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Higher education for sustainable development of textile and apparel industry

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The development of textile and apparel sector is a prevalent phenomenon for all the concern stake holders. The necessity of sustainable development of the sector for the sustainable development of our economy is undeniable.Due to some absolute demographic advantages, Bangladesh is blessed with a high demand of textiles and apparels from the globe. An unconditional labor-based industry has been developed throughout the last three decades which is predicted to grow further in the near future. But, if it is referred to as development, one must disagree to some extent to the fact that, the expansion is only labor-based; not knowledge based. As long as the industry is not transforming from labor-based to knowledge-based, the industry may be expanding, but not developing. After about 30 years from the inception of textile and apparel industry in Bangladesh, most of the industries are still cutting and making, sewing and finishing. In these thirty years we should have been developed at least some range of products that would have monopoly in the market or some firms that the buyers rely on for design and innovation.But the true fact is, there is no development without innovation, and there is no innovation without research. Furthermore, there is no research without solid framework for higher education.

Above is the simple equation that drives the industry and economy to sustainability; but unfortunately, along with the other Least Developed countries, Bangladesh is not known for a place for higher education, research and innovation. There is a big gap between the industry and academia which is in a broader sense, the most vital back-lock behind the current industrial trend. Textile and apparel are specialized applied branch of technology, that are consumer driven and demand oriented. Continuous innovation is the key here to retain value. As long as our T&A industry is concerned, we are big in volume but not in value. Again this is due to the in existence of indigenous innovation practice and true but unfortunate, the largest portion of our return is spent to import idea/knowledge/technology so that we are still alive in the market. If we could develop our own capacity to provide knowledge/technology to the industry we would have retained (profit) a lot more.


The Innovation Chain and how it works

If we put light to the developed countries, it is realized that there is an effective innovation chain running among the industries and academic organizations (universities/colleges/institutes). The universities do independent research and the outcomes are immediately embraced by the industries. And as the industry starts getting benefit from a particular research/innovation, it motivates the research entity for further development. So, there is always a win-win situation and the universities are never deficient in funds. The innovation chain in one way helping the universities to develop state of the art laboratories, research facilities and hire the most talented students/researchers; and in another way it is helping the industry being provided with cutting edge technologies continuously to be more efficient and profitable.

The innovation chain facilitates monetizing the knowledge/technology and generates revenue from the industry which is reinvested for further research.

It’s a fact that as long as there is no pressure (or motivation) from the industry (user of technology/knowledge), it’s not common for the universities to do industry oriented research as far as the developing countries like Bangladesh are concerned. What is common here are the piled up thesis and dissertations of the post graduate students in the almirah that is off no use to the industry. So, in a sense it is a complete waste of time and effort that is generating apparently no value to the industry (and the society).

Higher education and industrial Development

A famous aphorism in Germany that when it rains here, one of five rain drops beads onto a PhD holder. Though it’s a hypothesis but the industrial and economic development of Germany is evident as their tradition of producing PhD graduates in plenty is. Germany has an un-disputable foothold in the global technology market and all of the technologies took birth at their universities and research centers. It is easily realized as we cannot think of our textile industry without the German machinery.

Source: OECD/Chinese Ministry of Education

The nations, who are engaged in the mad race of industrial development, are actually strengthening their university-research structure to ensure continual flow of quality intellectual properties.

The benefits brought by PhD graduates to the firm level are multifarious. New knowledge, new working methods, personal networks and ability to solve complex problems are always helping the firms to find new solutions for more profit and more efficiencies. No surprise, the number of science doctorates earned each year grew by nearly 40% between 1998 and 2008, to some 34,000, in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Most importantly, the growth shows no sign of slowing. Most countries are building up their higher-education systems because they see educated workers as a key to economic growth.

In Germany, on the other hand, there is no growth in the no. of PhD holders as they have already crossed the saturation line. Germany is actually a great example on how to optimize the PhD students towards economic development. A common problem with the OECD countries with the doctoral graduates is their employment and it is found that many times they are being underused due to lack of proper opportunities in the industry. The success depends on the number of doctoral transferred to industries as the execution of ideas and technologies to bring innovation are formally carried out here. It is seen that most of the PhD holders are employed in the academia in Europe as the number of full-time employments in the industries are low.But Germany is different and they have already designed an effective framework for doctoral studies in the universities integrated with the industry.‘Just under 6% of PhD graduates in science eventually go into full-time academic positions, and most will find research jobs in industry.’,Thorsten Wilhelmy, Head of Program, European University Association informed.So Germany is in a state where the country is producing the right number of PhDs who are effectively serving the industry and economic growth.

The United States is second only to China in awarding science doctorates— and production is going up. The US has become a hub for the students all over the world who wants to seek post grad degrees due to the immense opportunities created by the thousands of research universities there. Though they are also short in demand from the industries for PhD holders, still the Obama government is emphasizing on augmenting the production of PhDs and ready to generate more funds from a believe that the knowledge based community will eventually bolster the industrial sector and create more employment opportunities.

