Research works in universities––an immensely important task for the country's intellectual and economic growth––remain underfunded, says an expenditure analysis report.
According to the annual report of the University Grants Commission (UGC), 125 public and private universities in the country altogether spent only Tk153 crore – an average of Tk1.22 crore each – on research activities in 2019, which is only 1 percent of their total expenditure.
For the low expenditure by the universities, the country is paying heavily, which, as experts say, contributed to record a poor performance of Bangladesh in the Global Knowledge Index 2020.
Bangladesh ranked 112th out of 138 countries in the index indicating the country's weak performance in terms of knowledge infrastructure. On the latest index, it improved its overall score by 0.9 points to 35.9, but it remains below the global average of 46.7.
An awfully low score—only 16.4 out of 100–– in research, development and innovation diminished Bangladesh's prospects of performing better on the index based on a moderate performance in other indicators. The country's score hovers at 40 of out of 100 in indicators such as pre-university education, information and communications technology and general enabling environment.
When attention was drawn to the deplorable situation, bosses of the universities have now promised to increase the expenditure for research works.
Who spends how much
According to the UGC report, 34 public universities spent Tk53 crore, an average of Tk1.40 crore, on research that year; meanwhile, 87 private universities spent Tk100 crore, an average of Tk1.15 crore.
In the same year, the total operational expenditure of the public universities – including staff salaries – was Tk4,643 crore and that of the private universities was Tk3,631 crore.
Even though public universities are ahead of private ones in terms of average investment in research, the situation is different if the ratio of spending on research against the total operational expenditures is taken into account.
Each public university, on average, spent 1.14% of their total budgets on research while the ratio stood at 2.96% in the case of private universities.
Further, the top 10 private universities in terms of spending invested Tk82 crore on research in 2019, while the top 7 public universities spent Tk32 crore for this purpose, says the recently-published UGC annual report.
It is even more striking that money spent on research by Brac University in 2019 is Tk5 crore more than the total amount of money that the 7 public universities spent on research that year.
Of all the private universities in Bangladesh, nine have yet to start their academic activities, three have stopped theirs following court orders and six have not done any research in 2019. Eight public universities did not conduct any research in 2019, as per UGC's data.
Academics say the amount of money spent on research in the country's universities is very low and that such inadequate research work cannot yield notable results.
Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, told The Business Standard (TBS) that a university generates new knowledge to enrich the world through research activities. But the country's public and private universities are not doing fruitful research, which is very unfortunate.
"We need basic research and a good amount of money is needed for that purpose. But the country's public universities do not get sufficient funds while most private universities are reluctant to spend money on research," he said.
Noted academic Professor Syed Anwar Husain, former teacher of history at Dhaka University, said the country needs huge amounts of research on its way to development. "But I don't see any hope as no university makes a sufficient investment in research."
Serajul Islam Choudhury, professor emeritus of Dhaka University, said universities must concentrate on research and quality education.
Mentioning that the budget for research is very poor, he asked, "How can Bangladeshi universities produce skilled manpower without investing a handsome amount in doing research?"
Deplorable state of public universities
There are 46 public universities and 106 private universities with about 44 lakh students in the country. Around 3.5 lakh students study at private universities.
TBS has selected the top 10 universities from both the public and private sectors on the basis of amount of investment in research in 2019.
The volume of investment in research made by the top 10 private universities was over 2.5 times higher than that of the 7 public universities.
The 10 reputed private universities invested Tk82 crore in research while the 7 public universities spent Tk32 crore, said the 46th annual report of UGC published recently.
Dhaka University's total expenditure was Tk700 crore in 2019, while it spent only Tk5.20 crore, or 0.74% of the total expenditure, on research.
Professor Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, claimed it does not have a shortage of funds for research, saying, "If teachers want to do more research we will provide them with adequate funds."
Asked about the poor investment in research, he said they will try to increase the allocation for research.
Jahangirnagar University's total expenditure was Tk253 crore in 2019 and it spent only Tk2.27 crore, or 0.89%, of that amount on research.
Professor Farzana Islam, VC of Jahangirnagar University, told TBS that they are utilising the government's funds for research. She, however, said they have a lack of publicity and publications.
The total expenditure of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2019 was Tk226 crore while it spent Tk2.30 crore, or 1%, of the amount on research.
Money spent on research by Brac University alone is Tk5 crore more than the total amount of money that the 7 public universities spent on research in 2019.
Out of its total expenditure of Tk400 crore, Brac University spent Tk37 crore, or 9.25%, for conducting research activities.
Professor Vincent Chang, VC of Brac University, said, "The mission of Brac University is to foster knowledge creation, uphold human values and promote sustainable development. All of these are deeply connected with research, and we are strongly committed to research work that is, primarily, most relevant to Bangladesh and also to the world."
"In line with our mission, our research activities will continue to focus on public health, poverty alleviation and humanitarian efforts as well as on the issues of climate change. We firmly believe our research work will play a significant role in our continuing journey to make a positive impact towards a brighter future for Bangladesh and beyond," he added.
The University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (Ulab) spent Tk109 crore to cover its operational expenses in 2019 and of the amount Tk12.48 crore, or 12%, was spent on research.
Professor HM Jahirul haque, VC of Ulab, told TBS that his researchers have been working to determine the basic problems of the country. "Our job is to identify the problems and the government should resolve them. We are also ready to help the government in nation-building activities," he said.
"I am fully satisfied with my researchers as they did exceptional work in 2019. Our research activities included: climate change, recreation of garment workers, lives and livelihoods of people in coastal areas, and cybercrime. I think the nation will benefit from the research being done by Ulab," Professor HM Jahirul Haque said.
Professor Dr Atiqul Islam, vice-chancellor of North South University (NSU), told TBS that the motto of any university is to generate knowledge and distribute it to the world people. "Our country's universities have mostly been disseminating knowledge from foreign books and research. Now we are trying to generate knowledge for our own nation as well as for other nations," he said.
"Most of the research and articles of NSU's researchers are being published in internationally recognised journals. We are doing well in research. We have connections with Cambridge University, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and many other international organisations," he said.
"Actually, we have no funding constraints. We are providing funds as per researchers' needs. But we want quality and world standard work," added Professor Dr Atiqul Islam.
"Our students can easily get scholarships and admission at the world's reputed universities showing research work that they conducted with their teachers at our university. A good amount of skilled manpower is also generated through the research."
Syed Mizanur Rahman, director of Students' Affairs at Daffodil International University (DIU) said DIU is doing research to develop the nation in education, life and livelihood.
"Our research work engages students to increase their employability and make them skilled for the future," he said.