Higher Education In Agriculture-Emerging Issues28 October 2020 Wais Kabir
Developing human capital through acquiring higher education is considered as a useful strategy for accelerating agricultural development. Higher studies are generally supported by some projects in the agricultural research institutions of National Agricultural Research System (NARS). However, researchers are also undertaking higher studies through individual contacts with foreign universities or agencies. There is a general perception of deteriorating quality of higher education in agricultural fields. Hence, there is a dire need for assuring quality standards of Post Graduate studies (Masters and Ph.D.) so that the country is better enabled to deal with the challenges of SDGs with its professional strength. With the competitive trade regime in agriculture, genetic manipulation for higher yield may not be only tool but exploration of newer frontiers in production and post production will be required to exploit advantage of agriculture. As agriculture is getting diverse, complex and knowledge intensive, this demands to bring a meaningful change in service delivery in agricultural development. With the development of global technological innovations, agriculture education needs to reorient accordingly with emerging field of development like agricultural physics associated with photosynthesis, Nano-tech, legal issues (IPR/TRIPS, technology commercialization including incubation), innovative marketing including non- conventional items, agro- tourism, global trade and negotiation, product branding, ICT based knowledge delivery including artificial intelligence and remote sensing, enhanced media penetration, behavioural economics and so on.
The number of universities is growing in Bangladesh in different parts of the country. Also, numbers of international universities are associated with collaborative research in Bangladesh. The collaboration among the universities in sharing strengths of academic programs is extremely needed. The international students, mostly from Africa and Asia are attending higher study programs in Bangladesh. This may be encouraged through further upgrading quality standard of the higher studies.
A desk survey has been made to study the present trend and suggest interventions required to respond to the present need. There has been concern by the policy makers to upgrade the quality of higher education for addressing complex solutions of production constraints. A total of 15 respondents were interviewed representing five (5) NARS institutes and five (5) agricultural universities. Also review has been made on available documents. Information reflects that one teacher has to cover 11-12 students in BAU, CVSAU and PSTU at both undergraduate and graduate level with a peak to 36 in HSTU, which is very low to maintain quality of higher education compared to the sample of Philippines (1:08), China (1:7.7), India (1:7.6) and Sweden (1:4.5). There was less presence of Professors (0-3) and Associate Professors (0-3) particularly in veterinary medicine and fisheries courses of BSMRAU, CVSAU, HSTU and PSTU compared to Professor and Associate Professor of the same departments in BAU. Quality intake of Post Graduate students is affected due to the variation of requirements in grade/GPA/class. Majority agricultural universities (80%) do not have courses mandatory for Ph.D. degree (only depend on the Supervisors).Only 37% of agricultural researchers as of 2016 in Bangladesh possessed Ph.D. degree compared to 73% of researchers as of 2014 in India. Skill gap due to low share of PhD professionals is an indicator of productivity of research. The World Bank and IFAD supported National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP)phase 1 and 2 implemented by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) awarded a higher share of Ph.D. scholarship to Agronomy (10-25%), Soil Science (13-17%), Biotechnology/Plant Breeding (7-30%) etc., compared to animal science (0-5%), fisheries (1-5%), Agricultural Engineering (3-5%), Entomology (4-10%), Horticulture (3-7%) and Environmental Science (1%). Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF) also sponsored 57 in-country Ph.D. scholarships out of which 16 are associated with projects with Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the other 41 are embedded in different research projects. KGF (a non-profit public company mandated for quality research) also made to have supervisor/thesis examiners from Australian universities those are supported by ACIAR/KGF project. Almost half (46%) of the NARS institutes received progress report from supervisors but only (29%) parent organizations (NARS institutes) received progress report in prescribed format. Only 40% of them who received progress report took action against students when they did not submit the report. Again, only 25% of the NARS institutes monitored dissertation research and/course work. It is encouraging that NATP has started managing feedback on the progress of PhD research work using format that can be replicated across NARS institutes after refinement. Animproved and revised format has been developed including a precise quantity and quality indicators taking into account the relevance to needs of NARS institutes and coherence with the original design of the dissertation research and course work.
