The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman recognised the importance of quality higher education and initiated a knowledge-based economy through a Presidential Order to establish UGC on the very first Victory Day of Bangladesh on 16 December 1972. UGC started its operation officially in 1973.

UGC is going to host an International Conference on 4th Industrial Revolution and Beyond (IC4IR 2021) from 10-11 December 2021. On the 100th Birth Anniversary of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh and 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, UGC is planning to create a premier international forum for bringing together researchers and practitioners from diverse domains in order to help resolve local problems, improve life and the environment, utilising state-of-the-art 4IR techniques, and achieve the sustainable development goals. The scope of the conference includes AI; Robotics and Automation; IoT and Smart Agriculture; Data Analytics and Cloud Computing; Communication and Networks Signal; and Natural Language Processing.

However, the rankings of our universities at various global indices are not acceptable at all. According to the latest Times Higher Education Rankings 2022, three universities are enlisted in the global rankings: Dhaka University (801-1000), Bangladesh Agricultural University (1001-1200) and BUET (1201+). In terms of 2022 QS Asia Rankings, 13 universities are enlisted. With the advent of 4IR, the higher education at digital Bangladesh should put emphasis into the following dimensions:

Increased digitalisation: Bangladesh has already passed the 1st stage of digital education, that is, face-to-face digital and now we are at the 2nd stage of digital education, that is, blended digital, for which the UGC has recently approved the National Blended Learning Policy 2021. The next stage is online digital education - Bangladesh is yet to mark its presence in the global online education industry worth $375 Billion by 2026. It could easily be the third highest source of earning revenues after remittance and garments, if 4IR technologies (e.g., AI based LMS) can be integrated effectively within the system. Even India has started recognizing online degrees, which the developed world did at least 10years ago.

Integration of vocational components: Each university graduate should have a vocational component as part of their curriculum such as automobiles, electrical wiring, graphics, video editing, animation, etc. so that they can prepare themselves for the future world of work. There are many graduates unemployed but if they have vocational expertise, they won’t have to wait for jobs but rather can create jobs for others. Even within the online digital education spectrum thousands of jobs can be created in terms of teaching assistants, learning advisors, instructional designers, learning technologists, etc. With the advent of 4IR many jobs will be lost but more new jobs will be created.

Need-based and time-driven curricula: Curricula at many of our universities are outdated and often not based on the industry needs. BCS focused education won’t help us in the long run. A big gap is evident between academia and industry, and we need to bridge it within the curriculum. In the final year of a Bachelor or Masters programme, students should be more engaged with the industry practices with a capstone project or thesis option while attending one or two university courses fully online, if required. Government and private sectors should come forward to patronise this type of initiatives.

Employability and mentoring for soft skills: Soft skills such as communication abilities, language skills, cognitive or emotional empathy, time management, teamwork, leadership traits etc. are very important for employability, which essentially comprises job placement (local or international organization), freelance consultancy profile development, business development guidance, and ensure IGA (Income Generating Activities). Alongside Bangla and English, third language skills such as German, Japanese or Arabic could often prove highly effective at the job sectors.

Higher education loan program (HELP): There should be several categories of higher education schemes such as full-free, government-subsidised, and full-fee payment based on the taxpayer income. Government may provide subsidies to those courses and programs relating to 4IR based on their demand in the local job market. After graduation, when the students will get job or self-employed, s/he must pay the education loan gradually. In order to get government loan or subsidies, parents or legal guardians of students must have income tax return cleared even it is zero.

Generate own funding: One of the main reasons for poor rankings of our universities is the smaller cohorts of international students. Country’s top two institutions have only 3% and 0% of international students whereas most of the Australian universities have around 40% international students and thereby earning billions of dollars every year and contributing to the rankings as well. If there is own funding option, universities can bring visiting professors and scholars from abroad, particularly those of Bangladeshi origins having academic excellence in both teaching and research at various fields.

Competitive academic environment: There should have a national ranking system of universities following the same pattern of Times Higher Education or QS. Thus, competitive but congenial academic atmosphere can be created for teachers and universities. Criteria for academic promotion and annual increments such as academic excellence, professional development, quality publications, and research grants need to be strengthened and followed in a systematic way with transparency.

A report from the World Economic Forum (2016) indicated that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” Therefore, education is not a vaccine anymore – will be lifelong learning. The future jobs are the ones machines can’t do but at the same time areas like creative endeavours, social interactions, physical dexterity where human beats machines, still remain open for job creation in the 4IR era. Now it is the right time for our policymakers to rethink education policy with respect to 4IR and prioritize research and innovations to excel in today’s transnational education as a Brand of Education Bangladesh.