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Bridging the gap between policymakers and academics
The Financial Express (2011)
  • Nusrate Aziz
  • M. A. Majumder
There is no alternative to spending on research and development for improving the long-term productivity of our country. In the face of globalisation and growing worldwide competition, the R&D sector has assumed overriding importance at least as far as so
Theoretical argument as well as empirical evidence suggests that growth and development of any country requires making appropriate policies and proper implementation of them in each and every sector of the economy. If a country can approximate its past policy drawbacks, present problems and future needs, it can plan appropriate policy measures to make future development. For example, the unplanned power sector has been proved as the main hurdle for our economic growth. Severe power supply deficit in Bangladesh, which has so far caused many existing firms to stop their production as well as many new entrants from entering the market, has occurred due to inappropriate planning. In our political culture, the political parties typically remain involved in a continuous blame game and, as a result, fail to take appropriate policy decisions to move the nation's economic development forward. Especially, the ruling party tends to accuse its past counterpart for all the present failures. The parties are unable to change their conduct even in an acute crisis. They obviously forget that looking backwards rarely leads to productive results. It should be clear to them that the development of a country depends on the strength of its leadership's vision and on the coherence of its supporting policy framework. Effective research could identify policy drawbacks and thereby forecast the future needs properly. Not only does the power sector, every sector of the economy requires sufficient research for appropriate planning and development. There is a theoretical debate between economists whether sustainable economic growth can be achieved by simultaneous growth in every sector. However, this debate is less important for a country like Bangladesh since it does not have enough resources to distribute among all sectors. We need to invest in the most prioritised one first and then the others. Prioritisation in turn needs adequate research initiatives. Now, there may arise some basic questions regarding Research and Planning (R&P). Why is research so important for development planning? Who will do the research? And who will finance the researchers? Economic growth theories suggest that research and development is a basic source of a country's long-term productivity growth. As the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated in one of its report "Innovative efforts, and R&D in particular, are undoubtedly the major factor behind technical change and long-term economic performance". In recent years, research and development expenditure has increased significantly in both developed and developing countries to enhance the efficiency of human capital and ultimately to sustain continued development. Generally, developed countries are far ahead of developing countries in spending for research and development and, thus, their overall human capital productivity is much higher as compared to the latter. According to the World Bank's official website, the top seven investors in R&D in terms of percentage of GDP are Israel (4.86 per cent), Sweden (3.75 per cent), Finland (3.46 per cent), Japan (3.44 per cent), South Korea (3.23 per cent), Switzerland (2.9 per cent) and United States (2.83 per cent). India (0.80 per cent), Pakistan (0.67 per cent), Sri Lanka (0.18 per cent) that have recently come out from the Least Developing Countries (LDCs) list are also spending quite a good chunk of money for their R&D sector. Unfortunately, the ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP of Bangladesh is virtually zero. Our statesmen, who are statutorily responsible for handling policy issues, are in fact more prominent as politicians rather than as policymakers. Their suggestions with regard to economic policies are comparable with 'the doctor's prescription without diagnosis'. So, it is not hard to understand why their policies often do not work, why they could not develop a balanced and robust power sector even after 40 years of independence. Consequently, although Bangladesh achieved on average approximately 6.0 per cent GDP growth in the last decade, there is a great challenge for the country to sustain the achieved growth rate or even accelerate it. The underlying policy loopholes accompanied by undesirable consequences warrant increased necessity of adequate quality research. Now, the question is: who will conduct the research? We know, sound infrastructure, political stability and favourable economic policies inevitably attract capital flows to a country. Similarly, availability of information and easy access to it can encourage researchers (worldwide) to research on our important policy issues. Basically, there are two groups of researchers. Researchers belonging to the first group involve in research work because government employs them for doing so. They (called consultants) mostly work under political pressure in developing countries like ours. So, they have the tendency to devote their research in implementing the political agenda of the ruling party. Researchers of the other group, who are mainly academics and independent researchers, do research out of their own interests. They work independently without any political pressure. We can expect important policy suggestions from this group. We are not against the earlier group if they are given to work independently and freely. However, the latter group can be proved most effective for the country. Question may arise: how the second group can smoothly conduct their research and help government with policy matters? As mentioned earlier, most of the developed and emerging economies maintain very strong documentation and also make