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Future Bangladesh, ‘miracle’ or ‘debacle’: Industry-academia collaboration holds the answer

Bangladesh, a country that is often dubbed as a ‘development miracle’ registered its first national GDP count in 1972 to be only US$ 6.29 billion that is projected to reach US$ 354.54 billion acclaiming 7.4 percent GDP growth in FY 2020-21 amid COVID-19 havoc, growing by almost 56 times in a matter of five decades.

University-industry-collaboration-Bangladesh-competitiveness-developing-skilled-human-esources
Figure 1: Due to the 4th industrial revolution, university graduates are struggling in the job market as our conventional education system lacks skill orientation in line with the industry demand.

The country has already outperformed India and Pakistan on many socio-economic fronts, but, in 2007, just 14 years back, the per capita income of Bangladesh was half of India. Astoundingly, in FY 2019-20, the per capita income of Bangladesh stood at US$ 2,064.55 well ahead of India’s per capita income of US$ 1,990.25.

The steady economic growth of Bangladesh is believed to be possible due to the export-led policies taken in the ’90s, encouraging female participation in the job market and entrepreneurship development programs, recent declaration of cash incentive on the remittance inflow, balanced consumption-savings behavior of the country people.

The country is now poised to be graduated from the least developing country to a developing country backed by consistent industrial and macroeconomic growth in 2026 which is a great achievement for Bangladesh under the farsighted visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Besides, the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is approaching Bangladesh with new challenges like revolutionizing the manufacturing system replacing traditional jobs with automation and opportunities for improved innovation and efficiency.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty and bumpy roads for Bangladesh by disrupting the global supply chain, cross-border trade, local industrialization and employment resulting in lower economic growth than the government targeted. The World Economic Forum echoes, automation in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workforces.

In addition to the existing disruption from the pandemic-induced lockdowns and economic shrinkage, technological adoption by businesses will transform jobs, tasks, and skills by 2025.

In this situation, the only way to remain competitive in the global market is to become more cost-efficient in transboundary trades and deploy high-yielding technologies featured by highly productive human resources, as still, Bangladesh has not progressed well in terms of negotiating bilateral free trade agreement or comprehensive economic partnership with any major trade partner that could reap benefits for exporters, importers, consumers, local and foreign investors with the tariff as well as non-tariff advantages, and not reformed the revenue collection provisions in the fundamental sense– still holding a detrimental tax policy regime for businesses as observed by the private sector.

technological-adoption-businesses-transform-jobs-tasks-skills
Figure 2: Automation in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workforces.

Besides, the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is approaching Bangladesh with new challenges like revolutionizing the manufacturing system replacing traditional jobs with automation and opportunities for improved innovation and efficiency. Hastily changing technological progress due to the 4IR, digitization and United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-centric economic transformation are reshaping the economic landscape of Bangladesh including industries and job markets.

These disruptions in industries and job markets due to emerging technologies as well as the total industrial transformation that we need to embrace for becoming a developed country by 2041, have placed us in a position, where, on one hand, automation will slash many occupations including low-skilled repetitive jobs, and another hand, the country will need to identify the skills gap and redesign the higher education system rapidly to remain competitive, innovative and efficient at the global stage.

But, at this moment, graduates are struggling in the job market as our conventional education system lacks skill-orientation in line with the industry demand. Our education institutions lag behind peer countries to develop market-driven skills which are also essential in tomorrow’s job market.

Bangladesh is a country of 63.5 million labor force and blessed with demographic dividend which offers enormous advantages for accelerated economic growth. Our labor force is growing at 2.2 percent per annum which means around 2 million new entrants join the labor force each year. On the contrary, 38.6 percent of graduate unemployment indicates the skills mismatch.

But, at this moment, graduates are struggling in the job market as our conventional education system lacks skill-orientation in line with the industry demand. Our education institutions lag behind peer countries to develop market-driven skills which are also essential in tomorrow’s job market.

Consequently, foreigners dominate our job market in the technical, managerial levels in diverse industries, corporate firms and MNCs. This trend leads to substantial remittance outflow from Bangladesh.

Surprisingly enough, universities and the existing system of academic curricula in Bangladesh are not encouraging industry-oriented critical thinking and primarily utilizing rote-learning which encourages passivity. Teaching in a corporatized model and limited research grants of public funds-less than 1 percent of the annual budget in universities hamper adequate research engagement and quality research output compared to our neighboring countries, which was also evident in the Global Competitiveness Index 2019, where, Bangladesh ranked 117th in Skills and 105th in Innovation Capacity out of 141 countries.

It was also reflected in the Global Innovation Index 2020, where Bangladesh ranked 116th on overall innovation indicators among 131 economies, while, India ranked 48th and our SAARC friends, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were well ahead of us.

University-industry collaboration has emerged as a new means to hoist the country’s competitiveness in terms of developing skilled human resources and innovation ecosystem.

