The Bangladesh government wants to enhance support for university research as a part of its strategy for higher education (Strategic Plan 2006-2026). Supported by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), researchers in Bangladeshi universities are conducting advanced research on some of the most pressing economic challenges in key sectors of the country such as agriculture, environment, and health. With upgraded research facilities and equipment, Bangladeshi faculties are publishing more on international scientific journals and training competent PhD graduates.
The University of Kelaniya, my seat of higher education, sadly was never considered the ‘cream of the crop’ in Sri Lanka when I attended; certainly not the Departments of Humanities and the Social Sciences! After listening to decades of unproductive lip service on the need for marketable graduates, I encountered a remarkable transformation in higher education at my very own university.
I witnessed a complete shift in attitude, professionalism and drive, among academics and students at a launch of The Certified Professional Marketing Graduates (CPMG) Program organized by the Department of Marketing and Management. It’s one of the many projects implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education under the Higher Education for the Twentieth Century (HETC) Project, with support from the World Bank. It was not just the launch of this new degree program that moved me, but it was the total quality and professionalism in the event management. It was indeed knowledge in action.
Jijodamandu, a small hilltop village in Doti district in Western Nepal is a full day’s walk from the nearest motorable road. Below the village, the hillside is littered by terraced paddy fields producing rice. Surrounding many homes in the village slightly above the terraced paddy fields, there are fruits trees planted sporadically – oranges, lemons and pomegranates. When I was leaving the village after a few days stay, my host handed me a bag of oranges. Not wanting to overreach his hospitality towards me and also knowing food security is a concern for them I initially declined his offer. But he was insistent. “For the walk back down,” he said. “Fruits we have plenty of. It is rice and grains we cannot plant enough.”
A major part of technical education involves gaining hands-on experience and skills through working with real material and tools. The worked on materials in the class, as one would expect, is thrown away at the end. But, that was not the case for the students of the Civil Engineering department of the Rajshahi Technical Training Center (TTC), who gave a facelift to institution by repairing the road, pavement, and guard room and upgrading the infrastructure. “The young men and women of Bangladesh care about their country and are passionate about what they do. Empowering them with knowledge and skills and the means to utilize their learning through employment ignite their inner power to make a difference in society,” said Mahbubur Rashid Talukder, the Principal, Rajshahi Technical Training Center (RTTC), praising his students ideas and initiatives that transformed the institute.
Would you ordinarily expect a report on human development to have a separate and entire chapter dedicated to the subject of reconciliation and social integration? I certainly found it curious. Yet, on second glance, it became clearer to me that the connection was not surprising at all since the subject of the report was youth and development.
Let me explain. I am a child of the war. Having been born and raised in war-time Sri Lanka, I am convinced that young people can help mend fractured inter-communal relations, least because they bore the brunt of the conflict but most because in the context of my country it was disenchanted youth that spearheaded the move to conflict.
India has long been criticized for strict labour laws and burdensome business regulatory environment. This can also be easily substantiated by the fact that India is ranked 134 out of 189 economies in terms of ease of doing business by World Bank in 2014 (1). Indian labour market is subject to more than 50 central government laws and regulations that deals with range of subjects such as employment condition, social security, wages, industrial relations to name a few. As labour is a “concurrent” subject in Indian constitution, both state and central government can pass laws pertaining to this subject within their jurisdiction. As a result, there are numerous other state specific labour laws as well which varies from one state to other.
When a small Bank team, of which one of us was a member, first visited the project site in December 2004, it wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect scenario. We were deep in the Himalayas and it was the middle of winter. Barren mountainsides rose up all around us, the icy Satluj river flowed steadily down, and the wind was howling.
How could we possibly build a hydropower project in this forbidding terrain in a few years’ time? Stories of past challenges from the earlier Nathpa Jhakri project - about 15 kilometers upstream - came flooding into everyone’s mind. But failure was not an option. The Bank was reengaging in hydropower in India after a gap of more than 10 years, and a great deal was riding on each one of us.
Now, more than a decade later, we find ourselves standing before the almost-fully built Rampur powerhouse. As a wonderful coincidence, both of us happen to be present as the first of the project’s six units roars into operation and is synchronized with India’s northern power grid.