How Bangladesh can stay on top in the fourth industrial revolution

Publish: 9:17 PM, November 24, 2021 | Update: 9:17:PM, November 24, 2021

Dr. Bidyut Baran Saha
At a press conference held after the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s return from the official visit to the United States after attending the 7th session of the United Nations, senior journalist Naimul Islam Khan raised an issue of advancementthe higher education sector in Bangladesh. He asked the Prime Minister whether any initiative could be taken to enhance the quality of Dhaka University to a world-class university by undertaking a mega project on the 100thbirth anniversary of Bangabandhu, the father of the nation, and Dhaka University through increasing research allocation, bringing in foreign teachers and researchers.T he prime minister said that she has always encouraged students, teachers, and researchers in research and publication in response to this question. She pointed out that the government has made special budgetary allocations for research, including the Prime Minister’s Education Fund, the Bangabandhu Trust Fund, and the Special Grant Fund of the Ministry of Science and Technology. She also stated that Bangabandhu also laid great emphasis on research activities and set up numerous research institutions in Bangladesh.

There is a need for more research on science, technology, and the healthcare sector at present, and she emphasizes the endeavors of her government in promoting research and scientific innovation in the country. Also, she documented that various mega projects were implemented in the past, and she promised to allocate budgetary support more in the education and research sector in the near future.The Prime Minister’s profound interest in research work and the initiatives taken to expand the research are to be commended. She has introduced the ‘Bangabandhu Fellowship on Science and Technology’ and the ‘Prime Minister’s Fellowship Program’ to provide higher education opportunities for young Bangladeshi researchers in world-renowned universities. But the concern is that after higher education, in most cases, there is a limited opportunity available to them to develop that research back in the country due to lack of research infrastructure facilities and insufficient budgetary options. Necessary budgetary allocations, incentives, and supports are to be provided for universities to ensure scientific research advancement.

In this case, the importance of research allocation is evident from a review of the two leading universities in Singapore. The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are currently in the top 15 universities in the world rankings. In 2019, NUS’s research allocation was USD 781 million. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s joint research with these two universities is called the ‘Singapore MIT Alliance (SMA)’ and allocated USD 5 million annually for this initiative. My current workplace at Kyushu University, Japan, had a total research allocation of aboutUSD 92 million in 2020. Of this, about USD 22.7 million was allocated for joint research of Kyushu University and other universities. Also, about USD 57 million was allocated only for promoting science and technology research. My research laboratory is a part of the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) at Kyushu University. This I2CNER was established in 2010 and allocated 15 million annually for scientific research from 2010-2020. About 20% of the budget is spent on setting up and operating a satellite research center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). There are currently 7 World Premier International (WPI) projects in Japan. In other words, the universities have not only increased their funding for single research but also have increased their allocations to joint research so that they can prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution through updated and modern scientific research.

The proposed research allocation of Dhaka University for the fiscal year 2021-2022 is only USD 1.3 million. It is not possible to do quality research or combine research with this small amount of research funding. What to do then? We need to upsurge our research allocation by targeting the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Special attention should be paid to emerging areas like energy research, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, material science, etc. State of the art and advanced research institutes in these sectors are to be established, investments need to be made, and regular monitoring and supervision of research work to be ensured. The important and successful output of the research needs to be patented. We have to move forward with the pragmatic research plan for the next ten years.

The first 3-4 years may not see any significant change, but the expected results will start to come from then on. Recently, for the first time in the history of Dhaka University, a complete master plan was prepared and approved by the syndicate with the views and suggestions of the concerned experts. This approved master plan will be presented to the government soon. The master plan focuses on technical and physical infrastructure development, construction of residential buildings, setting up of world-class libraries, greening, and beautification, solar power plants, rainwater harvesting, sewerage, construction of modern gymnasiums, setting up of quality medical centers. Essential issues like setting up modern research centers, construction of new laboratories and increasing the funding allocation of existing laboratories, development of domestic research by bringing in eminent foreign researchers have been neglected in this plan.

At present mega projects like Metrorail, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Subway are being managed and implemented by bringing foreign engineers and experts. But in this master plan, if it is possible to execute the research with long-term planning by giving importance to it, then the engineers themselves will be able to manage everything in the future. Research megaprojects with the priorityof some universities of the countryare implemented by the government, bringing world-class researchers and making arrangements to do high-quality research in the country. The situation in Japan was not like that in the beginning, and they started investing in 6 universities. Recently, Honorable Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina and JICA Chief Dr. Shinichi Kitaoka attended an “experience and exchange of views” meeting in Tokyo. The Prime Minister called upon JICA to set up a training center in Bangladesh for the purpose of training the young generation. Dr. Shinichi Kitaoka expressed interest in cooperation and said that brotherhood and cooperation with Bangladesh are many years old. If such a center is established, the relationship will be even stronger. In this context, the government of Bangladesh can take a long-term strategic plan for promoting advanced and scientific research through expanding research networks with developed nations taking technical and financial assistance.

The writer is a Professor and Principal Investigatorat the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) of Kyushu University in Japan. He can be reached at sahakyudai@gmail.com.