Majority respondents suggested that BARC-centered central monitoring body (CMB) should be constructed with representatives of the respective Ministries, UGC, NARS institutes and agricultural universities coordinated by BARC and should be composed of at least four sub-groups viz, Agriculture, livestock, fisheries and natural resources management. CMB should facilitate local agricultural universities to come up with unified admission policy. It should also facilitate all agricultural universities to make course-credit systems mandatory along with dissertation research for Post Graduate studies in consultation with UGC. CMB may also facilitate rational allocation of MS and PhD programs through different projects or initiatives implemented by relevant Ministries, reflecting the priority areas in consultation with NARS institutes. A skill gap analysis based on the country requirements, need a sect-oral analysis based on multi-stakeholder consultations in each sector may be made. The HRD policy (2011) by BARC needs to be updated periodically. There are needs and opportunities for tertiary education by different public bodies/universities and foreign sources. CMB should collect information including procedures of supervision and monitoring tools from home and abroad as much as available and then make uniform feedback mechanism ensuring elements of quality assurance of Post Graduate studies. It should sensitize NARS institutes to make their Committee for Advanced Study and Research (CASR) or training units active in monitoring quality standards of graduate students using prescribed format and so that adequate action is taken against the defaulters of quality progress report. Agricultural universities are well motivated to adjust the courses and research work with the needs of the NARS institutes. UGC has already made policy for all the universities to install Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC). CMB should, therefore, link NARS institutes through their CASR or training units with IQAC of the agricultural universities for ensuring follow-up of quality assurance of Post Graduate studies. CMB may seek funding from national and development partners to support monitoring and opportunities of higher studies. Scholarship rate of Post Graduate in-country students should be increased to encourage higher studies locally. The candidates should be encouraged to publish at least one research article from the dissertation work published in an internationally reputed journal.
Wide application of new knowledge by farmers has been the main driver of agricultural productivity growth, and will remain important in the country’s efforts to address poverty. Agricultural research has been an important contributor to substantial growth in the production and farm income. Several agencies are involved in agricultural R & D including agricultural research institutes, university, and private companies. Under the coordination of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) together with its affiliated 12 NARS (National Agricultural Research System) institutes are mostly responsible for undertaking agricultural research. BARC is also mandated to resources allocation to the NARS including Human Resources Development. It implemented number of investment projects with the support of the World Bank (IDA), USAID. These are Agricultural Research Projects (ARPs), Agricultural Research Management Project (ARMP) and lately National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP), phase I and II.These projects had strong component of professional development including higher studies and skill enhancing trainings. Scientists of NARS institutes and professionals working with different departments involved with agricultural development pursue their MS and PhD degrees either at home and abroad generally through scholarships organized by BARC. Also scientific professionals involved with research, extension and developmental activities receive supports from other sources, both local and international (FAO, BAS, JICA-Japan, DFID, USAID, Australia, KOIKA-Korea, India,the Netherlands, other projects of NARS etc.). These are either individually managed or through relevant Ministries. The main in-country higher-education agencies offering MS and PhD degrees in agricultural disciplines are as follows:
1. Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU)
2. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU)
3. Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University (SAU)
4. Sylhet Agricultural University
5. Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (CVASU)
6. PatuakhaliI Science and Technology University (PSTU)
7. Haji Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University (HSTU) and
8. Noakhali Science & Technology University (NSTU)
Each universities maintains some quality criteria for offering higher degree. For example, BSMRAU requires in-service students in Ph.D. Course curricula of agricultural universities are similar to those of BAU. Students from Asian and African countries are also attending higher studies in Bangladesh universities. Influx of foreign students into local universities could be an opportunity to capture international education demand. Table below gives an estimate of recent higher study figures.
Table 1. No. of students in higher studies in selected agricultural universities of Bangladesh
The figures above are indicative based on web sources or personal communication. Figures in parenthesis are total number of students.
Besides the above universities, University of Dhaka, University of Rajshahi, Khulna University, Jahangir Nagar University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology are also offering Post Graduate programs in different disciplines of biological and agricultural sciences including natural resources management. .