information easily accessible to the researchers working around the world. These researchers as well as the academics, therefore, have ample opportunity to involve in research works on those countries. Consequently, those countries are getting benefit of it with no extra cost. However, if we look at recent research articles we find that many authors who wrote on Asian developing countries excluded Bangladesh from their research merely because of unavailability of information. Hence, we are losing the opportunity of having valuable support from academics and private research organisations in identifying policy loopholes as well as taking appropriate measures to be pursued for achieving development. We are not going to set the example of the US or the UK. Readers may say that they are incomparable with us. Let us look at our nearest neighbour India. It is capitalising benefits from its academics working around the world. Indian academics are criticising their bad policies, indicating Indian policy drawbacks and suggesting appropriate policies through research. Not only Indian academics but many non-native researchers are also writing on Indian policy as well. This is because India is gradually making their information available to the researchers. All emerging economies such as South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and China are keen to invest in the R&D sector. These countries have realised the benefits of R&D investment and have been investing in this sector while we are still accusing each other for our failure. Bangladesh is one of the ill-fated countries in the world that fail to utilise their intellectuals in attaining economic development. A good number of researchers (academic and non-academic) from Bangladesh (at home and abroad) are performing their research every year. The number is increasing gradually. Unfortunately, most of them prefer to research on other countries than Bangladesh due to unavailability of information. Besides, there are many factors that have been constantly deterring our intellectuals' enthusiasm. One can have a glimpse of what is happening from the following phrases. Most often, academicians of our country fall victim to the prevailing political culture. And most ironically, they are enemies of themselves. Some of the academicians belonging to the ruling party harm their counterparts in the opponent parties. Academics, all over the world, perform two basic duties--teaching and research--while many of our academics seem to involve in performing an extra duty, politics. In the developed world, academic promotions (at least at the university level) depend on quantity and quality of publications. But it is an irony of the fact that academic promotions in our country heavily depend on political performances rather than the scholastic competence of the candidates. This is one of the way how our truly qualified academics lose confidence and feel rather discouraged to engage in research works. It boils down to a failure to harness the intellectual ability and competence that our academicians and researchers possess. In overall consideration, our 32 public universities, 54 private universities and two international universities have not been proved serious about quality researches. Generally, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Bangladesh Bank, Export Promotion Bureau, National Board of Revenue, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Planning are responsible for collecting and storing information on Bangladesh. Besides, some international organisations such as UNDP, the World Bank and the IMF are also funding for our informationdata collection purpose. However, this effort is still at a meagre level. Moreover, researchers of different categories cast doubt about the reliability of our data which is due to lack of transparency in the data collection and processing methods. Basically, two types of data--'micro' and 'macro'-- are used in research. Since researches based on micro-data (which is also called firm or consumer level data) can assist specific firms to plan their strategy such as pricing and output decisions, there is a market for this sort of data. Hence, private organisations have the incentive to collect micro-data for commercial purpose. The government can just monitor whether the data are properly recorded by the respective organisations. On the other hand, macro-data are essential for policymaking at the national level. For example, preparing the annual national budget, framing various short and long-term plans, and regulating and overseeing the market are not possible without proper macro-level data and information. Moreover, private organisations have less incentive to collect this kind of data. That is why the government needs to facilitate collecting macro-level data. In case of necessity, the government can raise funds from donors or international organisations for this purpose. Considering all the factors discussed above, it can be concluded that there is no alternative to spending on R&D sector for improving the long-term productivity of our country. In the face of globalisation and growing worldwide competition, the R&D sector has assumed overriding importance at least as far as socio-economic development is concerned. In order to attain sustainable development, concerted effort has to be given to utilise the talents and genius of our native researchers and academicians, both at home and abroad, as well as foreign researchers and academicians. Effort also has to be put towards building up capacity in the data management process, developing a robust data-bank and making the collected data easily accessible to whoever needs them. The government, however, must be prepared to face increased research and development expenditure that these efforts may give rise to.
Publication Date
Summer July 9, 2011
Citation Information
Nusrate Aziz and M. A. Majumder. "Bridging the gap between policymakers and academics" The Financial Express Vol. 18 Iss. 244 (2011)
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