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4 February, 2020 11:22:47 AM

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Dearth of research in Bangladeshi universities

Unfortunately our education system generally fails to produce independent thinkers
Syed Mehdi Momin
Dearth of research in Bangladeshi universities

It is generally agreed upon that there is a serious dearth of research in both the public and private universities in Bangladesh. Just to give the readers one example the Institute of Education and Research (IER) of Dhaka University has failed to conduct any major research in the education sector in the last six years. The last major research was conducted in 2006-07. In most discussions regarding the issue lack of adequate funding and of proper facilities are cited as major reasons as to why research is not being conducted in this country on a large enough scale. There is no doubt that funds and a proper infrastructure are very important. However, they are not the only reasons behind the phenomenon. Indeed at times lack funding is used as a convenient excuse by the academics’ for their failure or unwillingness to delve deep into their respective disciplines. Although universities are meant to bring forth new ideas and knowledge through comprehensive research, the picture in Bangladesh is quite the opposite due to a lack of well-qualified teachers and necessary funds.
Research is an aptitude that needs to be tapped at the school and college level. The system to promote research among students is not developed anywhere in the country. Hence, students are not attracted towards it.

The first and foremost requirement is to attract enthusiastic and competent young persons to faculty positions in universities. The typical process of selection in most public universities is now so politicised, archaic, bureaucratic and often biased because of different reasons, that hiring a competent person becomes a low probability event. On the other side, in many cases the prospective faculty members do not even want, as their priority choices, to join a university because they often have the impression that teaching robs them of their research time and that the environment in the university and its departments are not conducive to their personal  growth.

Consequently, the university system gets increasingly loaded with “dead wood” and hapless generations of students have to suffer the lack of inspiring teachers and thus do not even have the opportunity to feel the spark that they carry within them. In order to change, the universities must radically modify their recruitment procedure so that aspiring candidates can apply any time of the year and the concerned departments can have the opportunity to discuss in person with those candidates whose CV looks appropriate for the positions that the department wishes to fill. Formal selection committee meetings should make the final selections only following the feed-back after such direct and intensive interactions. The university must also provide adequate “start-up” facilities to the new faculty and at the same time, ensure that the new faculty is not loaded with a lot of teaching responsibilities from day one.

It goes without saying that research leads to curiosity and a desire to look for, and find, better solutions or better explanations for our surroundings.

This curious mind can develop in an environment where the seeker of knowledge is encouraged to express and discuss new, fresh ideas. Authentic research is the process to crystallise ideas and clear the mind of incorrect assumptions. In an ideal academic environment questions about old ideas are encouraged and students are allowed to disagree with teachers about different issues. One serious hindrance  in this country to research–and consequently quality higher education intolerance to even the mildest forms dissent in the academic arena. Unfortunately in the universities there is a well-entrenched hierarchical system in place –which is actually present at every segment of the society. People here from childhood are infused with the idea that the elder or the senior is simply never wrong and it is near blasphemy to challenge this status quo.

Research, on the contrary thrives on discussion and flourishes when differing viewpoints are freely discussed. If free exchange of ideas is absent meaningful research will be absent as well. By meaningful research the writer means original work which addresses problematic issues. There is a general tendency among many academics to stick to ‘safe’ topics and work in areas where research has already been carried out time and again.

Unfortunately our education system generally fails to produce independent thinkers. Promotions in many cases, in the public universities specially are often based on seniority rather than performance. It is the responsibility of the senior academics and heads institutions to help create an environment in which students and junior faculty members are encouraged to think independently, and to formulate and express their ideas. This can be done by arranging seminars and conferences on different topics.

In country like Bangladesh the role of universities becomes vital as they can share intellectual power to boost the economy and help solve many issues ailing the land. The nation expects the universities to contribute to basic, applied and/or action research to help minimise the problems of the country to meet the future targets. Also there needs to be good understanding between the universities and the industry. Sadly, the former are more interested in academics and latter are more interested in profit making. There needs to be a proper synergy between the two.

Alarmingly academic dishonesty has become prevalent in the recent years. With the advent of Internet plagiarised work is being passed off as research. Many believe that the unequal distribution of teaching load and administrative duties is compelling teachers to plagiarize as there is pressure to keep publishing or lose a promotion. This race to maintain a certain number of publications has destroyed the actual spirit of research. Social taboos on plagiarism and fake research apparently do not exist.

A culture has developed that no longer seems to value scholarly achievement and the virtues of honesty, rigour, correctness, originality and cooperation.

According to Nafiz Zaman Shuva is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Information Science & Library Management, University of Dhaka and the President of Bangladesh Association of Young Researchers (BAYR) “The University of Dhaka is still unable to offer relevant information resources, especially online journals and e-books, to faculty members and students; we are also unable to offer a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service to our users; and the university library cannot digitize its collection and convert into a ‘Digital Library’. The majority of public universities are in the same position. This includes Rajshahi University Library, which, despite having a huge collection of research worthy materials, is unable to digitize.”

The University Grants Commission (UGC) the apex body of higher education, observes the number of quality research, especially in fundamental or innovative field, has decreased tremendously at university level. On the other hand, young teachers are found less enthusiastic about such activities. According to According to UGC’s latest report, 12 public and 11 private universities did not spend any money on research.

To emerge a truly knowledge society in the globalized world today, Bangladesh needs to have quality education at all levels and in all fields. Infrastructure, institutional support and motivation for quality are factors that need to be in place for reaching excellence.

Many enthusiastic, motivated and capable young academics are eager to carry out meaningful research, but either the infrastructure for a good laboratory does not exist or the surrounding atmosphere is so unhelpful, that much of their creative ability is wasted. Some give up in frustration, while many others settle down for less than their best.

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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