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Winning the war on poverty

  • Published at 11:23 am May 30th, 2018

Professor Hafiz Siddiqi was the leader in building quality education in Bangladesh

Professor Hafiz Siddiqi died on May 22. His life was dedicated to training generations of students in business administration at Dhaka University’s Institute of Business Administration and later at North South University.  

His efforts in building these institutions have resulted in thousands of well-trained men and women who have taken up the running of Bangladesh’s businesses, government services, and banks. 

IBA remains the foremost business training faculty in Bangladesh, and when Professor Siddiqi retired from North South University, it was widely regarded as the foremost private university in Bangladesh.

I am reminded of the story of George Marshall: Organizer of victory in World War II. A younger general, the foremost infantry officer in the American army was called to see Marshall. 

The young general was delighted, and upon entering, told Marshall that he hoped to receive command of a division as he was anxious to lead the army in battle. Marshall looked at him and said: “I have a hundred men who can command divisions, you are going to the infantry school to train 10,000 lieutenants. That is how we are going to win the war.”

Professor Siddiqi has done more than anyone to win the war on poverty in Bangladesh. It is the disciplined and intelligent running of companies, banks, and government organizations that are reducing poverty. It is the 10,000 men and women that he trained who are winning this war.  

After working many years to build IBA along the lines of the American approach to business education, he went to NSU to build their business school, again following the same model. These organizations were the first attempts at bringing the American university system to Bangladesh.  

When he took on the larger duties at North South, he followed the same approach -- establishing a university built on the approach of American style system.  

From the start at NSU, he demanded quality from both the faculty and students. Faculty was to teach only at NSU. Teaching loads were moderate to encourage research and good teaching. Entering students had to pass an entrance examination and the size of the student body was limited to the size of the faculty and the physical facilities. 

Students were expected to meet the standards of the university, had to pass their courses, and earn enough credits to graduate. He fought hard against all the pressures to admit unqualified students sponsored by important persons.  

His efforts to maintain quality made the NSU graduate someone who was respected in the business community.

These concepts of how a university should run were in contrast to almost all of the other private universities. It was a lonely battle that he fought.

After retiring from NSU, he became, interestingly, professor emeritus at BRAC University. The business faculty at BRAC drew on his experience and wisdom to expand and improve their work. It is notable that this year, the Dhaka Tribune’s ranking of the private universities ranked BRAC University first. The business school is the largest of the BRAC faculties.  

In the struggle to build quality university education in Bangladesh, Hafiz Siddiqi was the foremost leader. His integrity, honour, and humility are an example for all.  

He is survived by his wife of many decades, Najma, also a university professor, and his two children, both of whom teach at American universities. 

Forrest Cookson is an American Economist.

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