The 142 public and private universities of the country altogether spent Tk184 crore – an average of Tk1.26 crore each – on research activities in 2020, which is only 2% of their total academic expenditure, according to the University Grants Commission (UGC).
Education experts attributed Bangladesh's 120th position out of 154 countries in the Global Knowledge Index 2021 to the meagre research spending. The country performed the worst in the research, development and innovation sector among the seven areas that incorporate the index.
The country achieved only 19.2 out of 100 in the research, development and innovation sector. Last year, the country also scored the lowest in this sector among others.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, said the index reflects the actual picture of the research and development scene in Bangladesh. As a major reason, he pointed out that Bangladeshi universities are not even among the top 500 in the world.
Ahsan H Mansur said Bangladeshi industries are mostly prototype "copy-paste" industries since most of them rarely think about innovation.
Who spends how much
According to the UGC report, 38 public universities spent Tk73 crore, an average of Tk1.92 crore, on research in 2020. Meanwhile, 77 private universities spent Tk111 crore, an average of Tk1.44 crore.
In the same year, the total operational expenditure of the public universities, including staff salaries, was Tk5,454 crore and that of the private universities was Tk3,297 crore.
Each public university, on average, spent 1.58% of their total budgets on research while the ratio stood at 1.15% for the private universities.
The top 10 private universities in terms of spending invested Tk101 crore on research in 2020, that is 19 crore more than in 2019. The top 10 public universities spent Tk43 crore for this purpose, states the recently-published UGC annual report.
Brac University alone spent Tk55 crore in 2020, which is Tk12 crore more than the total research fund of 10 public universities.
The number of private universities which did not do any research in 2020 was 13. Eight public universities did not conduct any research in that year, as per UGC data.
Paltry research spending by public universities
There are 50 public universities and 108 private universities with about 40 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 the amount of investment in research in 2020.
The volume of investment in research made by the top 10 private universities was over Tk28 crore than that of the 10 public universities.
The 10 reputed private universities invested Tk101 crore in research while the 10 public universities spent Tk43 crore, said the UGC annual report.
Dhaka University's total expenditure was Tk787 crore in 2020, while it spent only Tk6.61 crore, or 0.83% of the total expenditure, on research.
Professor Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, said the DU authorities are trying to invest more in research and encourage teachers towards quality research work.
Jahangirnagar University's total expenditure was Tk253 crore in 2020 but it spent only Tk3 crore, or 1.12% of that amount, on research.
Professor Farzana Islam, former vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University, claimed that her university has increased the research fund slightly compared to 2019.
The total expenditure of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2020 was Tk214 crore, while it spent Tk2.30 crore, or 1% of the amount, on research.
Better research funding by public varsities
Out of Brac University's total Tk335 crore expenditure, the university spent Tk55 crore, or 16.41%, for research in 2020.
Professor Vincent Chang, VC of Brac University, said, "One of the core focus areas of Brac University is research with impact to change the world for the better."
American International University-Bangladesh (AIUB) spent Tk239 crore in 2020 and Tk9.30 crore on research, which is 3.89%.
United International University (UIU) spent Tk69 crore in academic activities. It spent Tk3 crore or 4.34% on research activities.
Prof Dr Chowdhury Mofizur Rahman, vice chancellor of UIU, told The Business Standard that his university's main target is to generate knowledge through research.
The University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (Ulab) spent Tk70 crore to cover its operational expenses in 2020 and of the amount Tk8.37 crore, or 12%, was spent on research.
Prof Dr Atiqul Islam, vice-chancellor of North South University (NSU), told TBS that NSU has no funding constraints. The university is providing funds as per researchers' need since NSU wants quality work.
"The world is changing fast everyday. Right now research and development are top priority at Daffodil International University, especially when we know that universities are responsible to direct the nation for future education," said Dr. Syed Mizanur Rahman, director of Students' Affairs at DIU.
Experts for minimum 10% spending on research
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Manzoor Ahmed said Bangladeshi universities must concentrate on quality research to be on the list of top tertiary educational institutions.
He said research funding should be at least 10% of the total academic expenditure. Otherwise, Bangladesh's universities will not be able to compete at the international level.
Educationists referred to neighbouring India which, they said, has allocated Rs50,000 crore to be spent over a period of five years on research and innovation.
Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, said 2% of the total academic budget spent on research is very low and insufficient.
"Researchers cannot do quality research with such funding," he said.
The UGC in the report recommended establishing a University Teachers' Training Academy, Central Research Laboratory and National Research Council for increasing research. It has also recommended increasing budgetary allocation for higher education.