Most of the universities maintain websites containing teachers profile and relevant info while many others are developing websites in public domain. Universities may consider maintaining details of Post Graduate academic programs in the public domain (Web).
Considering the importance of quality higher education, the UGC has already made policy for the establishment of Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) in each of the public and private universities in Bangladesh. However, as yet there is a general perception of deteriorating higher education in agricultural fields. Also concerns are expressed in different policy for a. A simple example is that all the university supervisors do not generally send progress report of candidates to his/her parent organization eg,
• periodic semester results,
• class attendance,
• research progress etc,
On the other hand, the parent organizations do not generally follow up the quality elements of the progress from the supervisors. In addition, MS and PhD regulations differ from one university to another that eventually affects as follows:
course or credit requirement, candidate selection process, teaching systems,
research supervision and composition of supervisory committee, monitoring of credit and course performance, course selection etc,
SDG also emphasizes on quality education as its Goal 4 states “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. SDG set its milestone to ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education including university by 2030. But the present quality of education particularly MS and Ph.D. studies require special attention to meet SDG goal. Hence, there is a dire need for assuring quality standards of Post Graduate studies so that improvement can be brought out to face SDG and thereby can meet the needs of complex research in emerging sciences. A desk survey has been made to prepare to suggest for strengthening research capacity based on the following objectives:
To assess the status for assuring quality standards of tertiary/higher education (MS and PhD),
To assess the quality of supervision mechanisms of higher/tertiary education (MS and PhD) in research organizations and universities
To develop policy recommendations/strategies to improve quality supervision mechanisms and assure quality standards of tertiary education (MS and Ph.D.) in research and development organizations and universities
Review of secondary information and Key Informant Interview (KII) were undertaken, which generated adequate information to meet the objectives of this study. Primary data was collected from the Key Informants including supervisors and researchers. Secondary information was collected from the updated website of the respective NARS organizations and universities. The Human Resource Development Plan for National Agricultural Research System, 2009-2025, BARC (2012), Post Graduate Study Facilities in Agricultural Sciences in Different Universities of Bangladesh (2011), and Bangladesh Tertiary Education Sector Review: Skills and Innovation for Growth (World Bank. 2019) and other documents were consulted. Key Informant Interview (KII) was done with representatives of five (5) NARS institutes out of 12 viz, BARI, BRRI, BINA, BFRI and BLRI (ie, 42% sampling) and 5 agricultural universities out of 8 viz, BAU, BSMRAU, CVSAU, HSTU and PSTU (ie, 62% sampling). A total of 15 respondents was interviewed representing five (5) NARS institutes and five (5) universities.
This section provides a short but crucial picture of picking up relevant research questions, quality standards, supervision of Post Graduate students and skill gaps in scientists along with strategy to improve quality standards of higher education.
5.1 Status for assuring quality standards of the universities providing higher education
The study reveals that In-country PhD scholarship increased from 59 in NATP phase 1 during 2008-2013 to 80 in NATP phase 2 during 2017-2020. Similarly, the PhD abroad increased from 29 in NATP phase 1 during 2008-2013 to 45 in NATP phase 2 during 2017-2020.In-country PhD scholarship was quite higher than abroad due to the fact that this higher study abroad requires more funding than in-country. This incremental increase in the number of PhD students only reflects the quantity of Post Graduate studies and capacity but not essentially the quality of service delivery.
Information reflects that one teacher has to cover 11-12 students in BAU, CVSAU and PSTU with a peak to 36 in HSTU, which is very low to maintain quality of higher education including undergraduate level. India has higher teacher-student ratio in Tamilnadu Agricultural University (1:7.6), University of Science and Technology of China (1: 7.7) and Sweden maintains even more higher ratio (1: 4.5) in its Swedish University of Agricultural Science while UPLB, Philippines has this ratio very close (1:08) to India. However, the teacher-student ratio of BSMRAU (1:07) in Bangladesh is at par with that of India and Philippines. It needs deepening of the fact of why BSMRAU has less students in higher study level. It is known that BSMRAU accept only in-service candidates for tertiary education.
