Bangladesh universities lag behind in world rankings

Teachers and students must focus on research

Published : 18 Nov 2023 08:27 PM

Our young generation, especially teachers and students of universities must pay more attention on conducting researches in order to build skilled human resources for the country.

Bangladesh has made many infrastructural developments over the years and the country will attain more progress in future. However, we think a country cannot go ahead without scientific research works.

And, we must conduct more research because we are still far behind regarding basic research.

Therefore, countries higher educational institutions like public and private universities and other research based organisations will have to play key role in building skilled human resources to keep pace with the world.

As the conducting research is a main tool of economic and technological development of a country, there is no alternative to it.

It has been noticed that lack of support for research and a dearth of quality publications are the main reasons for Bangladeshi universities lagging behind in most of the world rankings.

In the global landscape of higher education, the spotlight on universities revolves around their capacity and quality, a metric best gauged by the world ranking system. These rankings serve as crucial tools for comparison, performance benchmarking, and fostering a culture of excellence. Across the globe, these rankings play a pivotal role in ensuring that higher education remains accessible, affordable, and of the highest quality.

Universities that excel possess key attributes such as cutting-edge facilities for training and research, quality institutions, advanced manufacturing processes, modern educational systems, efficient management, and transparent governance. These elements propel certain countries to outshine others on the global stage.

The three most influential global rankings, produced by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and Shanghai Ranking Consultancy (ARWU), predominantly focus on measuring the research performance of universities rather than their teaching methodologies. In the latest 'Times Higher Education World University Ranking' for 2024, no Bangladeshi university secured a spot in the top 500 globally among the 1,904 universities assessed across 108 countries and regions. BRAC University, securing the top national position and ranking between 801-1000 globally, reflects the existing challenges and underscores the need for strategic improvements.

The ranking methodology of Times Higher Education (THE) known as WUR 3.0, incorporates 18 performance indicators across five domains: teaching, research environment, research quality, industry connections, and international outlook. Securing a place in the top 500 is of international significance, as it underscores the specific contributions of these universities to global higher education standards.

In a recent interview, Acting Vice-Chancellor of BRAC University, Professor Syed Mahfuzul Aziz, highlighted the institution's commendable score of 99.8 in citation impact, reflecting the substantial influence of its research endeavors.

However, the absence of Bangladeshi universities in the top 500 raises crucial questions that demand deep reflection and long-term strategic actions. Among the key indicators considered in these rankings, academic reputation and research hold the most weight (60 percent score). The quality of teaching and research significantly influences a university's academic standing, a domain where Bangladeshi universities currently lag behind in various global rankings.

It is essential to approach this ranking with nuance, considering contextual factors unique to Bangladesh. The country's political and social context has yet to align completely with the criteria employed in these global assessments. In comparison, leading global universities benefit from substantial facilities, smart management policies, and robust allocations for education.

Bangladesh faces challenges on various fronts, evident in its less-than-satisfactory performance across all parameters in the knowledge index. The Talent Index places Bangladesh at 123 out of 134 countries, scoring significantly below the global average. Similarly, slipping to 105th among 132 economies in the Global Innovation Index indicates a decline in innovation capabilities, lagging behind regional counterparts. Bangladesh scored only 24.91 out of 100, significantly lower than the global average score of 47.8.

A critical review of the 47th annual report of the University Grants Commission (UGC) highlights disparities in research projects among universities. While Dhaka University conducted 233 research projects in 2020, other institutions like Jahangirnagar University and Bangladesh Agricultural University led with 821 and 464 projects, respectively. A Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey reveals that 24 universities, including eight government and 16 private institutions, did not allocate any funds for research.

As per UGC data, Bangladesh boasts 55 public universities, 112 private universities, and 3 international universities, hosting a total of 44,41,717 students in 2021. However, there is room for improvement in research initiatives, as illustrated by the varying number of research projects across different institutions.

Furthermore, the 'Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students' report by UNESCO indicates a rising trend in Bangladeshi students seeking higher education abroad, with 52,799 students going abroad in 2023 compared to 44,338 in 2021. Popular destinations include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Australia, Japan, India, and South Korea.

While Bangladesh has witnessed improvements in living standards, life expectancy, per capita income, and overall prosperity, the journey towards global academic prominence requires a concentrated effort on developing quality infrastructure and institutions conducive to advanced academic research. The future holds promise, and with strategic planning and focused actions, Bangladeshi universities can aspire to secure a brighter place on the global stage.

This opinion editorial explores the multifaceted strategies required to enhance the global standing of universities in Bangladesh. It advocates for strategic investments in education, emphasizing the pivotal role of well-equipped facilities, faculty development, and research infrastructure. A key focus is on bridging the teaching-research gap, proposing a balanced approach that acknowledges and fosters the academic and research contributions of faculty. The op-ed underscores the significance of addressing knowledge gaps identified in global rankings through targeted initiatives, including collaborations with international institutions and investment in cutting-edge research. 

It also delves into the vital role of innovation, industry connections, and government policies in shaping the trajectory of higher education, offering insights into learning from global leaders and adapting best practices to the local context. Furthermore, the op-ed highlights the importance of engaging stakeholders, building a robust research ecosystem, and striking a delicate balance between global aspirations and local relevance to propel Bangladeshi universities toward sustained academic excellence and socio-economic development.

In essence, the piece encourages a holistic approach, recognizing the interconnectedness of various factors influencing university rankings, and advocates for a concerted effort involving academia, government, industries, and the wider community to foster a culture of excellence and innovation in the higher education landscape of Bangladesh.

Anwar H. A. Haque is a Sr. Research Associate, The Scholar, a modest publishing house and research center affiliated with CeDOLPC.