17.03.2020

Are universities ready to meet the demand of the labour market?

Bangladesh’s higher education is deteriorating. Extensive reforms are necessary for universities to better respond to the demands of the labour markets in a changing world.

A diagnosis of university education in Bangladesh

The universities of Bangladesh have accomplished many great achievements over the last 50 years: contributing to independence, creating a democratic movement, and building the nation. However, some of those achievements have recently been overshadowed by negative trends such as worsening teacher-student relations, a lack of innovation in teaching and research, students spending more time on job-related readings than the academic curriculum, and a lack of preparedness to embrace recent developments in the information and communication technology sector (ICT).

Moreover, while national unemployment rate in Bangladesh is at 4.2%, youth unemployment rate is as high as 10.6% with an increase of 2.6 % for those with tertiary education (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2018). At the same time, local industries lack skilled labourers because graduates are not meeting their requirements (Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, 2017).

These experiences have been repeatedly voiced by students and academics in the dialogues of the Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS) of the University of Dhaka and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). In order to change these trends, CGS, FES and other partners launched a programme on tertiary education reforms in 2014. The purpose was to initiate discussions on where the university system is heading and to raise questions on the improvement of education and research, preparation for a new age of automation and digitization, labour market responsiveness and the university’s role in the creation of an equal and gender-responsive society.

“The timing was perfect. Since in a few years from now in 2021 the University of Dhaka, the oldest University of the country, and a University that literally gave birth to Bangladesh, will be 100 years old, there is good reason to reflect on the state of higher education in Bangladesh,” said by Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, one of the key partners of the program. 

  • Cultural event with a cause of rebuilding nation at Assembly 2019 / Photo: FES Bangladesh
  • Ms. Bibi Russell in the Center at Assembly 2019 / Photo: FES Bangladesh
  • Audience in the Assembly 2019 / Photo: FES Bangladesh

Between 2014 and 2019, FES Bangladesh and partners organised a series of workshops and conferences and consulted more than 1,500 stakeholders, including national and international education specialists, academics, policy makers, and students. The goal was to discuss the current issues of higher education and to build a knowledgeable society where stakeholders can raise their voices and bring positive changes.    

”Multi-stakeholder participation and analysis of the issues have led us to embark on a journey of creative imagination on what higher education may look like,” said Tina Blohm, Resident Representative of FES Bangladesh.

Giving voice to the youth of Bangladesh

The second assembly in March 2019 followed a bottom-up approach that empowered many youths to present their own ideas for the first time. Over two days, 900 academics, students, and authorities of both public and private universities joined together to deliberate the pitfalls of the current educational system, and to recommend ways out to ensure quality education and to meet the demands of modern society.

In a nutshell, all relevant stakeholders have been engaged to create debates and discourses on the future of higher education. They made suggestions on how to reduce the mismatch between the quality of higher education and the demand of skilled labour in industries. These discussions will be continued in the future. 

Enthusiastic participation inspired the project to expand and develop further tools to engage more youths in the academic and political debates of higher education in Bangladesh. These include:

  • A website to gather feedback from the students and other users on their experiences living in universities, and what they want to see in terms of changes.
  • An animation clip to highlight the message of equity and equal responsibility in higher education. The animation character of Tokai (a street urchin), created by a highly reputed cartoonist Rafiqun Nobi (Ronobi) is used in the clip
  • A documentary by young film maker Farid Ahmad, based on the experiences of FES and Dhaka University on the tertiary education reforms. It showcases the making university, its deteriorating phase, and call for its remake (Watch here).

The above activities have shown the importance of making the voices of the youth heard and bringing them together with public and private universities. After all, the project has created platforms of youths and seniors to work together to engage multi-stakeholders for transforming the current agonies of the tertiary education into an education system that is more responsive to the labour market. This is only a small step, but CGS and FES are committed to continue this journey. 

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