100 years later, DU needs a conducive research environment

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The Curzon Hall building at the University of Dhaka. Photo: Collected

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The Curzon Hall building at the University of Dhaka. Photo: Collected

During a recent webinar titled “History of Dhaka University and Higher Education in Bangladesh”, held as part of the celebration of 100 years of Dhaka University, the discussion on the importance of research appeared in all presentations. The need for generous research funding to meet the challenges of the 21st century was stressed by all speakers. Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, stressed that with funding, what was important was a research environment. We couldn’t agree more. However, a research environment has for us a different meaning than what we understood was implied by Mr. Anam. The lack of freedom to research a topic of one’s choice is the main constraint in providing a conducive research environment. For us, a research environment for science has a different meaning. Let’s explain ourselves.

A university professor must take between 4 and 6 theoretical lessons per week and at least 2 to 4 practical lessons. Then there are the mid-term exams throughout the year, the training tests, the course finals as well as the scoring of the tests / exams. In addition, to keep pace with new developments, especially in the field of biological sciences, one must be aware of all recent advancements so that when teaching students are kept at par. Ultimately, a serious researcher has little time to read, plan, and conduct research. Let’s not cite examples of teachers who don’t even take regular classes, let alone do research.

We understand that we cannot expect to have teaching assistants like most universities in developed countries do. What we can at least hope for, however, is a conducive research environment. For us, a research environment means having enabling policies in place that would allow us to conduct research without having to deal with all the hassle we face. Biological research in Bangladesh depends primarily on the importation of perishable items, many of which are shipped on dry ice and must be cleared from airports almost immediately. To buy such chemicals, researchers have to rely on sellers who, by participating in the call for tenders (request for quotation) or the call for tenders, obtain the purchase order.

There are two problems associated with this. First, this is a lengthy process that takes months at best, and now with Covid-19, it takes twice as long, if not longer. If a forgetful student does not notify when they used the last batch of a reagent, further research on the reagent must await the arrival of the new import, which with the bidding system and the shipping time, could very well need nearly four months under normal condition. For meaningful research, that’s a big hurdle. The University of Dhaka could have a “Cell” which would take care of the direct purchasing system. The government should make arrangements to allow direct payment to foreign companies by the university. This would reduce the time required for the long tendering process. In addition, if the University of Dhaka is allowed to conduct such transactions, the price of reagents will drop, as public universities are reimbursed for the CD / VAT imposed on imported chemicals.

In this regard, it can also be pointed out that instead of the VAT / tax refund, the University of Dhaka, or all public universities for that matter, should be exempt from the same payment. Evaluating the amount of taxes requires a good number of days during which perishable items at the airport see their shelf life considerably reduced, that is, if they retain any activity. Individual departments should have a post for an MS holder who coordinates the research material needs of the faculty with the “Cell”. A communication and networking post for departments, the “Cell”, government, media and industry would help coordinate and disseminate research results.

Dhaka University should also have technically knowledgeable and knowledgeable engineers, the real ones, able to troubleshoot high-end equipment failures. At the end of most projects, there is usually no money for the maintenance of equipment purchased during the project. We know of some such expensive equipment that broke down after the project ended and was never repaired. To a faculty member, it may seem like the end of the world is crashing down on you and an important experience comes to an end. Another prerequisite for a conducive research environment is the uninterrupted supply of electricity. Erratic flows of electrical currents cause breakdowns in sensitive machines, especially those operating 24 hours a day such as a -80 ° C freezer. When this happens, biological samples stored at such ultra-low temperatures should be immediately transferred to another freezer (finding a suitable freezer is a big challenge as such freezers are not something that most institute departments have. in abundance). If this happens overnight or for a few vacation days in a row, many valuable samples are lost. A real nightmare for researchers.

For creating a suitable research environment, Dhaka University should also have doctoral scholarships. We need our talented young minds to do their doctorate in our country, in our institutions. However, without a great brotherhood, we will never be able to compete with North America, Europe or Oceania to retain our best. More importantly, local doctors with good publications of their doctoral research should be given preference when competing with foreign degree holders for jobs in Bangladesh. Another aspect that has become of great concern to researchers is the large amount of money required to publish in good journals. Dhaka University may establish central funds for this purpose which it can pay through the “Cell”. In addition, if institutional membership is established, reduced publication costs may be expected for some journals.

Even the most research-keen educators would like to save themselves the headache of going through the intricacies of purchasing, the rapid arrival of chemicals, the proper functioning of most equipment, and so on. Added to this is the lack of appreciation for the doctorates they produce. This, in addition to their teaching load, writing research proposals, reports and manuscripts for publication in reputable journals, could be extremely taxing. These are some of the reasons why most teachers shy away from such a labor of love. But 100 years later, it’s time for Dhaka University to understand what it takes to conduct world-class research and formulate the right policies to create an encouraging research environment.

Haseena Khan and Zeba Islam Seraj are scientists who teach in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dhaka University.


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