Does BracU intend to focus more on research? What are the factors, in our opinion, that are contributing to achieve such extraordinary scores for research?
Research is very important for a university’s intellectual standing. Being a part of the wider community we need to engage with this community much more than what we do at present, through research to understand its problems and challenges. But we want a good balance of research and high quality teaching. One without the other is debilitating. We are trying to revitalise our masters programmes since we are not allowed to provide PhD degrees. We believe that most of our noteworthy research will take place at the masters level. For this purpose we have budgeted a significant amount for research support.
Onnesha, the first nano satellite of the country, has received significant research support and acclaim. The solar energy programme is also growing, designing solar-powered vehicles such as ambulances. Architecture department’s “resilient” housing in disaster-prone areas is another case in point. School of Business is shifting to entrepreneurship development in phases. We want the invested seed research monies to generate substantial grants in the future for the various departments. We also want our undergraduate programmes to be similarly experiential with some research component. The new ‘scholars programme’ is an example. Undergrads need to do more than just pass exams; rather, they need to invest time in community service, learn from case studies, work in the industries, complete group projects, perform community monitoring (of water and air quality, traffic problems, gender discrimination, etc.). These strategic thrusts make our faculty members to also engage in research, that powers innovative teaching and new modes of inquiry.
We do a substantial amount of research but, I believe, we need to go further in terms of world class research. We have brought in experts to assist and partner with us. UC Berkley, Penn State, University of Michigan, and Harvard have come here to work on case studies, entrepreneurship programmes, research projects and more. We also invited several scholars (e.g., from UPenn and Cambridge); I asked them to conduct classes on research methodology for faculty members because they need to appreciate world-class research methods. These steps have strengthened our faculty capabilities to do better quality research.
Every student counts: they are not just a name or a source of revenue. Their future matters to us. We are not perfect, but we are working hard to close the gaps
Our encouragement of faculty to publish in SCOPUS journals (especially for promotions), is also likely to take BracU to a higher research status. We have also instituted a plagiarism policy that cautions faculty on its implications for a university’s reputation in the community of academic institutions.
Currently, the majority of our resources come from students’ tuition fees. With that, we cannot go very far. So now, I have asked all my department chairs to look for alternative mechanisms of bringing in resources. We need to bring in more research grants. We can work with development agencies. We are thinking about industry-academy partnerships and others ways to improve the resource base. Such engagements are also important in the growth of our faculty; they must get out of the traditional lecture mode of preparing our students and engage them with real-world problems and issues. There are also many incentives for faculty and administration who pursue alternative means of resource generation.
Our next goal is to become one of the best in South Asia. We cannot be satisfied by only being the top university in Bangladesh.
How are you making education more accessible to all students?
We are giving away a great number of scholarships; both merit and need-based. We are also strengthening our support systems so that struggling students get proper guidance for success. Every student counts: they are not just a name or a source of revenue. Their future matters to us. We are not perfect, but we are working hard to close the gaps.
How do you help students cope with the pressures of university life and then in the job market?
There are club activities. I encourage teachers to engage more with them and become friendly and accessible. We are looking to introduce more prerequisite so that weaker students are better prepared to handle the more demanding courses. The Residential Semester is also important as a getaway for a new experience. Space is of concern to us, but we have already started building a world-class facility – an iconic building – with inputs from both local and international experts. This facility will offer many other avenues of learning in innovative ways. We are working hard to build links with our alumni and developing industry links to build opportunities for our graduating students. And we have started an entrepreneurship programme to support students with innovative ideas: we will fund their enterprises and nurture them along the way. Two such initiatives have already been funded.
We have programmes aimed at enriching our students culturally, for example recently we introduced ‘Desh, Mati o Shwadhinatar Gaan.’ We have plans to introduce the Ponchokobis: Students will get a glimpse of the lives of five of our biggest cultural figures, like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindranath Tagore, Dwijendralal Ray, Rajanikanta Sen and Atul Prasad Sen. Besides studying, students will have options to engage with the traditions of Bangla poems and music to remind them about the rich cultural heritage of Bangladesh.
When is the new campus becoming fully functional?
We expect it to be operational by 2019.