A sustainable higher education policy

Sayed Ahmed | Update:

Bangladesh's higher education policy requires wholesale revision to make it modern, updated and effective, so it creates an erudite population and skilled manpower.

The current higher education policy is creating tens and thousands of Bachelor's and Master's degree holders who find themselves unemployed or under employed after sixteen years of formal education. This is a sheer wastage of time, money and energy on personal, societal and national levels.

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reportedly conducted a survey between December 2013 and June 2015 which shows that unemployment rate was the highest among the people with tertiary education. The rate among them rose to 9 per cent in June 2015 from 6.7 per cent in December, 2013.

The National University (NU) credits the largest share in the mounting highly educated unemployed people in the country with smaller shares of other institutions. Through thousands of colleges, the university offers Bachelor's and Master's degrees at almost every corner of the country. There students spend five years to get Bachelor's and Master's degrees but most of them fail to find jobs basically for two reasons -- they fail in competition with graduates of government universities or the jobs related to their majors are not available.

So, the NU graduates converge to Dhaka city and other divisional cities in search of jobs. Only a few graduates get jobs through personal connections. The unfortunate ones get admission to coaching centres to prepare for qualifying examinations for civil service, bank exams and so on, while a few others go for professional degrees for jobs. In that case, a student spends 17-18 years in total to qualify for jobs.

Poor screening process at admission, faulty teacher selection process, negligence in teaching, poor administration, lack of infrastructural support, old and ineffective curriculum, almost zero level research activities, and insufficient co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are some of the reasons of the failure of NU graduates to achieve desired academic and professional skills. Hiring teachers is important but any graduate irrespective of their marks/grades at Bachelor's and Master's degree exams can teach undergraduate and post-graduate levels at a government college only if they qualify in the civil service exam which has little focus on academic competence.

Public university graduates, especially those who graduate with less demanding majors, also encounter some problems. Research activities, both in terms of quantity and quality, even at public universities, are not standard. The country has almost two hundred universities but not a single one ranks on any university ranking in the world, not even in Asia.

The objectives of higher education of the country should be three-fold: a) creating highly educated people for academia and research, (b) creating educated people for administrative, secretarial, business and other professional purposes, (c) creating skilled workforce.

Let’s go into detail.

(a) Only public universities such as Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University, and Chittagong University as well as science and technology universities will offer four-year Bachelor's and two-year Master's degree courses. Admission to these universities should be very strict and based only on comprehensive admission tests. Seats in the less demanding subjects like philosophy, sociology, botany and zoology should be reduced. All Master's degree courses must be of two years and also research-based. For any subject, courses of English language, IT, ethics as well as fundamentals of professional skills must be made mandatory. These universities will create academic and research-oriented professionals.

(b) In every district, only one college under National University will offer four-year Bachelor's courses, but no college will offer any Master's degree course. All other NU colleges will offer 3-year graduation degrees in broader areas like Arts and Humanities, Social Science, Business Administration, Computer and IT, Natural Science and Life Science.  Irrespective of the major, courses of English language, IT, ethics as well as fundamental of professional skills must be made mandatory. While studying in this graduation mode, a student will know about several areas which will broaden their knowledge as well as job opportunities. Three-year graduation courses will create professionals for administrative and managerial positions. After such graduation with high scores, anybody will be able to enroll in Master's degree programmes at public universities through admission tests.

(c) NU colleges, vocational colleges and polytechnic institutes will offer two-year diploma courses in a number of areas. They include agriculture, fisheries, livestock, computer, IT, outsourcing, graphics design, garments and apparels, merchandising, handicrafts, accounting, book keeping, secretary science, nursing, pathology, radiology, mechanical and electricals. These have huge job demand at home and abroad. The main focus of these diploma courses will be to teach them hands-on professional skills so they get jobs easily at home and abroad. If they fail to get jobs, they can also build their own business. Vocational diplomas will provide the weak and poor students easy, quick and convenient ways to enter the job market which will, in turn, empower individuals, families, and the nation as a whole.

If the higher education policy is amended as discussed, it is bound to create academic, administrative and managerial workforce. At the same time, it will produce a huge skilled workforce. Secondly, the policy will save an ample amount of money and time for individuals, families and the nation.

Thirdly, the policy will ensure the right people in the right place.

Fourthly, it will remove frustration among individuals and will make them self-confident.

Finally, the country will see a boom in the entrepreneurship and business will thrive.

 

Sayed Ahmed teaches at King Khalid University in Saudi Arabia and can be reached at green23feb@gmail.com.

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