Winter is a great time for the replenishment of academia in Bangladesh when many Non-Resident Bangladeshi (NRB) academics alight on our shores for both personal and professional reasons. They come with interesting research ideas and creative programmes of training to share with their Bangladeshi counterparts. This migratory pattern is a boon for our aspiring scholars and academic institutions, hungry for upskilling and revitalisation, whether it is through seminars, workshops, research engagement, or even casual conversations.
First and foremost, I see a great need to develop programmes of sustained collaboration with the NRBs on research projects as a path to knowledge generation, particularly if the area of research is consistent with the knowledge needs of Bangladesh. It is important to note that other nations in the region are stepping up their research profile and engagement to gain in global competitiveness. Hong Kong's commitment of USD 18 billion in research funds to involve scholars from all over the world to assist with its own development is a case in point. China's Ivy League or the C-9 League is also opening up to scholars from across the world.
It may be pertinent to note that both local and NRB researchers can benefit from such collaboration: NRB researchers working in academic institutions of repute are likely to have advanced training in the methods of research which they may be willing to share. This is a vital area in which many of our academics are seriously disadvantaged, debilitating their prospects of being recognised as serious scholars. One such area that reveals such weakness is in the realms of publishing in peer-reviewed and recognised journals.
From our side, as universities, we could interest NRB researchers by supporting joint research programmes so that they can publish the work as requirements for tenure and promotion, while our researchers can do the same while learning more advanced methods of addressing vital research questions.
Some NRBs may simply be inclined to give back by participating in research projects to help with the advancement of their country of birth. These studies might actually benefit the country in large measure. Researchers in academia may provide the advantage of being close to data and funding sources. If such collaborations can be seen through to fruition, joint publications can project both parties into various domains of importance, including policymaking and engaging in international forums of distinction where their work gets recognition.
NRBs can also serve as mentors, assisting the nouveau researchers and seeing their work mature into meaningful inquiry. Because most NRB academics have access to electronic libraries and a wealth of research materials through their own institutions, they can provide access for the Bangladeshi researchers to the latest research studies and evolution of thinking in a particular field.
While the situation of local researchers is improving, it is still a far cry. By working together, it may also be possible to advance theoretical understanding on matters of international importance while finding locally relevant adaptations that may be of use to policymakers and others in the country (e.g. earthquake-resilient construction).
Another important area in which NRBs could make serious and positive impact is by assisting with evaluation of research proposals both for degrees, as well as for funding from industry or the government. In addition, NRB academics can also help evaluate research studies after completion to ensure that they have met decent standards, have been competently conducted, and their quality and relevance are appropriately reflected in the research outcomes. These studies can also be guided by the NRBs for publication in journals, books and other appropriate outlets.
In most higher education information systems and other research organisations abroad, the promotion of faculty and research staff may be subjected to “external” evaluation. For example, in the United States, faculty tenure and promotion to higher ranks are contingent on external evaluations in which senior faculty members from other institutions evaluate the overall quality of their research contribution and assess whether the line of research is promising enough to warrant progression to senior ranks.
Unfortunately, research in our academic institutions does not get serious attention and proper evaluation to merit further progression to publications, especially in indexed journals. NRB academics could assist universities in Bangladesh with such external evaluations; to the extent possible, such evaluation processes ought to guarantee anonymity of the evaluators.
NRB academics could be invited to conduct workshops and training programmes on the latest research methodologies (randomised controlled trials), techniques (structural equations modelling) and tools (Survey Monkey for collection and compilation of data) of research to better address the complex realities of a research problem. This would also strengthen and upgrade the relatively rudimentary stage of research that currently dominates much inquiry in the country's academic environment.
Where possible, NRBs could be integrated into local university boards and decision-making hierarchies where they could share their experiences and policy perspectives that are practised in their respective universities. This would enable local university decision-makers to jump the learning curve, shape modern policy, and introduce practices in the universities that would help build powerful academic institutions. By being in these boards, not only could the NRBs help improve the quality of knowledge production but also provide valuable inputs to strengthen the knowledge dissemination (teaching) activities by introducing andragogical approaches that shift the emphasis from rote memorisation to deep learning.
NRBs could also help academia with contacts and access to higher education programmes abroad. To become world-class universities and to scale up to the quality levels of universities in advanced countries, it is imperative that our young faculty members are well-trained, especially in epistemology and methodology that they can use to tackle research problems of local and global interest. To this end the help of the NRBs can be invaluable.
Finally, the NRBs could collaborate with our universities to start up publication programmes, establish research journals to archive new and evolving streams of local knowledge, collaborate in book publication programmes, and become members of editorial boards and other academic ventures that are all part of the knowledge generation enterprise.
Our NRB academics have varied skills with which they are building “other” nations. Many of them are willing and committed to see our universities flourish and make global impact. It is time to involve them more formally, through appropriate channels, and with the right set of incentives to work with us and make a difference.
Syed Saad Andaleeb is Vice Chancellor of BRAC University.