|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Bangladesh has been enjoying steady economic growth at 6 to 7% per annum in recent years with a per capita income reaching $1,700 (adjusted by purchasing power parity). It has been identified as the Next-11, or 11 countries with a high potential of becoming, along with the BRICS, the world's largest economies in the 21st century. It has a population of 158.6 million (2011 estimate). The population is young (median age of 23.3 years in 2009) and provides a large workforce of 73.87 million and an estimated 22 million new entrants between 2005 and 2015. Unemployment rate is estimated at 5.1% in 2010, but underemployment is high at 28.7% and youth unemployment rate is over 13%. Remittances from more than 5 million overseas workers amount to 12% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009. Its abundant human resources have great potential for boosting Bangladesh's economic growth, but challenges remain in turning the young and growing population into a skilled and productive workforce.
The Government's sixth Five Year Plan emphasizes accelerating economic growth-productive employment (high income jobs in formal sector)-poverty reduction nexus, and stresses the needs to address both demand and supply sides of human resources. As the goal as well as the means of national development, the Government continues to make education of the masses one of its top priorities, especially at primary and secondary level. Bangladesh achieved 93.9% net enrolment ratio at primary level in 2009. However, secondary and tertiary level enrolment rates are below the South Asian average, and quality remains a significant issue to address. In the global knowledge economy, higher education has a crucial role in nurturing human capital that will fuel economic growth, lead social transformation, and find solutions to many development challenges that the country is facing.
Issues with higher education in Bangladesh include (i) limited access despite the recent expansion, (ii) regional imbalance, (iii) poor quality and relevance to the market demand and national development priorities, and (iv) inadequate financing and governance arrangements.
Bangladesh has 34 public universities, 54 private universities, over 2,000 degree colleges and institutes affiliated to the National University, 2 international universities, and many other technical and professional institutions at tertiary level. Since introduction of private universities, enrolment at private university has grown significantly. Despite the recent expansion, tertiary level enrolment remains very low. About 7% of the eligible age cohort continues to tertiary education. It is far lower than India's 12%. There is also a tremendous regional imbalance. Most of 90 universities are concentrated in a few locations: 53 (59%) are in Dhaka and 10 (11%) in Chittagong, with the remaining 27 (30%) spread over 15 of the 64 districts.
With rapid quantitative expansion, the deteriorating quality and lack of relevance of higher education are growing concerns. Especially, young public and private universities, regional universities, and particularly the vast number of colleges under the National University lack (i) qualified and motivated teaching staff; (ii) access to the latest books, journals and research articles; (iii) access to internet and online communications; and (iv) research and training facilities. Following the Higher Education Strategic Plan 2006-2026, universities have established internal quality assurance cells, but it is still too early to see improvements. While the Strategic Plan has also proposed the establishment of an independent accreditation council covering both public and private universities, it has not been implemented. In terms of disciplines, Bangladesh higher education is skewed towards humanities and business. Most of the public universities have never closed any department of less relevance. There is a policy gap in guiding the higher education in producing graduates in strategic areas that would support national development priorities. Almost one fourth of the unemployed hold a senior secondary certificate or higher certificate or degree, and mismatch between graduate's discipline and job stream appears common. Business faculties and engineering and technology universities have internship programs as credit course, which prove to be successful in job placement.
Bangladesh spends only 2.3% of its GDP allocation for education, and 0.12% of GDP for higher education. The share of higher education in the total education budget is about 11%, which is the lowest in South Asia. Public universities are mostly funded by the Government through the University Grant Commission (UGC). Less than 10% of public university resources is self-generated through various ways. Public universities spend around 95% for recurrent costs, i.e., staff salary, subsidized dormitory and food, etc., and less than 5% is spent on research activities. Governance arrangements in public universities contribute to politicization of academic decision making. Vice chancellors are appointed by the President or Prime Minister, and therefore, have strong political affiliation. It is also difficult to ensure accountability of teachers. The National University system of affiliation limits the flexibility and innovation of individual colleges, which lead to lack of competition and eventually undermines quality of education. Private universities' curricula are reviewed mostly by public universities for UGC's approval, and therefore, there is not much flexibility for innovation and introduction of up-to-date subjects. While public universities have autonomy, due to their dependence on UGC funding and limited financing, they have little flexibility in spending their budget.
PPP in higher education has several advantages considering the current challenges in higher education and its role in transforming Bangladesh into a knowledge economy that can compete in global market. Firstly, it can create a win-win solution for universities and industry by allowing them to collaborate in research and development. Industry can leverage universities' research and development capacity based on basic and applied science disciplines. University can tap on industry's financial resources and also can train its students to gain practical experiences, which will increase relevance of higher education. Secondly, universities may have excellent technology, but most of times, do not have capacity and financing for product development, marketing, and distribution in commercial scale. Universities or their graduates can collaborate with industry in commercializing their technology products.
However, the concept of PPP is still nascent in Bangladesh, especially in higher education. Although there are a few good cases of linking university's function in human resource development and research and development with industry, most of them are rather ad-hoc and based on individual relationship. Public universities are not actively seeking opportunities to work with industry for cost recovery or research purpose. Industry reliance on imported technology rather than home-grown technology is also pointed out as an obstacle. Therefore, concerted efforts are required to establish shared understanding of PPP in higher education within the context of knowledge economy and Bangladesh's development priorities.