Table 2. Sample of teacher student ratio of some selected universities at home and abroad
One of the important deteriorating factors affecting quality of Post Graduate studies is the presence of senior teachers (Professor and Associate Professor). This study considered taking one department (as sample) of each selected universities including agriculture, animal science and fisheries into account. It is evident that there was very poor presence of Professors (0-3) and Associate Professors (0-3) particularly in veterinary medicine and fisheries course of BSMRAU, CVSAU, HSTU and PSTU compared to professor (08) and Associate Professor (01-04) of the same departments in BAU. It indicates that 80% agricultural universities are in short supply of senior teachers compared to BAU. This discrimination in terms of senior faculty members put pressure on BAU to enroll relatively higher number of Post Graduate students compared to the other universities that eventually resulted in management of students by the supervisors. While at the same time BAU tends to avoid enrolling further students who are then forced to move to the other universities having inadequate senior faculty members. The information of different overseas universities on the status of senior faculty members were not collected in this study, so it requires verifying the same during the follow-up study.
At present the local public universities have their own admission policies, which differ distinctly from one to another. The variation in admission requirements results in discrimination of enrollment of Post Graduate students in the same discipline affecting quality standard of higher education. The quality intake of Post Graduate students is affected due to the variation of requirements in grade/GPA/class obtained from their previous degrees. Consequently, some universities get good quality students compared to the others in Post Graduate studies.
North American course credit systems is only followed in BSMRAU. Integration of course and research work in BSMRA Uobviously enhance the quality standard of Post Graduate studies through learning by advance courses and doing practicalities in the field. Majority agricultural universities (80%) do not have courses mandatory for PhD degree (only depend on the supervisors) and consequently Post Graduate students are deprived of quality higher education to compete with that of the international arena. However, it was understood that BAU is going to turn up with course-research work systems. However, the admission policies of the universities need to be changed and made congruent among themselves. On the other hand, the sponsoring agencies may make conducive policy accordingly.
5.2 Skill gap in Scientists of NARS institutes
It is widely recognized that the knowledge and skills of scientists can be improved through advanced studies like MS and PhD. Also sufficient exposure in the professional field and peers outside the world affect skill enhancement. According to ASTI survey, only 37% of 2,269 agricultural researchers as of 2016 in Bangladesh possessed PhD degrees in comparison with 73% of 12,747 researchers as of 2014 in India. It indicates that majority researchers in Bangladesh have less advanced skills due to lack of PhD degrees. It is, however, worth mentioning that the share of NARS scientists with PhD degree has been increased almost to double from 19% of 1,843 NARS scientists in 2009 (BARC HRD plan 20009-2025) although further efforts are needed to significantly increase this share from the bottom line of 37% in 2016.Skill gap in scientists was evident in some specific disciplines due to poor share of PhD and opportunity for higher studies. According to BARC HRD plan 2009-2025, it reflects poor share of scientists with PhD degree (0.6–1.4%) in different disciplines of animal science in 2009 compared to that in major disciplines of agriculture viz, Agronomy (13.1%), Horticulture (7.4%), Genetics and Breeding (10.0%), Soil Science (9.1%), Plant Pathology (10.3%) etc. Similar is true that there was a very poor share of scientists with PhD degree (0.3-1.1%) in different disciplines of fisheries. This is due to less number of scientific professionals in animal science (BLRI) and fisheries (BFRI) compared to crop based institutes.
NATP phase 1 and 2 awarded a higher share of PhD scholarship to Agronomy (10-25%), Soil Science (13-17%), Biotechnology/Plant Breeding (7-30%) etc, compared to animal science disciplines (0-5%), fisheries disciplines (1-5%), Agricultural Engineering (3-5%), Entomology (4-10%), Horticulture (3-7%) and Environmental Science (1%). Horticulture, Entomology and Environmental Science play an important role in addressing vulnerabilities of climate change while Agricultural Engineering contributes to farm mechanization and post-harvest management.
