Last year, Bangladeshis published 8,000 peer-reviewed scholarly articles in Scopus indexed journals. The figure is 28,000 in Pakistan and 199,000 in India. The difference between Bangladesh and her neighbours is astounding considering all of them have near similar positions in economic and social indicators.
The reasons behind this are many. Our investment in research is not enough. We don't have enough researchers and there is no incentive for publications. Faulty promotion criteria for researchers and faculties of universities as well as worsening political culture in universities and research organisations also play their part.
Last year 125 Universities of Bangladesh reportedly spent close to Tk153 crores on research which was less than one percent of their annual budget.
The first question to raise here is, If the government does not provide enough money and universities cannot manage funds from private sectors and international funding agencies due to poor leadership, how will they spend more? However, it is supposed to be more than one percent. Money spent on the salary of the researchers is also considered as an expense on Research. In spite of considering salary for researchers as an expense on research, our spending on research is low. We have to increase our investment (which is not an expense or spending) on research to make impactful discoveries.
The difference between Public and Private Universities is striking as well. Money spent on research by BRAC University in 2019 was Tk 37.9 crores which were five crores more than the total amount of money that the 10 public universities spent on research combined in that year!!
But then again this is the reality in many countries. In the USA, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and some other top universities are private universities and spend much more on research than public universities. In Bangladesh, some private universities are spending or able to spend more for research. Hence UGC should allow them to start PhD programs without any delay. This can change the research scenario of the country. As private universities will try to get returns from their investment for research, it will increase research commercialisation/technology transfer in the country. UGC should withdraw their illogical bar on private universities to give PhD degrees.
Currently, Bangladesh's research expenditure is 0.30 percent of her GDP, and it should go up significantly over time. It should be increased gradually to at least 2.5 percent of GDP (by 2030) as recommended for a country to be an R&D intensive one. But all in all, the following steps must be taken by us to improve the current condition of research.
First of all, we need to increase funds for research over time by a lot – double, triple, then ten times- by 2030. Also, the distribution of that fund must be of paramount importance as well. The fund should be distributed on the merit of the project ensuring justice. We must remember that every human is unique in his/her ability and absolute owner of his/her time. Without them, we cannot utilise their ability and time. If we deprive anyone of a research fund due to political belief or other issues, we deprive ourselves and the country from the service of –their abilities and times.
Then there's the issue of training our research aspirants properly. We have to ensure leadership and Science Communication training for researchers for making best use of time, money, human and instrumental/technical resources. This will in turn make the research much more efficient and effective.
We also need to ensure access to Scopus and the Web of Science database for our academics and researchers. With proper access, we can expect our professionals to do better.
Apart from all these, the Universities should be encouraged to appoint one researcher against 3 teachers in the research centres and at the same time, high standard Key Performance Indicators (KPI) ought to be set for promotion in universities and research organizations. This will result in a more research-friendly environment in our educational institutions.
Along with the betterment of research conditions, we should also think ahead about how we should go about this in the long run. In this regard, University and Research organisations should make their own list of publications (local and International journals) and review performance from different angles every year and design policy and strategy accordingly. These lists of publications should serve another purpose which is, Universities and research organisations would recognise(reward) top researchers every year providing encouragement and incentives for the professionals and young aspirants to go for more ambitious projects in the future.
The foreign ministry of the country should also chime in. They could and frankly, should initiate "Science Diplomacy'' in collaboration with Bangladesh Academy of Sciences(BAS), National Young Academy of Bangladesh(NYAB) and Ministry of Science and Technology for bilateral Science and Technology(S&T) agreement with as many countries as possible. This will allow Bangladeshi scholars to collaborate more effectively with professionals from foreign institutes and countries leading to better and more effective research in the future.
Dr Monir Uddin Ahmed is the founder and editor of Scientific Bangladesh as well as a member of Global Young Academy and National Young Academy of Bangladesh. He is also an Assistant Professor at Qassim University in Saudi Arabia