The world at present has become increasingly knowledge-based. Effective knowledge can be acquired through quality education and those who can acquire sufficient practical knowledge are the ones who qualify to survive in today's competitive contemporary world.
Research is one of the prerequisites for raising the quality of higher education. While most countries emphasise improving the capacity and quality of their universities, the reality of the situation in Bangladesh is depressing. Our universities are turning away from research. Teachers and students of both the public and private universities of the country do not have much interest in research.
A PhD is a teacher's gateway into the research world. But only one-third of the teachers in the country's universities hold these degrees—not a promising sign. Many teachers make mistakes, even while writing a research proposal. How does a teacher who does not hold a PhD, supervise research?
The current generation is not progressing cognitively and as a result, the practice of humanities, rationalism, science, research, philosophy, etc in higher education of our country is declining. Universities in developed countries spend huge sums on research. But our country's universities spend very little on essential sectors like research.
The three main adjuncts to research at the university level are research-minded faculty, ensuring adequate infrastructure and facilities for research and provision of adequate fellowships at the postgraduate level.
Nominal research is conducted in most universities, except a few. Institutions do not think about research because of their overly business-oriented approach. As a result, the quality of higher education in the country is now at a bottom. Out of 150 public and private universities in the country, 35 did not spend a single penny on research in 2020. 44 universities have spent up to 10 lakhs. However, in the last year, the private universities of the country are ahead in research expenditure. The UGC's annual report, based on data from 2020, highlights the plight of research.
The Islami University has not published a single publication in 2020 despite spending Tk 65 lakhs on research. Haji Mohammad Danesh University of Science and Technology spent Tk 1 crore 27 lakh in research, but their publication has been just one. Begum Rokeya University has published one journal despite spending Tk 70 lakh and Rangamati Science and Technology University has published one journal despite spending Tk 3 lakh 43 thousand.
According to the UGC report, in 2020, public and private universities spent a combined Tk 137 crore on research. Public universities spent Tk 36 crore and private universities spent Tk 101 crore.
Private universities are ahead of public universities in the field of research. In fact, BRAC University and several other private universities have surpassed even the older public universities in research.
Among the private universities, BRAC University has spent the highest amount on research - Tk 55 crore 23 lakhs. Their number of publications was 378. Dhaka University is on the list of the highest expenses among public universities. DU has spent 6 crore 61 lakhs. Their number of publications was 445. Daffodil International University spent Tk 12 crore 16 lakh, American International University Bangladesh - Tk 9 crore 30 lakh, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh - Tk 8 crore 37 lakh and North South University - Tk 6 crore 17 lakh.
UNESCO recommends an allocation of 25% of the budget and 6% of GDP for education. But we have not heeded those suggestions. Even less affluent countries invest more in education and research. If Cuba allocates more than 12% of their total expenditure to education, or if Burundi can do about 6%, why can't we allocate more than 3%?
Our total education sector expenditure is still 2.08% of GDP. There is no research and development sector in the country. Therefore, there is no allocation in this sector. However, there is a separate sector called development and research in about 125 countries of the world.
69,643 crore was allocated in last year's education budget, which was 11.92% of the original budget and 2.08% of GDP. This time the proposed budget has said that the allocation in the education budget has been increased. The amount is 81,448 crores.
Compared to the last fiscal year, the allocation has increased by 11,000 crore. This allocation is 12% of the original budget, which means it has increased slightly. But the problem is that it stands at 1.83% as a share of GDP, which was 2.08% in the previous year.
This education-research allocation also includes various megaproject research like scientific research in Ruppur nuclear power plant. So where is the allocation increase in education?
It is partly true that public university teachers in Bangladesh do not conduct research due to a lack of adequate research funds. Another reason for the loss of interest in research is that the university authorities who are doing the research do not adequately evaluate their research.
If a teacher wants to devote time to research, he has to lose many opportunities. Why would a teacher be interested in research if he could benefit from spending time on other activities rather than research?
The quality of research also needs to be taken into consideration. The reality is that a teacher's research in universities is considered by numbers. It takes about one and a half to two years to publish a good research paper. However, some teachers finish their research work in 3 months and can publish it as an article within 2-3 months. If this research is not evaluated properly, a researcher may lose motivation.
Due to the lack of funds for basic research and job insecurity, the younger generation is gradually losing interest in basic research.
There seems to be a silent conspiracy in this regard that universities cannot be established as the centre of new knowledge. We are gradually moving towards a society without research-innovation-knowledge. If the aim of the university is only to give a certificate at the graduate or MA level, then research will never take precedence.
As a result, the dream of creating a knowledge-based society is fading. Knowledge creation and knowledge practice will not progress. Every year there will be an international ranking of the quality of education of the universities, our universities will not be in the hundred or thousands. Change is needed and research-oriented universities are needed; let universities become the centre of knowledge in a real sense.
The author is a UK expatriate lawyer, author, columnist
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.