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Prof Atiqul Islam: Pooling resources can achieve significant results

Identify areas where one country possesses strengths that the other country requires, fostering exchange and collaboration. Prioritize joint research initiatives to further strengthen ties

Prof Atiqul Islam: Pooling resources can achieve significant results

North South University (NSU) is one of the pioneering private universities in Bangladesh. Modeled after US universities, NSU incorporates academic features such as semester systems, credit hours, and letter grades. Currently serving as the Vice-chancellor, Prof Atiqul Islam brings a wealth of international experience to the position. Before joining NSU, he held the role of Pro Vice-chancellor (Engagement) at Edith Cowan University in Australia. Additionally, he served as the Dean of the Faculty of Business and Government at the University of Canberra.

In a recent interview with Pratik Ghimire of ApEx, Prof Islam shared insights into the Bangladesh education system and discussed potential collaborations between Bangladesh and Nepal to further develop this field in both countries. Excerpts:

How did the growth of private universities start in Bangladesh?

Since the 1980s, education in Bangladesh has been significantly supported through government subsidies and budget allocations. Consequently, the number of students at the primary and secondary levels increased rapidly. However, upon completing their higher secondary education, these students faced limited opportunities, as Bangladesh at that time had only six or seven government universities with restricted capacity.

In response, students began seeking higher education in countries like India, the United States, Canada, and others, paying higher fees. This not only drained significant foreign currency but also led to a loss of highly intelligent human resources, as these students chose to reside in foreign countries.

Recognizing the need to address these issues, the government decided to allow the establishment of private universities. The expectation was that these institutions would help alleviate the problems and provide quality education within Bangladesh itself. Consequently, North South University was established in 1992, emerging as one of the first privately-owned universities in the country.

How can Nepal and Bangladesh collaborate in the university sector?

We already have some sort of collaboration with Tribhuvan University. Professors from our university supervise a few PhD students from Nepal. Also, mid-level bureaucrats from Nepal participate in training programs at North South University, focusing on policy and governance. The University Grant Commission (UGC) of Nepal sends its staff to our institution for training, knowledge sharing, and experience exchange.

I don’t think Bangladesh has sent its students to Nepal thus far, yet there is potential for collaboration between the two countries. With a mere 22 km distance separating Nepal and Bangladesh, opportunities for collaboration abound across various fronts. Both nations share similarities in terms of economic and social development stages, as well as commonalities in language. By pooling our resources and fostering deeper collaboration, we can achieve significantly better results across various areas.

Why have South Asian universities struggled to attract international students?

Our focus has been on seeking knowledge from the West rather than actively creating it ourselves. There was a time when Baghdad and Persia were global centers of knowledge, attracting learners from Europe. The understanding was that if we could create knowledge, the world would come to acquire it from us.

Following the industrial revolution, Western countries surged ahead by actively engaging in knowledge creation, leading to numerous inventions and discoveries emanating from Europe.

However, the global landscape is evolving, with other countries, particularly in Asia, recognizing the importance of generating knowledge. People now choose to study in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and China. The educational shift is moving from the West to the East, and our university is also experiencing this change. We are receiving inquiries from neighboring countries, like Myanmar, as they recognize the value of our expertise. For example, the Burmese believe that Bangladesh excels in agricultural research, prompting them to send their students to us.

Bangladesh has emerged as a primary choice for South Asian students pursuing medical studies. How did the country establish itself as a hub for medical education?

Since the 1960s, Bangladesh has been a favored destination for foreign students, particularly in the fields of medicine and engineering. During my time as a student at Dhaka University, there was a notable presence of Malaysian, Iranian, Palestinian, and Sri Lankan students pursuing medicine and engineering in Dhaka. This trend has persisted over the years.

Certain institutions in Bangladesh have successfully maintained their quality standards and kept pace with global developments. I think the government is committed to stringent quality control measures in these institutions which have played a crucial role in attracting and retaining foreign students.

What suggestions do you have for both countries to enhance collaborations?

Identify areas where one country possesses strengths that the other country requires, fostering exchange and collaboration. Prioritize joint research initiatives to further strengthen ties. Collaboration shouldn’t be limited to government levels; there are numerous opportunities for private sector engagement. Emphasize mutually beneficial collaborations to ensure the success of the relationship, acknowledging that a one-sided approach is not sustainable.