Greetings from Bangladesh: Part 1 | AUA Blog

 

Dave Dowland | Clerk to the AUA Board of Trustees from 2015 to 2018, Academic Registrar of Solent University and Registrar at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Dave has just started a three year term as Registrar of the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. AUW is a recently founded international university that offers talented women education and opportunities to enter leadership roles http://asian-university.org/

Here he speaks of his experience in the first of a series of Blogs.


As I write this, I have just arrived in my apartment and am listening to the soothing voice of the call to prayer; next one due in the early morning.  The journey was pretty much twenty- four hours door-to-door from Hampshire to London to Dhaka and then Chittagong.  A sociable flight with lots of people to chat to.

Massive rain downpour on arrival (rain you could shower in) and a temperature of 32/33. The atmosphere arising from the heat is different from the recent British version; hot/steamy/tropical smell/intensity. From the plane you could see water everywhere with the monsoon just subsiding and the rainy season continuing – (and a friend has my umbrella in Hampshire!) They say they have words for six seasons here but are reducing to just four words as global warming appears to take effect.

Moonlight drive from airport through Eid festival scene in Chittagong presented a sea of people and the usual nuts traffic, but maybe not so nuts after all – I have started to analyse how adept most of the drivers are weaving their way through the crowds.

I can however see why Bangladeshi students have been protesting about traffic safety (and when these students protest they close down the country!) Just walked through Chittagong from AUW to the apartments for the first time with a colleague, nurturing skills for dodging cars, motorbikes (some apparently carrying an entire extended family), rickshaws and the occasional cow. Local hospitals ready to take us if it goes wrong!  My colleague gave me a walking tour; talking about the cultural diversity here – Moslem/Hindu and others.

Term just starting and there was a university wide staff orientation session today; Sunday being a working day.  I did an introductory presentation which apparently went well as a first opportunity to talk with all staff.  Talked about creating international professional development links for the support services which AUW would love to have alongside its academic links. This will help develop a sustainable professional workforce drawn from the region for the longer term, which is what they want to achieve. The idea is that the next Registrar should come from the region. Anyone who visits us will get a warm and open welcome.

With all the challenges and problems to come, AUW is obviously impressive and worthwhile and seems more so close-up; fine students and faculty and insistent commitment to high academic standards.

AUW’s purpose is to educate talented women to become leaders and to spark social progress across cultural, ethnic and religious lines.. The education is residential, (with the staff also living in community) and focuses on the ‘whole person : the access course includes compulsory karate (I’m not taking that up but there are other martial arts too!) Some of the students have come from disturbing or even traumatic situations – Rohingya, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Sri Lanka or from conflict zones in Afghanistan. AUW is learning how to support students from such backgrounds towards good academic and personal outcomes.

AUW has the freedom to develop its approach towards education without the restrictions of the UK sector, although some of the challenges here have echoes of those in the UK with international trends affecting everyone to some extent.  There is an increasingly good prospect of going ahead with the new campus on a stunning 147 acre site in Chittagong, donated by the Government of Bangladesh.

The students are obviously very committed to returning and working for their society and countries.  AUW is a cross between a university and an international development organisation with lots of links to other agencies.

We just had a visit from a United Nations colleague to talk about AUW’s contribution to drive for empowerment of women in South-East Asia.

The students are from a wide range of social backgrounds and countries across Asia and (for the first time) Africa, which means a high rate of competition for places. The university is slightly ahead of its enrolment target for this year, with some more students now paying fees alongside those on scholarships.  AUW wants to build up provision in several areas; women in science, engineering and technology, education, management and to increase existing capacity in life sciences.

 

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