NATP phase 2 awarded 60 PhD scholarships abroad in Malaysia (33), Philippines (8), Thailand (6), USA (01), UK (02), Australia (02), Germany (04), Japan (01), China (02) and India (01). It indicates that a highest share of overseas PhD was allocated for Malaysia compared to other countries which have similar context as in Bangladesh like India and Philippines. KGF also sponsored 57 in-country PhD scholarships out of which 16 through ACIAR and the other 41 are embedded in different research grant projects. However, there was a poor share of Entomology (2), Horticulture (1), Agroforestry (3), Plant Breeding (4), fisheries disciplines (7), Biodiversity (1) and Social Science (1) compared to Soil Science (7), Plant Pathology (11), Agronomy (6) and animal science disciplines (14).In addition, KGF provided 89 MS scholarship through different research Projects. Ph.D. Programs supported by ACIAR/KGF projects are supervised by Australian professors.
5.3 Quality of supervision mechanisms of higher education (eg, MS and PhD) in research organizations and universities
This section deals with on-going program management as to whether the progress report of MS
and PhD students is sent through prescribed format with quality indicators, dissertation research and/course is designed to meet the need of their parent organization (PO), the planned research program and/course is monitored after execution in the universities, and adequate action taken by PO if the progress report is not sent properly.
The study shows that although almost half (46%) of the parent organizations (NARS institutes in particular) received progress report from supervisors of post graduate students but only (29%) parent organizations received progress report with prescribed format. Only 40% of them who received progress report took action against students when they did not submit the report. It was understood during KIIs that post graduate students usually sent their yearly progress report to CASR of the respective universities while they sent 6-monthly progress report to their parent organizations. Their reports were checked and signed by the supervisors before these are sent to the aforesaid destination. Out of 5 NARS institutes, only BARI and BRRI communicate with Post Graduate students with punitive measures including reflection in the service record (ACR) when progress report was not submitted after 6 months. With ICTs, it is easy to track and monitor and one can make these compulsory.
For in-depth quality assessment, dissertation research and/course work should be designed on the need of parent organization. The design so made should be monitored after execution in the universities as to whether the activities are in line with the original design. Only 25% of the parent organizations monitored dissertation research and/course work indicating lack in quality assessment of Post Graduate studies. Although 53% of the parent organizations ensured the design of dissertation research and/course work based on the need as approved by the selection committee and supervisors if needed. It was also reported that NARS institutes put forward through their scientists for implementing the research and course work in line with the needs of their organization. But the universities could not always fulfill those due to unavailability of supervisor’s time, laboratory and farm facilities, funding etc. PhD students usually received scholarship through sponsoring agencies regardless of agricultural universities. Professors of foreign universities are also allowed to act as co-supervisor of PhD student in agriculture universities as per criteria of supervisory policy. It was suggested that scholarship rate of Post Graduate students. It is recommended that at least one research article from the dissertation work is published in an international reputed journal.
BARC implementing NATP phase 2 for 5 years from 2015 has built a very good feedback mechanism for PhD programs both in-country and abroad using prescribed format. NATP reported that they made their scholars mandatory to send their progress report on 6-monthly basis using the prescribed format. It reveals that students mostly send their report to NATP authority but not to their parent organization (PO). NATP does neither receive formal request from POs for the report nor the NATP send the report to POs. It is, however, quite encouraging that NATP has started managing feedback on the progress of PhD research work using format that can be replicated across NARS institutes after refinement with quality indicators. A revised format has been developed including a precise quantity and quality indicators taking in to account the monitoring of relevance to needs of NARS institutes and coherence with the original design of the dissertation research and course work. This has been shared with the authority.
5.4. Emerging areas for professional development
As agriculture is getting more diverse and complex with more number of actors in the public, private and NGO sectors.The country needsquality human capital with specific skill sets.It’s time for Bangladesh to prepare its scientific professionals for a dynamic and vibrant economy in an increasingly competitive and globalized world.
