An academician’s pursuit of excellence: In conversation with Dr Mohammed Farashuddin
During the last few decades, Bangladesh has made notable progress in the education sector across all levels.
While the country has reached near-universal net primary enrollment rate, it has also made the tertiary education accessible, resulting in increasing enrollment in colleges, universities, and polytechnic institutes. One of the key drivers in achieving this change has been the support from the private sector actors, especially in establishing private universities and polytechnic institutes during the nineties.
As of 2019, according to the World Bank, 45% of the tertiary education enrollments have been in the private sector tertiary education institutions. Besides, the enhanced world-class curriculum offered by some of these institutions has helped shape a strong workforce for this fast-growing economy. One of the visionaries who has played a significant role in promoting tertiary level education in Bangladesh in the private sector is the founder of East West University, Dr Mohammed Farashuddin.
The aim was simple, "To provide quality education at an affordable cost in Bangladesh," as stated on the university's website.
To know more about what motivated the erudite scholar to resist the temptation of a comfortable life abroad and return to his motherland to work towards promoting education, we caught up with him on the second episode of Preronar Kotha.
"My education was like a religion to my mother. And my father used to think that education is imperative for contributing to the building of the nation", said the academician at the beginning of the interview.
Encouragement from his teachers greatly influenced his lifelong pursuit of education. While discussing his motivations, he shared an anecdote from his high school days, "I used to respect our headmaster Mr. Suruj Ali a lot, even though some people were afraid of him. On our second day at school, he took our English class. There, he asked a very tough question, and I answered that from the last bench. He asked some more questions, and I answered them as well. He then brought me forward to the first bench, where the class toppers used to sit."
In 1966, he joined the elite erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and worked in the field administration as Sub-divisional Officer (SDO). After the liberation war in 1971, he got appointed as the Private Secretary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, where he worked very close to him and oversaw the socio-economic and cultural advancement, formulation, planning, and implementation of the pro poor and anti-poverty economic policies of the war-ravaged country.
In 1975, he went to Boston University in USA to pursue his Masters and PhD. His perseverance, hard work and focus helped him earn his PhD within 3 years 9 months, while most people take much longer than that. Economics has always fascinated him and the intriguing concept of cost-benefit analysis which he researched as part of his PhD work has later helped him in every aspect of his professional career.
Later on, despite being engaged in full-time professional commitment in his roles in the public and development sectors including the United Nations, Dr Farashuddin never gave up on his passion for education and teaching: "I have worked in three countries. Anywhere I went, I tried to find out if I could teach a subject there." Even today, at this age, Dr Farashuddin loves and enjoys teaching and interacting with the young talented minds.
His dream to contribute to the education sector has made him establish East West University, the third-largest private university in Bangladesh, with the aim to disseminate knowledge and education and develop human capital. Dr Farashuddin has always been outspoken and tough in making the right decisions. He mentioned that his ability to make tough decisions enabled him to make some positive changes in this professional life.
As the Governor of the Bangladesh Bank, he has implemented his learnings and knowledge and executed some rigorous decisions to address the issues of corporate governance. "Directors used to default loans from their own banks, political people used to sit on the director's board. I put an end to all these.
In order to encourage and attract talented officials to Bangladesh Bank, Dr Farashuddin did one more thing, "Those who joined Bangladesh Bank with four first-class degrees would get four increments, which would ultimately make their net salary a lucrative amount."
As an academician, he believes that our education system in Bangladesh needs some major changes to reduce inequality and to build a better value system. He emphasized the importance of community-based schooling for children. "We need area based or community-based schools. Students need to interact with and go to school with children from their own locality. Uniforms and food will be the same for everyone. Currently in Bangladesh, there are only a few schools, few colleges and few higher educational institutes which are good, if we have locality based schooling and everyone is provided the same education, there won't be education/learning divide".
The devotion to give back to the country and community where he was brought up made Dr. Farashuddin leave a lucrative and rewarding career in the USA after his PhD and return to his motherland. This sacrifice and patriotism stand as an inspiration to our younger generation. He mentioned during the interview.
"I believe that if we Bangladeshis do not stick with each other, if we do not help each other, then we can't take the country to the highest level. This is why I came back."
While conversing, he even added, "If I had Aladdin's lamp, I would change the way our students think. I want them to engage in creative thinking. I feel inspired when I talk to students who came back to Bangladesh to give something back to the country."
The interview was conducted by Dr Melita Mehjabeen, Associate Professor, IBA, University of Dhaka as part of "Preronar Kotha", an initiative by Prerona Foundation.
You can watch the full interview on the YouTube channel of Prerona Foundation.