However, as the skills gap is not a rare case in any part of the world, governments and universities around the globe have initiated to cope with the changing industrial and economic landscapes. University-industry collaboration has emerged as a new means to hoist the country’s competitiveness in terms of developing skilled human resources and innovation ecosystem.

Many research-driven universities are creating knowledge parks in collaboration with the industry to motivate start-ups, provide their students with opportunities to have hands-on experiences, inspire the industry people and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students to innovate cost-cutting productive technologies as well as obtain patent grants.

Currently, over 200 colleges and universities that launched centers for innovation or entrepreneurship have become members of the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centres. These knowledge parks also intend to help the universities to address what skills are required for future prospective students to keep up the pace of innovation. At this point, Bangladesh also needs to establish knowledge parks.

Besides, emphasizing the need for research and innovation, to open up the creative eyes of the students, faculty members of the universities should consider giving more industry-related real-life examples while teaching students with theoretical knowledge in classrooms. It will certainly help the students to tag the bookish knowledge with industry hurdles and start thinking of those at the early stage.

The WEF reported, more than one-third of the essential skills of the current workforce will change and demand human-centric soft skills becomes widespread. WEF identified 10 skills and marked emotional intelligence (EQ), critical thinking and decision making as priority skills to enable young graduates for the future job market.

Most employers believe critical thinking and problem-solving skills will grow in prominence and 50 percent of all employees need reskilling by 2025.

Given the fact that the world is changing so fast that a new technology of today becomes older tomorrow, and Bangladesh is on the verge of economic transition, so, to address the industry-level skills-gap rapidly and equip the upcoming human resource pool with the necessary skills, Bangladesh is required to introducing blended higher academic programs propelled with conventional theoretical teachings and practical industry-experiences for a certain period, especially for the STEM students at undergrad and postgrad levels.

Bangladesh-identify-skills-gap-redesign-higher-education-system rapidly
Figure 3: Bangladesh is required to introducing blended higher academic programs propelled with conventional theoretical teachings and practical industry-experiences to make skilled human resources.

For instance, the undergrad 4 years STEM honors program can be designed in a way, which will provide knowledge to students at classrooms and labs for 3 years and 1 year can be dedicated to earning industry experiences. China’s engineering education system is a very good example of that.

China became one of the signatories of the “Washington Accord” in 2013, which is an international accreditation agreement for undergraduate professional engineering academic degrees and adopted “outcome-based” certification standards.  Since then, engineering education certification accompanied by Outcome-based-Education (OBE) transformation has become one of the most important factors contributing to the Chinese economic successes.

For instance, the undergrad 4 years STEM honors program can be designed in a way, which will provide knowledge to students at classrooms and labs for 3 years and 1 year can be dedicated to earning industry experiences. China’s engineering education system is a very good example of that.

To strengthen industry-academia collaboration– the critical enabler of the economy, the following recommendations are put forward for consideration of academia and the government:

  1. Introducing a blended Outcome-based-Education (OBE) system encompassing classroom and laboratory-based teachings as well as industry-oriented practical learnings for undergraduate and postgraduate engineering academic degrees. It will also reduce the unemployment rate as the students will become industry-ready just after completion of their academic degrees
  2. While teaching in the classrooms and labs, our distinguished University faculty members may shed more and more light on the practical industry problems and solutions besides transmitting theoretical knowledge to open up the creative eyes of the students.
  3. Establishing focused STEM Research Universities to offer high-quality postgraduation degrees and Knowledge Parks in collaboration with industry to inspire innovation and readdress skills-gap rapidly.
  4. Creating opportunities to commercialize research innovations. This will incentivize research bodies, universities and industries to build the fraternity.
  5. Providing incentives like tax exemption to the private sector for R&D collaboration and to start internship exchange programs with Universities regularly to facilitate greater knowledge.
  6. Strengthening Industry-academia partnership to keep up the pace with fast the paced World for addressing emerging skills and redesign the education curricula based on market demand in the quickest possible time. Universities and private sectors need to work together to convert our youth population into skilled human capital.
  7. A tripartite platform engaging university, industry and research institutions may be created.
  8. Increasing public investment in education, skills development and research & development.

Our Academia has to come forward extending its hands to the industry for harnessing the benefit of the demographic dividend that may start declining after 2040. Our Government is requested to consider timely policies and institutional mechanism for steering the Industry and academia relationship, otherwise, if the country paves in an unplanned way, it may fall into the “Middle Income Trap” and fiascos may grasp future Bangladesh’s fate, that the nation never expects to see.

Major References:

  1. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, http://bbs.portal.gov.bd/
  2. Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/
  3. World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2020/digest

About author:

Enamul-Hafiz-Latifee-DCCI

Enamul Hafiz Latifee is the Deputy Executive Secretary, Research and Development, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). He can be reached at ehlatifee@gmail.com, and also be viewed at www.ehlatifee.com.

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