The universities are found to open departments and due consideration should be given on market demand and quality faculty before opening new departments. It is expected that some universities should be specialized based on geographic locations (example: Sylhet Agr University may be with Haor ecology, PSTU on coastal ecology). Collaboration among universities is needed in sharing expertise so that graduate student from one may enroll courses from other university for inter disciplinary knowledge acquiring. This is found common in advanced universities where specific or required faculty is absent in one university. Example, study on extension may require courses for communication/ drama/ artificial intelligence using ICT skill, behavioural science for knowledge transfer, legal courses in national/international law on trade (TRIPS/ IPR/material transfer/technology commercialization), agricultural physics for maximizing photosynthetic efficiency or Nano technology, remote sensing, monitoring of dynamics of pest and disease provenances, innovative market development, research management, social studies, technology management, which may be covered by enrolling courses from other university having expertise.
Care to be taken to strengthen institutional capacity in livestock and fisheries (considering its potential of poverty reduction, women empowerment, nutrition, growth), agricultural engineering, pest and disease management, fruits, flowers, and vegetables, stress physiology, post harvest management, prediction modeling, climate change impact in agriculture, environmental science etc. for addressing skill gap.
5.5 Planning to update human capital
Human Resource Development Plan for National Agricultural Research System 2009-2025 published in 2012 made an assessment of total scientific manpower of 12 research institutes with distribution of following within the frame of 2009-2025. Total scientific strength was around 1843 in the NARS during 2011. The plan analyzed the institute wise higher degree status (percentage of Ph.D. and MS) and overall percentage of higher studies of NARS as a whole. It revealed that NARS (12 research institutes) maintained overall 19 per cent of Ph.D., while Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) had the highest number of Ph.D. (37 per cent) and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), being the largest institute in the country, maintained18 per cent only in 2009. The HRD plan took into account the following:
• Age group with degree/ short training/post-doctoral training including retiring date
• Discipline wise and institute wise with number of scientists
• Institute wise educational qualification with: MS/Ph.D.
• Local and foreign (developed and developing countries) degree of scientists
• Designation and date of retirement of scientific professionals with degree category
• Projection of requirements of higher degree in individual disciplines until 2025
It may be mentioned here that there had been no rational of NARS human resource development, due to lack of proper plan, therefore there is skill gaps in the NARS in many diverse fields.
The plan estimated a requirement of 700 numbers of Ph.D. until 2025 in different disciplines in the total institutes at the level of 40-50 per cent. Also, it projected requirement of Masters and higher training based on the manpower situation of 2009. In the meantime the number of scientific professionals has increased and newer areas of sciences have emerged. It will require large investment to upgrade scientific capacity specific to HRD. The central monitoring body should facilitate rational allocation of MS and PhD programs through different project support or funding agencies viz, multilateral or bilateral donors, Ministries, etc. considering the present and future requirements.
Similar effort was made to have an assessment of agricultural universities by BARC during 2011 with the report “Post Graduate Facilities in Agricultural Universities of Bangladesh”. The report is based on the survey with ten universities offering higher studies in agriculture. It considered the following parameters:
• Requirement of individual universities for admission for higher studies,
• Number of teachers in different disciplines
• Number of professors, associate professors, assistant professors by disciplines and degrees
• Residential facilities of the graduate students
• Number of students enrolled in M.S and Ph. D (during 2010)
• Important equipment, research field and lab facilities
• ICT facilities
• Composition of advisory committee
• Requirement for attainment of degree
Based on above, the study attempted to identify gaps and quality environment of the universities offering higher studies. This kind of studies may be updated periodically and help the potential candidates and organizations to take decisions of selecting universities.
The planning of professional development in the agricultural research and extension system should be updated periodically based on the national agricultural priority, global scientific advancement and regional and international market trend.
5.6. Policy recommendations/strategies
The purpose of the policy recommendations/strategies is to strengthen capacity among the NARS institutes, organizations involved with agricultural development and agricultural universities so that they can improve quality supervision mechanisms and assure quality standards of higher/tertiary education (eg, MS and PhD).Based on the above observations, the following policy recommendations/strategies can be tried and tested in various contexts that can help enhance skill and knowledge in R and D organization in addressing SDG and challenges of agriculture.
Research on capacity and professional strength in every discipline of agricultural sciences is usually ignored. BARC may consider updating the HRD plan taking into consideration of the