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Despite massive strides in achieving admirable standards across a host of different socio-economic indicators such as infant mortality rates and gender parity in both primary and secondary education, Bangladesh still has a plethora of obstacles it needs to overcome in the tertiary education sector.[1][5] With the modern economy advancing at its current pace and automation ominously looming over the horizon, the need for quality tertiary education has never been more pronounced.

Key Issues

As a whole, the tertiary education sector in Bangladesh is failing to equip graduates with the skillsets current employers are demanding.[3] This “employer-skillset mismatch” translates itself into high levels of graduate unemployment. According to a recent study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), graduate unemployment stood at 38.[6] percent.[2] “Credential Inflation”, a phenomenon where jobs that previously did not require graduate degrees but now do, is further fueling demand for tertiary education but does nothing to address the problem of equipping graduates with the appropriate skillsets.[6] Despite this upsurge in demand, there exist depressing disparities in tertiary education attendance between the two genders as well as people from different economic backgrounds.[1]

There are 4 major pillars upon which the current problems of Bangladesh’s tertiary education sector rests.

  • Lack of Quality Education: Tertiary Education Institutes (TEIs) in Bangladesh do not encourage critical thinking and primarily utilize rote-learning which encourages passivity.[1] Consequently, employers do not get the skillsets they require from graduates.
  • Low Research Output: research grants as a portion of public funds is less than 1 percent. Bangladesh’s research output is considerably lower than those of other South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, despite a strong pool of Ph.D. holders working in the country.[1]
  • Inequitable Access to Tertiary Education: Bangladesh’s gross enrollment rate (GER) of 17 percent is lower than those of its South Asian neighbors in addition to being much lower than that of other Middle-Income Countries (MIC).[1] The wealthiest are disproportionately represented in TEIs and STEM enrollment rates are considerably lower than those India and Sri Lanka.[1] In addition, female attendance at TEIs is lower than that of males.[4] 

Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Institute For Statistics (UNESCO UIS) database.

  • Inadequate Financing Options: No national student loan scheme exists to help students from poorer backgrounds access tertiary education. Scholarships and waivers are the primary means of financial assistance and borrowing from relatives is a common practice for economically challenged students.[1] The former is limited in its scope and the latter is an uncertain means of financing.

How to Fix the Situation

The problems of tertiary education will have to be tackled with a robust set of institutional reforms and policy directives. Some constructive suggestions to the problem are as follows:

  • Introduce modern teaching methods to universities. Using more productive teaching methods that encourage problem-solving and critical thinking will go a long way towards making graduates employable.
  • Increase collaboration with the private sector and invest in better facilities such as ICT. By providing incentives to the private sector–for example, in the form of tax exemptions–university-industry collaboration can facilitate greater knowledge output as well as compensate for a lack of public funding to universities.
  • Create partnerships with foreign universities. This will facilitate knowledge transfers that will also result in local TEIs being introduced to better teaching methods.
  • Increase research expenditure as a proportion of tertiary education expenditure. Increasing the amount of funding available for research will increase the output of quality research papers. Facilitating collaboration with foreign institutions can help offset the lack of public funds for research in the country.
  • Create opportunities to commercialize research innovations. This will incentivize research bodies and industries to work together and profit from innovation.
  • Increase merit-based scholarships for students from impoverished backgrounds. Many students cannot attend tertiary education due to a lack of sufficient funds, however, this can be rectified by allocating more public funds to scholarship programs for meritorious students from disadvantaged families.
  • Create a national student loan scheme, specifically targeting female students. Student loans to meritorious female students can help to achieve a more balanced gender-parity in tertiary education.
  • Create demand-side incentives to promote tertiary education amongst females. For example, families will receive a monthly stipend from the government if they enroll their daughters into TEIs.
  • Take steps to address food security in the primary and secondary levels of education. There is a positive causal relationship between food security and academic performance amongst students in school. If food security is addressed, students from impoverished backgrounds will perform better and this will enable them to avail higher quality tertiary education.

Conclusion

Successfully achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals hinges greatly on the quality of tertiary education prevalent in the country. Goal 4 (Quality Education), Goal 5 (Gender Equality, Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and Goal 10 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) all directly depend on the state of tertiary education within a developing country. If the tertiary education sector fails to rise up to the challenges of the day, the projected development of the country across various sectors and industries will begin to face severe bottlenecks. Addressing the structural problems of the tertiary education sector will go a long towards creating a more knowledge-driven, skills-oriented and equitable economy.

References

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