Brac University and the entire Bangladesh’s higher education, are behind the world in standards. We need to close the gap. We require the commitment of the entire community of stakeholders. This is not an easy journey, and we shall take the first step now

"Three years ago upon my arrival in Dhaka, I proposed the vision and mission and the three pillars for the next milestones to define Brac University. The purpose was simple and clear. The existence of Brac University shall be nothing but for the nation’s needs, for global competitiveness, and for lasting forever," Vincent Chang said.

"Education is a key factor for economic development. We can borrow money, copy technology, but we must develop our own people through quality education. Furthermore, education is a key diver for social mobility. Education is an effective instrument for improving social mobility, perhaps more effective and long-lasting than any social programme."

There is a Korean university reaching Global Top 100 in 30 years. There is a Hong Kong university reaching Global Top 100 in 20 years. And there is the school that I jump-started in China. Two of its degree programs are ranked Asia’s #1 and Global Top 20, in just 15 years. They have never prayed for good luck. They have never just talked. There have been only strategy, commitment, investments, and actions. 

BRAC VC said, "So, I urge all stakeholders of this country -- Put education at the top of the national agenda. Don’t be a bystander. Don’t be just a critic. Don’t just talk. Be in the arena, roll up your sleeves, take actions, punch, get punched, and by 2041 stand tall as a Global Top 100."

Assume that to become a developed nation, the average income per person per year has to reach at least US$10,000. Now Bangladesh’s income per person per year is about US$2,000. So to get there, an average Bangladeshi will have to earn five times as much as he or she does today.

Is it possible? If yes, what should be done? It is clear that we should not depend on fate or good luck.

Next, let’s do economics.

What makes an economy grow? What can a country like Bangladesh grow five times as big as it is today 20 years from now?

While answering these questions, Vincent Chang said there are three most important factors -- money, technology, and people. It’s based on the Solow’s growth model. Robert Solow is a Nobel laureate and an economics professor at MIT.

Did the model work? Yes. It did well on the US and European economies. And yes, it did well on the Eastern Asian economies after WW2, starting from Japan, then the Four Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore), and later China.

To grow their economies, they all have something in common. For Money, they borrow initially. For Technology, they buy or copy initially and even currently. For People, ah, this is the key ingredient. They get their people from their quality education. So they have all the three factors in place – money, technology and people. And their economies take off.

Economists have called their economic performances miracles. But, there are no miracles. There are no good lucks. There are only commitment and hard work.  And there is a macroeconomic model that makes sense.

There is one more factor -- that’s the market. Initially, Japan and the Four Tigers use America as their markets. Later, China uses America and the rest of world as its market.

Is it possible that Bangladeshi economy 20 years later can be five times as big as it is today?

Perhaps it’ll be easier to understand with a case.

"I met a Mr. Wang in China over 10 years ago. He moved from his hometown to the city of Shenzhen to work for a company assembling iPhones for Apple. He used to make less than US$100 a month in today’s value, in his hometown. Immediately after he got the iPhone assembly job, he made US$500 a month in today’s value. That is a five-time increase in income almost overnight. Mr. Wang today makes about US$2,000 a month. His income has increased more than 20 times in slightly over 10 years." BRAC VC mentioned.

The company that Mr. Wang works for is a Taiwanese company that employs a total of 1.3 million workers in the China. There may be 1.3 million stories similar to that of Mr. Wang.

"So, if we can duplicate a journey similar to that of Mr. Wang for Bangladeshis, then it may be possible that Bangladeshi economy can grow five times in 20 years," he added.

The professor said, however, there is a challenge. Remember the three factors for economic growth: "Money – we can borrow, so no problem; Technology – we can copy, so no problem; but People – I’m not sure. Our education system has not delivered what East Asian countries’ education did when they were at our economic state. Unless, starting from now on, we put education at the top of the national agenda.  I shall come back to it later."

"Although today, Bangladesh enjoys a 7-8pc growth, thanks to the garment industry. But there is no assurance that we will be able to continue at such a pace. What can Bangladesh offer besides the garment industry? What can Bangladesh offer after the garment industry leaves Bangladesh?"

Vincent Chang said, "Since I came to Dhaka three years ago, I have been eager to meet those who rise from poverty to become a business owner, a professor, an engineer, a lawyer, or a medical doctor. How many have I found in the last three years? Answer is almost none. Perhaps I have not met enough people. But statistically speaking, there is no difference from zero."

Based on World Economic Forum’s Social Mobility Report for 2020, Bangladesh ranks at the bottom 5pc in the world. Low social mobility means -- the possibility that the son or daughter of a rickshaw puller can become a banker or lawyer is small; the possibility that the son or daughter of a fisherman can become a professor or a doctor is hard to realize; and the possibility that the son or daughter from a slum can become a scientist or an astronaut is impossible to dream.

It’s a strong consensus in social sciences and among educators that education is one of the most important factors that can improve social mobility. In this sense, it may take some time for education in Bangladesh to go.

"I grew up in a slum-like place in Taiwan. I did not have a desk for study until I was in high school. Several families had to share the same toilet. To get a basket of fresh water, my brother and I must queue for hours to fetch it from the only well in the area."

Vincent Chang said, "Many years later, when I worked for a management consulting firm, I traveled frequently around the world. When I went back to Taiwan, instead of staying in a hotel, I would stay in my parents’ place. The company’s driver would come to pick me up at the airport and take me to my parents’ place and vice versa. My father was a serious person. One morning, he told me, “Whatever you do, you must abide by the law.” It’s hard for him to imagine what business I was doing."

He said, "My mother was a proud person. In my early 40s, when my company suggested and sponsored me to study my second PhD with a full-scale salary, my mother never shared the news with her friends and relatives."

 “Because no one would believe me,” she told me. It’s also difficult for her to believe.

"What changed? Education changed me. And I was not a sole case. Education changed many sons and daughters from the bottom of the society of my generation. Education worked. And perhaps it worked better than any social programmes," he added.