Today we were able to visit the Bangladesh Agricultural University and meet with the Vice Chancellor.
BAU is the main agriculture university in Bangladesh and is home to 44 departments with 548 professors and 5,887 students. Graduates from University number 40,378 and the PhD students and professors have completed 1,036 research projects. The focus on the university is on applied research which will be nice for TEEAL to be involved in researchers that have a direct impact on farming practices. One of the main criticisms of the program is that it focuses on the higher divisions of society with intellectuals and there is little evidence that this system has led to changes in the developing farming industry.
The Vice Chancellor seemed very interested in receiving a TEEAL set, they currently have access to about 3,000 online journals through Indiajournal.com, AGORA, and HINARI. However, they are still missing some of the more famous publishers and their journals.
The VC is also interested in bringing more digital and online resources to the library and although TEEAL is offline it offers some of the attractions of online research. The main concern of the administration is the cost of the system. Despite the fact that they are getting the system for free, the update cost at $650 seems a little out of their budget range. We explained that holding trainings could reduce this cost however they seemed at times confused about what everything would entail. Our team highly suggests that during future meetings TEEAL designs a power-point to be used to explain the system. This way if anyone is uncomfortable with English reading tends to be easier for them than interpreting the various accents and speeds at which we talk.
It appears that with limited internet access, intermittent power outages, and a small computer lab with internet access that having a resource like TEEAL would be beneficial for the campus.
We were able to see their network server room and meet with the main ITC administrator who seemed positive that the set would work well on the system and could be added through the server with little technological difficulty.
Part of the BAU campus includes two research centers. However, these centers are not connected to the main BAU network. I would recommend that there are separate meetings held with these institutions.
I would also recommend separate trainings for them. I am nervous that hosting only a few trainings in Bangladesh limits the positioning of TEEAL. If we want to promote this we need to hold more trainings. It takes work to infiltrate a country efficiently with a new program and only focusing on 4-6 institutions might limit our impact; especially since trainings are constrained to 35 people max and many rural places might not be able to send representatives for the specific trainings. We will have to discuss more of this as a team in order to figure out how marketing could make up for limited trainings.
After our meetings we were able to explore some more of the campus including the germplasma lab which is the largest in South Asia and the second largest in the world. It was an outdoor facility with various plants, trees, and shrubs from different countries. The scientists conduct research on the plants and often will look into genetics and splicing in order to develop superior crop and tree varieties. Shamir also introduced us to more of his friends that volunteer with his NGO. It was great to talk with some students and get to know what they study and their perceptions of the university.
We got to play cricket, which was a first for all of us. I think Hill and Shamir were definitely the star players. Additionally, we were able to watch the interdepartmental faculty handball tournament championship game. Animal Husbandry beat Agricultural Engineering to defend their title as Faculty Handball champions. Maybe at Cornell we should look into CIPA or CIIFAD handball tournament, faculty vs. students?
The evening at the campus ended with a walk around the grounds talking about future plans and the studies with Shamir’s friends. We also got to try some chai and winter cakes that we ate while sitting on the train tracks that run through campus. I think that was one of the best experiences of the entire trip. We finally were able to slow down and enjoy the company of some incredible people while taking time to enjoy the simple things we often take for granted in the United States. It is rare to sit with friends and drink tea and coffee without planning events or trying to network, in Bangladesh the culture seems to foster close relationships based on true friendship and companionship.
Unfortunately the day ended with reports of a student strike in Dhaka and 17 other districts as well as a continued blockade. This ruins our plans to go hiking in the mountains at the border to India, and ends all hope of our possible visit to India this time around. We will have to see how the day goes tomorrow but we are bracing ourselves to stay in the hotel and leave for Dhaka when it gets dark to avoid the protesters.