact that education is now a global commodity, one where there is huge demand, and thus there is the potential to attract international students, providing what is being offered is of an international standard.

The more an institution is able to attract international students the more alive it is to new ideas. Much of the private sector appreciates the value of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), something that requires a sea change in attitudes, both at a leadership level and across the institution's culture.

When quality assurance is enshrined at the heart of an institution it becomes more alive to change and what is more does not fear it. Those that believe in what they are doing do not fear scrutiny, what is more they are much more appreciative of the value of transparency. There are already several private sector universities that have learnt that there is no room for complacency, and that they need to adapt to survive and thrive.

Moreover, the best institutions recruit and promote on merit rather than connections. Increasingly there are signs of universities waking up to the value of incorporating Lean Management techniques and training, something that along with international Quality Assurance training can truly be transformative. Interestingly internationally many of the most successful institutions are the ones with a higher percentage of women in senior academic and leadership roles. 
Furthermore, the private sector is much more ready to offer new programmes of study, something that is going to become ever more crucial as universities look to attract both the best academics and the finest students.

If Bangladesh is to show the world that it has really arrived as an academic powerhouse it will need to demonstrate that its higher education is in tip top condition. As things stand, there is a lot of ground to catch up, and it will require both the public and private sector to demonstrate a willingness to adapt and innovative.  A key part of the path to future excellence will be an increase in partnerships and knowledge sharing, something that will require a willingness to engage and communicate.

Whilst some good work is being done from an international perspective it is evident that compared with regional competitors much work remains to be done. So, the challenge is clear, what is now required is action, the question is, which institutions will have the courage to act?

The writer an Executive Chair, Centre for Business & Economic Research, UK, and Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Business and Retail Management Research

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