The first WB supported regional education project in South Asia will support regional collaboration in the higher education sector, including student mobility through equivalence programs, credit transfer schemes, and university twinning arrangements within the region, said a WB media release.

It will also help more women access to quality higher education, which will result in increased female labour force participation. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit hard the higher education sector in South Asia, causing more dropouts and fewer enrollments.

Female students are likely to be disproportionately impacted, further exacerbating the existing gender gap in higher education. The project will support pandemic and emergency response and build systemic resilience in the higher education sector with a specific focus on digitisation.

It will establish a South Asian Higher Education Portal, hosted in Bangladesh, to facilitate the 'virtual mobility' of students, by allowing students from the registered universities to take courses for credit outside their home country.

In addition to Bangladesh, students from other South Asian countries will be able to access the portal. It will also strengthen regional cooperation among the National Research and Education networks (NRENs) and provide expanded access and connectivity for students.

The project will upgrade the Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN) and will offer a subsidized connectivity package to students and the participating universities in BdREN.

South Asia region has the second-lowest female labour force participation rate globally.

To enable more women to access quality higher education, get better jobs, and become leaders, the project will build a network of women's universities and institutions, which will be initially anchored on the Asian University of Women in Chattogram, Bangladesh.

"For our collective future, higher education is a necessity, not a choice. As Bangladesh aspires to achieve upper middle-income status, the country needs to invest in its youth to create a skilled and globally competitive workforce" said Mercy Tembon, WB country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.

"This financing will help Bangladesh strengthen quality and relevance of tertiary education particularly for women, as well as ensure business continuity during the Covid-19 pandemic."

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