Home Daily Star Article We should focus on research and global partnership

We should focus on research and global partnership

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Prof_Omar_Rahman_PhotoIndependent University Bangladesh (IUB) is distinct from many other private universities for several reasons. It follows the liberal arts education model. The main focus of the liberal art education is that in addition to specialised disciplines, students must be educated in other broader fields. Students of one discipline must know something about other disciplines that are related to life. When you are in IUB, one-third of the credits involve doing courses that are outside your core academic area. And we think that this is critical because it makes you a better human being, makes you more tolerant and more understanding of how other people think at many different levels. We are living in a world of increasing intolerance. We need young people to have a better understanding of other ways of thinking. Thus, we are heavily focused on giving our students broad based education. At IUB students have to learn at least one foreign language, they have to learn how other societies think, and about their cultural traditions. The liberal art model is relatively new in Bangladesh. We are the pioneers in introducing this model, and that is what sets us apart.

The second important issue is that we are very emphatic and focused on research and global partnership. I was at Harvard University as a faculty member. Why is Harvard University so well-known? Because it is America’s best research university. It encourages and creates new ideas. IUB students are involved in research from day one. And if we are interested in generating new knowledge, it is our deep conviction that Bangladesh is going to be a pioneer state. What we need to do is properly educate and train the next generation. I am hopeful that the next great global idea, like Google for example, will emerge from Bangladesh. We just need a well-managed education system to promote creativity.

How do we train the next generation students? The world has changed completely; whatever you see now will be totally different ten years later. So, facts are not absolute, facts are going to change. You need to know the approach to deal with facts. For example, when I was in Harvard, AIDS was not in the forefront but as a doctor, I had to deal with this new endemic. As diseases will change, our challenges will change. Now, the biggest challenge in the world is climate change. We have a wonderful international centre for climate change and development (ICCCAD). I say this very proudly that this is one of the leading centers not only in Bangladesh but in the world.

We are training our students to think analytically. So whenever they will be given a problem, they will emerge with new ways of thinking. Nowadays, the challenges are multidisciplinary. You always have to work as a team. We are focused on global partnerships and partners of major universities of the US, the UK, and Australia. Cooperation among the universities around the world is crucial in the age of globalisation.

We provide, I could say, one of the best research facilities in Bangladesh. We have deliberately invested in our laboratories, especially science labs. Our Biochemistry and Microbiology labs are of standard quality. Our Trustee Board has invested a huge amount of focus on research and it has been made into a priority. Our Board of Trustee is non-profit; money generated from tuition is backed for university development. Our faculties are recruited internationally, they regularly publish their works in international journals. We provide research not only at graduate levels but also at undergraduate levels. Basic disciplines of science like Physics, Mathematics etc are a big focus here in IUB. We also have basic departments like Bangla, Sociology etc.

IUB is tremendously interested in launching the PhD programmes. Several years ago, we applied to the UGC for launching PhD programmes and finally the UGC has agreed that we have all the facilities and human capital required. Our professors are involved in many dissertation committees in several public universities. I am very hopeful about launching the PhD programme. A policy should be taken for launching PhD programmes in private universities. UGC chairman Professor Mannan has been very supportive to us. He has assured us that in the nearest possible time, some private universities would be given the opportunity of PhD programs because we have the requisite facilities and teaching staff. After completing their Masters degree, our students go abroad for higher education. If we start PhD programmes, it will save us money and prevent our talents from going abroad.

Our books are open and audited. Whatever money we generate is invested back into the university. No trustee member takes a single taka from the university funds. A High Court direction says that taxes should not be imposed on private universities. I welcome the direction. Higher education should be encouraged and promoted. Any kind of tax should be removed from higher education.

The challenge we need to deal with at the national level is the skill of students who are entering universities. The number of students entering universities is increasing, the number of GPA is increasing, but we cannot say that the number of quality students is increasing. Unfortunately, we have to teach many of them what they should have learned at high school. This is a national problem. We need to improve primary and high school education. IUB has been fortunate because we get students from the top 5 percent. In spite of that, I would say that there is a huge scope for development. I think the top universities do not need to add much value to their students because they get the top students. But the mid-level universities, unfortunately, do not get high quality students with strong academic skills.

Another important issue is teacher training. A good student is not always a good teacher. Most of the teachers in our country are not given any proper training on how to teach. Teaching is not that simple. IUB is conducting many programmes to train our teachers.

In addition to academic counseling, we offer a lot of support to our students to ensure that they do not fall out of track. We have one of the best student counseling centers where we also provide mental health services.

The vast majority of our students come from middle-class families. We provide economic grants for poor and meritorious students. We explicitly provide five awards to our students – Best student, best sportsperson, best community activist, best non-sports extra-curricular performer, and ideal student. Among these, the ideal student award winner must be an all-rounder who is active in all branches.

At IUB, we conduct a compulsory programme for undergraduates where they have to stay in a rural area outside Dhaka for two weeks. There they learn about the rituals, cultures and lifestyles of rural life. After returning from the field, they have to submit their field report. We do not want to see our students disconnected from the society, especially from rural societies. Our students are lucky to have come this far. They need to care about the deprived people as well. We are producing globally engaged students and citizens. They will be the next leaders in their respective fields. I am very hopeful about our students and the future of Bangladesh.

 Originally this article was published on Sunday November 06, 2016 as an article at Daily Star.

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