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  • Writer's pictureM. L. Palash

Dimensionalizing the Tertiary Education of Bangladesh Through Japanese Experience and Collaboration

The Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh Ms. Sheikh Hasina on her recent tour in Japan sat with Dr. Shinichi Kitaoka, president of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), in a friendly meeting in Tokyo on May 30, 2019. ‘Experience and knowledge sharing’ between the two countries was one of the major agenda in their discussion. The prime minister expressed her expectation on JICA’s contribution in developing the educational infrastructure of Bangladesh. She discussed about establishing a training center for the youth of Bangladesh, to convert them into skilled manpower of the country. The discussion, indeed, was significant and contemporary in the context of Bangladesh’s higher education system.

Japan has always been known as one of our friendliest nations. Since 1972, we have received 11.3 Billion US$ from Japan, and the majority of that money has been spent on transportation and human health sectors. In 2017 Japan initiated ‘Innovative Asia Scholarship’, the purpose of which is to produce skilled manpower for Japan as well as to upskill the human resources of its friendly nations. Under this scheme, a small number of students from two universities of Bangladesh (University of Dhaka & Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) would get the opportunity to pursue post-graduate studies and conduct the highest level of research activities in some prominent universities of Japan.

The visit of the Prime Minister can trigger the development of our educational infrastructure. The JICA president indicated that the issue concerning ‘experience and knowledge sharing’ will get the highest priority in their investment plan. “Our experience and knowledge can be used for human resource development in Bangladesh” he mentioned in their meeting. This can open up huge opportunities to recharge our decaying higher education system. But now the questions are, ‘HOW?’ and ‘WHEN?’.

The vision and devotion of the Prime Minister have already made our country standing high in the modern world. It is well known to her that the key element for the development of any country is education, and that is why, in the last ten years of her tenure, she put a high priority on human resource development. But to make her efforts successful, we need a 3-dimensional higher education system. The dimensions are, (a) class room based education, (b) research, and (c) globalization. For class room based education, we need qualified teachers and healthy education environment. We are proud to possess both of these criteria to some reasonable extents. About the second dimension, research, its outcome can be observed in innovation and its application in the real world and also creating intellectual properties. Unfortunately, our position is below average in this criterion. The performance of our universities, regarding global knowledge sharing, is also, in a word, dissatisfactory. But a word of hope is that, this situation is changing. In this regard, we must acknowledge the recent efforts of our Hon’ble Prime Minister. Her initiatives to introduce Prime Minister’s Scholarship for government and non-government officials and to reinstate Bangabandhu Scholarship for DU young faculty members, for pursuing higher studies abroad (under both the schemes) are remarkable steps for enhancing knowledge base of tertiary education.

We can take the example of Japan, who was also in the same situation, as we are in now. But they made a timely investment on research, prioritizing 7 imperial universities. Furthermore, since 2007 they have established several state-of-the-art research institutes, named as ‘World Premier Research Center Initiative (WPI)’, in which renowned local and foreign researchers are employed to solve numerous problems of the world.

Getting inspired from this, I, along with few of my senior colleagues from Kyushu University, Japan, took the initiative to establish a world-class research institute, to be named as ‘Bangladesh-Japan Interdisciplinary Institute (BJI2)’ in Bangladesh. Without following conventional structure, its role and operation were designed identifying several local problems of our universities, and the highest priority was given to ‘experience and knowledge sharing’. Such an initiative could very well ensure cutting-edge research facilities in Bangladesh. According to the plan, the institute would provide post-graduate (Masters and/or Masters leading to PhD) study opportunities to the meritorious students of Bangladesh, and they would be provided with an honorarium in the form of scholarship. Their research would create fruitful innovation; they would find out ways to develop sustainable technologies to be implemented in social welfare. The teachers of the University of Dhaka (DU) and Kyushu University (KU) would combinedly supervise these students. The brighter students would also be given the opportunity to pursue their Ph.D. studies in KU with scholarship, under the joint supervision of professors of both DU and KU. They would get the opportunity to conduct research activities in world-class laboratories. They could also have excursion opportunities in renowned companies in Japan as part of their academic curriculum. On the other hand, the faculty staffs of DU could be able to involve in research works of the highest standard, especially on fundamental and applied sciences, in collaboration with their KU counterparts.

BJI2, proposed in 2016, got a massive response from Dhaka University. Professor Dr. A. A. M. S. Arefin Siddique, then Vice Chancellor of DU, visited KU and signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)’ after having a bilateral talk with the President of KU, Professor Dr. Chiharu Kubo. The President of KU was also supposed to visit Bangladesh, but all the progress on this project was shuttered by the unfortunate incident of ‘Holey Artisan’. The government of Japan, being concern about the security of its citizens, restricts the visit of Japanese citizens to Bangladesh. Since visiting Japanese Professors to Bangladesh, for the purpose of supervision, was an integral part of the proposal, the journey of BJI2 got hugely interrupted at that stage. Later in 2018, the present Vice Chancellor of DU, Professor Dr. Md. Akhtaruzzaman, and the Treasurer, Professor Dr. Kamal Uddin, visited KU and expressed their keen interest on restarting BJI2 in their discussion with the President of KU and other senior faculties and officials. Approaching centenary, it is high time for the University of Dhaka to establish a world-class research institute like BJI2. Later, other universities of Bangladesh can ensure such 3-dimensional education system following the footsteps of BJI2.

Japan has been very much considerate toward Bangladesh and their interest to invest in Bangladesh has intensified than ever. Since in her last official tour in Japan, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh shown keen interest to the President of JICA, on establishing a technical institute, BJI2 can be an instant reflection of her foresight. We expect Bangladesh government through its appropriate ministry to work with JICA and Japanese government for faster implementation of BJI2 and other projects like this. We certainly can anticipate a substantial number of world-class research institutes to be built in Bangladesh following the model of BJI2, which will mold our future generation to a highly skilled manpower.

Dr. Bidyut Baran Saha Professor and Principle Investigator International Institute for Carbon Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) and Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering Kyushu University, Japan


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