The number of PhD holders in China is also growing at a high rate. Economy of China has already exceeded the giant US this year; and the power behind it is again the continuous innovation from the Chinese researchers that outnumbered US back in 2008.The number of PhD students in China reached 246,300 in 2009, about five times the figure in 1999. And to no surprise, most Chinese PhD holders can find a job at home; China’s booming economy and capacity building has readily absorbed them into the workforce.

In India the number of PhDs produced per year in 2004 were around 5,900 in science, technology and engineering, a figure that has now grown to some 8,900 a year. This is still a fraction of the number from China and the United States, and the country wants many more, to propagate the explosive growth of its economy. The government is making major investments in research and higher education. They are trying to attract investment from foreign universities as well. Thirumalachari Ramasami, the Indian government’s head of science and technology informed that the country hopes to produce around 20,000 PhDs graduates each year by 2020.

In Egypt, PhD enrolments doubled between 1998 and 2009 to 35,000 and even impoverished Zimbabwe wants every university lecturer to have a PhD by 2015. Malaysia has set a target of 60,000 PhD holders by 2023 while the European Union plans to create a million new research jobs by 2020. So it is evident that most of the countries are strengthening their knowledge base by occupying more doctoral studies in their educational structure as a measure for ensuring continual development of their industry and economy.

Higher education in Bangladesh and T&A industry framework

Bangladesh T&A industry is not self-reliant in technology. Resource management is a major issue here when compared to the developed countries. Textile industries are burning more energy than it should and environmental hazards are also common especially in the wet processing mills. On the other hand efficiencies in all management spans, lack of product and market development are making the sector less competitive. So, there is a huge scope of improvement in terms of assessment and acquisition of appropriate technologies compatible with the industry framework.

Innovation here has some other operational meaning. Inventing new technologies or production processes is a bit too optimistic with the current textile education structure in Bangladesh. Only one public university is running post graduate degree (only M.Sc.) which yet to achieve confidence in quality post-graduation level research. So, opportunity for dedicated research is next to obsolete here. And as long as there is no such research facility it is next to impossible to instigate the innovation chain. An institutional initiative is necessary in these circumstances to develop a state-of-the-art laboratory and start the independent research. Capacity building of the universities by providing right equipment and right researchers are crying need.

A reliable survey shows that there are around 50 to 60 PhD holders in textile technology who are working in the country now and another 25-30 students are studying in different countries who are hoped to come back and serve the country. But among the 50-60 PhD holders, 99% of them are working in the academic sector where the research facilities are below part. As generation of new technology/knowledge is not possible for Bangladesh right now, innovation means to identify, asses and transfer technologies to the industry that are already in use in the developed countries or from the original producer of the technology/knowledge. To be more specific Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) should be developed completely dedicated to the T&A sector where the PhD scholars should be employed to identify, asses and acquire already in use and proven technologies from abroad feasible with the Bangladesh industrial and social framework. These TTOs can further relate the universities with the industry to create a firm knowledge base that can be effectively used to design post graduate studies.

As the industry would start getting benefit from the transferred technologies, TTO should try commercialize the process to raise fund for the development of university research facilities. And as the research facility grows in the universities, the research outcomes will be readily embraced by the industry and more revenue can be generated for further research. Thus an innovation chain can be developed and initially the TTO’s can play a big role here.As long as there is no pressure (motivation) from the industry, it is hard to instigate industry based research in the academic institutions. Instead of basic science, Bangladesh should target emphasizing on applied research that has more impact to the T&A sector.

Bangladesh is a small country with big industrial potency. And it can be further esteemed if the industry continuously upgrades with modern technologies. And for this there is no other way but to employ high educated think tanks in the industry. PhD holders can really change the scenario in a span of ten years or so with the proposed Technology Transfer Office model and help instigate the innovation chain. Higher education in textile and apparel are still considered as an unnecessary phenomenon as there is no employability; but to create the employability in the sector we actually need a pool of dedicated researchers first that can only be generated through higher education programs.


Education is widely accepted as one of the leading instrument for promoting economic development. Knowledge-based competition within a globalizing economy is prompting a fresh consideration of the role of higher education in economic development and growth. Employability of high educated people is a matter of great debate in the industrialized countries. But still there is no stopping or no government intervention on higher education. In fact, most of the OECD countries along with even India are emphasizing more on producing more PhDs. They are considering their knowledge-base as the weapon to survive.Bangladesh also should start thinking about it immediately. With the MDG due in 2021, higher education will play a vital role in the development of our T&A sector. Economic development will be determined by intellectual properties in the coming days and we should start preparing from today. The TTO model can be a pathway to propagate the innovation chain in the T&A sector. Higher educated people working in different universities should collaborate in this regard as early as possible.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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