Launch of The Higher Education Task Force Report
Wednesday, March 1, 2000 Omni Shoreham Hotel, Regency
Ballroom, Washington, D.C.
Mr Saadat Husain, Secretary, Primary and Mass Education
Division, Ministry of Education, Bangladesh
I could not read the report line by line, it was impossible.
I could only gloss over it, particularly the statistical proportion
of it which, of course, has gathered up to 1995. I believe that
if we had gathered 1998-99 the situation could have been different
for some countries - at least for my country.
I am impressed, if not by the report itself, because
I could not see it, by the scintillating presentations of the authors
and duly compliment the president of World Bank, Dr Wolfensohn.
And so, I have to base my reactions on the presentations that have
But I have a few comments which I am not sure whether
it is against or for - I think they are general comments and one
or two questions.
My first question is about student politics in higher
educational institutions. Students of higher educational institutions,
particularly colleges and universities in developing countries,
comprise a special group because of their physical strength, very
big and strong, and because of their unique emotional character.
They are a special group, to be honored. Sometimes on their own,
because they think it is their moral responsibility, they protest
against some of the orders of the society - or particularly of the
government - so they form a volatile group. And sometimes, because
other agencies would like to utilize such a strong group, they also
fall prey to the tricks of the politicians or other agency people.
As a result, many of the higher educational institutions not only
of developing countries, but also of developed countries, form a
We have seen the action in Paris, in the United States,
in Seoul, in Jakarta, in Bangkok and of course in Bangladesh. So
my question is, have you considered this aspect (which is a serious
problem in matters of higher education in Bangladesh)? I am told
that the World Bank group when they were considering programs for
higher education, to help higher education in Bangladesh, this was
a massive issue. In fact in some meetings, the subject was raised:
can they approach the university premises with a moral presence,
rather than physical. So I would like to know whether you have considered
this particular aspect, the moral issue of student politics, and
the practical problems with it.
I say moral issue because students in many countries,
particularly in our countries, have spearheaded many moves which
are morally correct, politically right and which arguably led to
the independence of the country, so at the macro level their activities
cannot always be decried. But at the micro level we find some of
their activities create serious problems for the governance and
administration which you have noted. So, I'd like to know whether
you have considered this aspect, and if you have considered, have
you thought if there was any way out from this dilemma.
Number two is about brain-drain. This is an issue
which has been debated, has been discussed at many forums, and we
feel assured by developing countries when it is discussed at forums
of developed countries. But my question is what is the alternative?
Have you thought out any serious measures to keep the brainy people
in the developing country? And if you have not considered it I have
a suggestion, which is crude but which pinpoints the real problem.
Why not create a World Fund to support those brilliant
people who have a higher degree and who serve in the developing
country, to support them? Because if you believe in equal pay for
equal job, why should we get one fifth of the salary? So there should
be some way to support those who are suffering because they have
decided to serve in the developing country and they are sacrificing.
So I think some World Fund could be created, if you really want
to stop the brain drain. These days international degrees are comparable,
and international testing is there, so you can find those who have
that international level really and who have attained that level.
And I feel that such a fund could help retain the brilliant people
in their own country.
Now I have some comments about what you call virtual
universities, or open universities. These will ultimately qualify
this is the age of technology and virtual universities or open universities
or many uncontrolled universities will come. But I am slightly worried
about the quality and standard of education in these universities.
We have some universities in the States in the West Coast where
I see all of a sudden some of our colleagues come over and say that
he has been awarded a degree in lifetime activities, that he was
a police officer or he was some security personnel. I think he was
beating the students on the streets, and all of a sudden he got
Or we have heard from Russia, one of our colleagues
he sent an application form for admission - and he was given a PhD
- saying that your application is good enough to get a PhD.
Now I am slightly conservative on this side, because
I think a PhD or higher degree is also a screening mechanism. It
says it is a passport to higher education, and it requires, as Professor
Rosovsky has very well, person-to-person contact. In any higher
pursuit you need person-to-person contact because there are some
tricks of the trade which can only be learned by person-to-person
contact. That's why the most brilliant performance comes down the
lineage because father teaches the daughters or sons, others do
not teach it, that is a characteristic of our sub-continental culture.
I believe that while we should encourage private universities,
while we should encourage even open universities, and virtual universities,
we should try to see that standard of our higher education is not
lowered, that means the degree carries some respectability, and
gives you international recognition. When I travel I see that with
my complexion, when people think I should be thrown out of the business
class or first class, the moment that I say I am Dr Husain they
say, well you are acceptable in first class. So it's an international
screening process and let us not dilute these things.
I know someone who has got a PhD from the Astronomical
Society. I believe that higher education, apart from everything,
should lead to excellence. In fact, the next slogan, the slogan
of the next decade is going to be "Education for Excellence
and Excellence for All". So just education for all is not enough,
and so with a higher education degree, just degree is not enough,
it has to be based on rigorous training, it has to be based on excellence.
I believe that this will be taken care when you consider these things
in later debates.