The government of Bangladesh is providing different forms of incentives for businesses, supporting someone to become an entrepreneur, creating jobs in the public-private sector and helping people to sell labour abroad by establishing a dedicated ministry for expatriates' welfare and labor wings in different embassies.
However, there is a lack of incentives for the capable university graduates who are interested in higher education abroad.
Bangladesh is currently enjoying the benefits of the demographic dividend. Normally a country receives this demographic dividend if its population between the ages of 15 and 64 is greater than the population of those who are less than 15 years of age and more than of 64 years of age.
The 2019 report of the Bangladesh University Grants Commission is strong evidence of the demographic dividend. According to the report, the number of students studying in 141 universities across Bangladesh is 4,434,451. Of these, 4,065,291 are students studying in 48 government universities and affiliated colleges and 349,180 are studying in 94 private universities. The number of students studying at the university level in Bangladesh is close to the total population of a country like New Zealand, or more than the total population of a country like Kuwait.
According to the annual report by the Ministry of Public Administration in 2020, the total number of employees in various ministries, agencies, and institutions in the public sector of Bangladesh is 1,504,913. The number of employees working in the banking sector other than the central bank is 175,025 as of 2017. The total number of jobs in the public sector and banking sector of the country is less than half of the total number of students in four or five academic years of the university.
Statistics show that we have a large number of educated manpower. However, the question we must ask ourselves is: have we been able to create opportunities for our university graduates who are interested in higher studies?
Some students may not be interested in doing conventional jobs in the public and private sector, some may not have the financial means to be an entrepreneur or may not want to take financial risks, but they may be highly interested in higher education, have talent to do research, or have a desire to create something new intellectually.
We might say that there are many universities in our country for those interested in higher education where they can hone their talents. Interested students can do research and undertake MPhil or PhD degrees from those universities and create something new.
However, are our universities capable of bringing out the best from our students? Various indices of our performance and university ranking do not say that.
Considering all the odds, having higher education from a standard university around the world might be one of the pathways to nourish our talents and to explore greater opportunities. Nonetheless, the path of higher education is not easy and simple as it requires patience, intellect, and financial investment. A student can provide patience and intellectual investment, but financial investment is always an issue.
There are some fellowships or scholarships for higher education abroad dedicated mostly to university teachers and government employees. The Prime Minister's Fellowship of the government of Bangladesh gives a person up to Tk. 2 crore for tuition fees, accommodation, and other expenses for a PhD with a condition of two years of service in the country after completion of the course. Other government fellowships or scholarships are also well-paid but mostly those are for jobholders and very limited.
So, what can be done for the fresh university graduates who are interested in higher education and research? Perhaps they might be offered some incentives to pursue higher education, such as a Master's or PhD, at a standard university in North America, Europe, Australia, or other developed countries.
To pursue higher education in developed countries, one has to take some standardized exams like IELTS, TOEFL, GRE or GMAT and then an admission fee has to be paid. In addition, there are some incidental expenses, including airfare. Some small incentives from the government to meet these initial expenses can garner interest from university students. In case their studies are fully funded, only an incentive grant of Tk. 4 to 5 lakhs can be allocated for those expenses.
Higher education at universities in the developed world is very expensive - but they offer fully-funded education to deserving students. The funded offer means that the university will pay the student all the tuition fees and offer stipends with which a student will be able to make a decent living - in exchange for working as a teaching assistant or research assistant. And through this work, students can get an idea about their future career. Moreover, in the developed world, graduate programs, especially PhD programs, are considered as full-time work, and the university authorities usually use the student's time for research and teaching as the cost of tuition fees.
A question may arise, how logical is such an incentive for higher education abroad?
First of all, the amount spent on this incentive grant must be less than the cost of teaching a graduate student at any university in the country for PhDs or a Master's. Second, the global ranking of our universities is a much-talked topic - needless to say further. Thirdly, the presence of students interested in higher education may further increase the supply in the limited demand of the job market in the country.
On the other hand, a World Bank study found that 35 percent of students in public universities in Bangladesh are from lower or middle-class families and at least 39 percent of graduates are unemployed for the next two years after graduation. So, a little support can help and motivate the deserving students a lot.
All these scholars educated in quality universities abroad can share their knowledge and skills. Little changes in the recruitment system of our universities and research institutions can play important roles in the development and expansion of knowledge in the country. For example, the title of 'Assistant Professor' can be made the entry post of a university teacher and only PhD degree holders from globally ranked universities can be recruited by public universities especially. India had decided in 2018 that a PhD degree would be mandatory to be appointed as an assistant professor in the universities from 2021 onwards.
Indian and Chinese experience also show how they are utilising their scholars and graduates educated from North American or European universities. For example, at least one-third of the teachers in the Department of Economics at Delhi University are graduates from an American university and almost no faculty members are without a PhD degree. In addition, the foundation of building the silicon valleys of India was laid by people educated in technology in the United States or Europe.
Peking University in China ranks 23rd in the 2021 Times Higher Education World Rankings, but one-third of its economics teachers are graduates of universities in the United States or Europe. Currently, many Chinese scholars educated from American or European universities are choosing China to work and live. Hundreds of Chinese-origin American and European graduates are now teaching in Chinese universities and thousands of Chinese-origin American and European graduates are working in high-tech parks, industries and economic zones.
Finally, in this age of demographic dividends, we can introduce incentives so that our surplus talent is not unused or wasted. Such initiatives will pave the way for students interested in higher education abroad and can help transform the country into an innovative and science-based nation.
Md Rashedur Rahman Sardar is a member of the Bangladesh Civil Service and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the United States.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.