Enhancing the quality and relevance of higher education is currently one of the issues at the top of the government’s agenda. The Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) aims to bring forth both innovation and accountability within universities and lay the foundation for better learning and research in the tertiary education sector.
Tertiary education faces many deep-rooted and intertwined challenges. Bangladesh apportioned about 2.1% of its GDP to education, but just 0.12% was allocated to tertiary education – a very low share by any standards. Low levels of funding leaves little money for investing in research, labs, equipment, computers, books or electronic journals, and infrastructure maintenance for improvement of teaching, learning and research.
An effective mechanism to link universities’ research and industry and business, whether at home or abroad, is still absent. Weak connectivity and inadequate ICT penetration in the higher education institutions limit knowledge exchanges and research collaborations amongst academic communities at home and with international peers. Finally, there was a lack of an appropriate funding mechanism to encourage basic and applied research in the universities.
HEQEP promotes academic innovation in both public and private universities through a competitive funding mechanism, known as the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF). The AIF aims to establish enabling conditions to enhance the quality and relevance of teaching, learning and research in universities; and introduce efficient instruments for the allocation of additional public funds to universities with an emphasis on innovation and accountability. It has clear selection criteria and allocates resources through three competitive windows: improvement of teaching and learning, enhancement of research capabilities, and university-wide innovations.
The AIF also promotes self-assessment of 25 academic programs in 15 universities as a first step towards the establishment of quality assurance mechanism for the tertiary education sub-sector. So far, 194 grants have been awarded to 27 public universities and two private universities. Ninety-six grants were given to revamp teaching and learning and help universities carry out self-assessments, 73 to enhance research capabilities and 25 grants for the establishment of institutional and library automation, campus network, improvement of laboratory facilities, and refurbishment of training institutes.
The project has established the Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN) to provide universities high speed dedicated connectivity. This enables teachers, researchers and students to access the latest knowledge and to engage in collaborative research across institutions of higher learning within the country and abroad. BdREN is also connected to global networks in Eurasia (TEIN 3), USA (Internet 2), Ireland (HeaNet), Continental Europe (GEANT 2), and Asia-Pacific region (APAN).
A fully operational digital library facility, the UGC Digital Library (UDL), has also been established with 34 public and private universities. The UDL subscribes to electronic-resources from acclaimed international electronic journals such as ACM, Emerald and JSTOR. The project also aims to enhance transparency and accountability in the use of public resources and to build the management and institutional capacity of the higher education sector.