Climbing the Ladder of Higher Education
Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra
The British Council with the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh (UGC), hosted a two-day policy dialogue workshop from March 2-3, 2011, on 'Quality assurance and enhancement in higher education: Experience in the United Kingdom and possible implications for Bangladesh'. The workshop was designed to culminate the outcomes of British Council's Higher Education Project INSPIRE, which aims to strengthen the academic and research partnerships between Bangladeshi and UK universities. In this regard, Star Campus talks to Dr. Robert William Munn, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Physics, University of Manchester, UK who conducted the workshop.
Courtesy: British Council
What would you like to establish or gain from the two-day workshop? What are the ideas you would like to share?
Firstly, I am expecting other people to gain from my experiences, so my gain would be other peoples' gain. My aim is to reinforce the good things that the academicians in Bangladesh are doing and to show them that they are not alone in the ways they are choosing.
I suppose the main thing I shared was the framework, which is becoming common in many countries. Therefore, in a way, making educationists of Bangladesh aware of the framework that is followed in several countries. I am here to share the things that we have learned in the United Kingdom regarding the matters of quality assurance and enhancement in higher education. However, I do not represent any perfect system per say but it is the system I know of and in this case, any higher educational institute will have to develop their own system, the one that fits their purpose and their circumstances.
In Bangladesh, plenty of students take up science at the high school levels. Nevertheless, not many show much interest or output in the later years. Where are we going wrong? Is there a gap being created due to the old age curriculum or is it because we do not have the proper technical support?
It is not only the case with Bangladesh, this is happening all over the world. Science is hard; it requires immense concentration, hard work, and attention to many details. With other subjects, most students can often talk quite eloquently and make a little knowledge go a long way. In science, it is more like a progression of knowledge. It is a blend of both the exciting and boring bits. In science, it involves more discipline and understanding rather than creativity.
Regarding the lack of technical support in universities in Bangladesh, I will not be able to say exactly where the universities are going wrong because I am not well aware of how the system works. It isn't sufficient enough to answer that question from the knowledge I have gathered from the two-day workshop.
As a teacher who has worked with a number of universities in the United Kingdom, according to you, how can a student become a global personality?
I strongly believe one of the things you will have to do is to think about the possibilities rather than obstacles. One must focus on what they can do rather than what they cannot do. One must take a step forward, believe in the possibilities out there, and not think about the difficulties out there. They should work hard and know that they need to get somewhere and set a destination for themselves.
What sort of teacher training methods should be introduced and maintained to train teachers?
In higher education, we must link those who have expert knowledge with the ones who do not. Therefore, we have to persuade those who are experts in a certain fields to translate and transmit the techniques to the other generations for better learning. However, this method is essential but not sufficient since there are ways of understanding things and providing a framework that would be better to do the job effectively and achieve the results one wants. For instance, in the case of chemistry teachers when professionals in universities are asked what they are, they usually answer by saying they are chemists not a teacher of chemistry. Their first loyalty is to their profession and in a way universities also have a problem with this. So, what should be done is to mix that profession with teaching. One must do action learning and then try it and in return be motivated to do more learning about teaching in higher education.
Through what other ways can we develop or enhance the standards of the higher education system?
Clearly one of the things that can be done is to see what the things other countries are doing. It is not just countries that have long established systems. You can also learn from countries that are in the process of development and learn how they approach challenges. So be prepared to learn from anywhere you can. Look forward to possibilities and perhaps you can solve problems by looking at them one at a time.
In the United Kingdom context, how far are we in maintaining certain standards in higher education levels of Bangladesh?
It is clear that there is a lively awareness in this country from the obvious inputs of the academicians of the highest level. One of the important points I have emphasised on is that, everyone is responsible for building their own image. And one of the other things I have mentioned is universities should be able to learn from one another. The public universities have different constraints while private universities have others. So, listening to students and giving them a platform to speak is an important thing. Some universities will be moving forward faster than others and as a result the ones that are behind will be encouraged to follow the ones ahead.
In an era of technological development, what is your take on long distance learning and how can we enhance that sector?
Distance learning is very important for bringing education to people who are unable to spend the time to attend university. It can be provided to people who cannot afford to stop education and it can be used to educate people in remote places. But it has difficulties, as it does not provide the same learning environment. Some students are however; very happy getting the degrees in the end and believe it is all worthwhile. In some of the departments in Manchester University, the students form tutorial groups online and bridge modules, then come together and discuss those issues once a year. In addition, distance learning can become a lonely thing, in some cases; you might be up studying when everyone else has gone to sleep. Also, if you get something wrong in a lecture you can fix it very quickly in a proper class room situation but in the case of distance learning that mistake can remain there for a very long time.
Are there opportunities for scholarships at postgraduate levels for those applying from undergraduate levels in the developing parts of the world?
There are no general criteria. But in most universities we look at students who are doing well in their own countries. Our first question is, are they good in their own countries? Moreover, do they sound like they really want to come to us for higher education? For example, we once had a student from Kenya who was literally clearing out rubbish on the streets and he found a piece of paper mentioning about a fellowship programme in the University of Manchester. He said he wanted to come to us and he did get the scholarship and now has gone back to Kenya to develop opportunities for people like him. There are many institutions in the wealthier parts of the world who would like to open up opportunities for many such students so that these students can materialise their dreams.