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Preparing universities for the fourth industrial revolution

31 October 2022
Preparing universities for the fourth industrial revolution

M. M. Shahidul Hassan


The world is undergoing a period of rapid technological advancement. Through groundbreaking technology, unprecedented processing power and speed, and massive storage capacity, data is being collected and harnessed like never before. Automation of industries and replacement of human decision-making in the production of goods and services are both made possible by robots, the internet of things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. Bangladesh is gradually embracing the use of technology in daily life, production, business, administration, and governance, similar to how many developing nations do. In fact, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is going to play a key role in the development of Bangladesh as a digital Bangladesh and a developed country by 2041. The 4IR will likely represent a fresh window of opportunity for leapfrogging, but it is unclear whether it will pose concerns for labour market. However, it depends entirely on the country's response and readiness, i.e. its industrial policy, digital literacy, the skill and education level, as well as domestic market size and position in the global value chain (GVC). Numerous business sectors have already benefited from the 4IR. For instance, Bangladesh's domestic IT-ITeS business, which is now valued at US$ 0.9-1.1 billion and is anticipated to increase fivefold to US$ 4.6-4.8 billion by 2025. The ICT sector has a market of more than 160 million users, who spend more than $130 billion yearly and are increasing at a rate of 6 per cent. However, low-skilled and unskilled labors make up approximately 90 per cent of the workforce. Low-skilled and unskilled labor will be replaced by automation in the industrial sector. Therefore, 4IR has presented a significant challenge to our government in dealing with this problem.
 4IR is not only substituted the human but also their thinking. Even then positions that have high educational requirements and need a high level of communicative and cognitive skills have a lesser chance of automation. Because such tasks do not require coding or algorithms, for example, developing new theories, literature, researches, technology development, innovative ideas in teaching and learning, musical compositions, providing care for the elderly or nursing. It is understood that the most valuable skills for future jobs like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and collaboration that cannot be easily replicated by AI.  Universities in Bangladesh can play a vital role in producing graduates who possess those skills. Clearly, our higher education system has to be improved, especially in terms of teaching and learning and assessment. We should not cling to the status quo.
The government has made several commendable decisions, like implementing Outcome-Based Education (OBE), developing Bangladesh National Qualifications Framework (BNQF) and establishing Bangladesh Accreditation Council (BAC). The UGC has given universities until September 30, 2022, to revise the curriculum for all undergraduate and graduate programmes using the UGC's OBE framework.
The current curricula are criticized for not integrating disciplines, focusing nearly exclusively on theory, and instructing and learning only one subject. This method of information delivery is ineffective for helping students develop the creative capabilities, let alone the subject-matter knowledge, needed for the 4IR economy. 4IR needs university graduates equipped with innovative skills such as creativity, problem-solving ability, creative thinking, emotional intelligence, empathy, big business decision-making, entrepreneurship, and adaptability. Future graduates need to be intimately familiar with coding and technologies such as AI, robotics, and advanced analytics. Graduates must also learn soft skills in order to survive and thrive in the 4IR economy, which is characterised by constant change and disruption. OBE-based curricula will help students in obtaining both present and future employment. Universities must use better teaching and evaluation strategies, though. Numerous teaching and learning models that are distinct from the traditional one we currently use have been developed by education researchers. Our universities must take the initiative in this area, and if necessary, each university should set up a research cell focused on education.
A few decisions of the BNQF merit discussion. Even undergraduate programmes like business administration, economics, and social sciences students must complete 140 credits in order to receive a degree. There is a standard policy for setting credit requirement for such degrees. Under semester system around 120 (= 8(semesters) x 5(no of courses) x3(credits)) credits are required. A student will become overburdened if they enroll in too many classes each semester and may begin memorisation in an effort to improve their grades. Students will prioritisze memorisation above skill improvement if they do not internalise the material. Many universities are unable to hire a significant number of faculty members due to budgetary and infrastructure constraints. As a result, a faculty member will have to teach more than five courses in a semester. There will be a decline in quality and faculty members won't have time for research.
BNQF defines one credit as for lecture, tutorial, seminar 1-hour face-to-face learning per week for 14 weeks and total learning teaching activities are forty hours. It is not specifically mentioned that 14 weeks for a semester exclude exam weeks. The Carnegie Foundation first developed a credit system in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. Foundation considers minimum 15 (not 14) weeks excluding exam weeks for the duration of a semester.  All universities must now have to use the semester system. In country like the USA, universities choose their own systems. Universities may follow the semester, trimester, or quarter calendar. The world-class higher learning university Stanford follow a quarter academic calendar. In a trimester calendar, fall and spring semesters consist of 13-14 weeks each, and a summer semester.  The summer semester, which lasts two months, is the shortest of the three. Why do universities use so many calendars? The university considers aspects like infrastructure, financial costs, student preferences, and a faculty member's teaching and administrative workload as well as their remuneration before deciding on a calendar. Universities that use the semester system add two brief summer sessions with a duration of 6 to 8 weeks each to prevent the accumulation of backlog courses and allow good students to finish their degrees in 3.5 years.   We should also leave to universities to select their own academic calendar.
In Bangladesh, the traditional educational system that was introduced in 2IR is virtually still in place. Researchers started to think about revamping the educational system as soon as the world adopted 3IR. We have not felt much in changing system brought on by the industrial revolution. To ensure that our graduates have the knowledge they need as well as the skills needed for future employment, we must review the curriculum, teaching methods, and co-curricular activities. If not, the younger generation will hold us accountable for their failure.

(The writer is Vice Chancellor, East West University).

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