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     Volume 2 Issue 90 | October 19, 2008|


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Asia Regional Higher Education Summit
Higher Education's Response to Global Challenges

Mahdin Mahboob

“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” --Rabindranath Tagore

The Asia Regional Higher Education Summit was recently held in Dhaka between October 6-9 with a view to expanding innovative approaches to teaching, research, technology transfer and business development in higher education. Attended by senior educationists from all across the world, the four-day summit proposed a range of ideas for the development of key sectors and how higher education could play a role in it. The summit was organized by UNAID in association with the University of Dhaka and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

This summit, the first of its kind in Asia, called for stronger partnerships among public and private institutions across the globe to face the emerging challenges. Around 150 university presidents and vice chancellors, senior executives of businesses and foundations and government officials participated in the summit titled “Higher Education's Response to Global Challenges.”

Speakers at the inaugural session termed terrorism, food shortages, energy deficiency and poverty the major challenges that the world is undergoing today, saying that it is higher education and innovative thinking that can help face these challenges.

Education Adviser Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, speaking as the chief guest at the inaugural function, said, “Degradation of ecology, population, rapid urbanisation and poverty are the major issues in the case of Bangladesh. It is of immense importance that the universities of Bangladesh get linked with those of other countries for more collaboration in researches and innovations, he said, urging both the public and private universities to take the opportunities of partnerships and achieve excellence. ”

Asian University of Women in Chittagong is an excellent example of partnership at regional level, he added.

The Education adviser also said that it is not only the partnership in terms of resources, but for sharing experiences and mobilising alumni of the educational institutions, which empower the institutions. But so far such initiatives have not been touched upon in significant manner.

A key focus should be ethical issue that is to uplift the underprivileged, he said, adding, “This is a bigger social support.” Teachers' training is another important area to be focused on.

The adviser said Bangladesh's focus so far has been on primary education to build a foundation, but now it is also putting focus on higher education and is formulating a law for the private universities, a newly flourishing area of higher education in the country.

In the opening ceremony of the summit, US Ambassador to Bangladesh James F Moriarty was also present. He said higher education institutions make vital contributions to national and international development. In many ways, American higher education community represents the US traditions of enterprise, pluralism, diversity, compassion and humanitarianism.

In recent years, traditional relationships between the US and primarily European higher education institutions have expanded in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, he said, adding this expansion has included the formation of stronger and more prevalent linkages with multinational corporations, non-government organisations and foundations.

“I firmly believe that these trends will contribute significantly to reducing global poverty in the coming years,” the Ambassador said.

USAID Bureau of Asia Acting Assistant Administrator Mark Ward in his keynote said the US aid from private sector to the developing world now is much more than that of the official aid.

This calls for partnerships in terms of higher education as we, he said, adding that ways should be found out how the national and multinational corporations can be partnered for the development of higher education systems and researches.

Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof SMA Faiz and BUET Vice Chancellor Prof AMM Safiullah also spoke at the inaugural programme.

Thomas Farrell, US deputy assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs said that the US is keen to extend higher education programmes to Asian countries, including Bangladesh, to help face global challenges such as food security, disaster management and poverty reduction. “The number of visas issued to Bangladeshi students has increased recently. We welcome them… we want to see more students,"

The US may award five more Fulbright scholarships to Bangladeshi students a year in the areas of food security and disaster management, he added.

Presently, the US awards 18 to 20 Fullbright scholarships to Bangladeshi students and sends 14 to 16 academics for teaching or researches to Bangladesh, according to a newspaper report.

The summit focused on four areas -- food security, women's entrepreneurship, and teacher's training and natural disaster management -- for discussion.

"Higher education has no alternatives. The US, therefore, internationally develops programmes and facilitates individuals and institutions for better education and research," Thomas Farrell said while talking to reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof SMA Faiz, who moderated a session on 'Building Innovative Higher Education Partnerships', said the summit discussed elaborately on the ways the universities in Asia and the US can strengthen partnerships.

These partnerships can surely be with the private sectors, including the national and multinational corporations, he said, adding that representatives of Microsoft, Intel, Aga Khan Foundation have already extended their support to the tertiary education.

"The academics of various countries are sharing their experiences. This is a great scope for partnership," he said, adding that the summit will surely open new avenues of stronger collaboration.

A participant suggested preparing a directory of the universities in Asia and the US to facilitate sharing of the best practices that contribute to the excellence in education.
BRAC Executive Director Mahabub Hossain at a session on food security said developing high yielding varieties of crops is a challenge in the agriculture sector, as arable land is declining in countries like Bangladesh.

However, generating more employments with better pay for poor people to ensure food security is a greater challenge in Bangladesh, he added.

All in all, the summit ended on a successful note with proposals for associating higher education more to the growing challenges in today's world. The successful implementation of these plans is expected to pave the way for a better and more peaceful future.


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