Bangla daily Prothom Alo interviewed Brac University President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Vincent Chang and published the interaction on 7 April 2019.
Below is the English translation of the interview, which is available in Bangla in the newspaper’s website at http://bit.ly/2WrazOD
Professor Dr Vincent Chang joined Brac University as the vice-chancellor in February. Before coming to Dhaka, he was the head of the department of Institutional Development and professor of practices of management economics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen, China. He also served at the founding president and planning director at the University of Business Technology in Muscat, Oman. In the US, Dr Chang worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and held a key position at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington DC. This interview of Dr Chang was taken by Md. Saifullah.
What is your experience of working at Brac University so far? Have you noticed anything unique in your students?
Apart from the traffic, noise and pollution, my experience has been pretty good [smile]. I have talked to the teachers, students and officials. Many said we are the number one university in QS ranking. They are very happy about it. But I think there is nothing to be complacent. We might have a good position in Bangladesh, but we don’t have a strong footing in the global map. BRAC is the number one NGO in the world, but Brac University has not been able to match that. Considering the location within the city, infrastructure and beauty, I’d probably give Brac University a ‘B’. But I’ll definitely give the students an ‘A’. I couldn’t talk to all the students, but I meet many of them in the elevator. I try to talk to everyone in every program I attend. As far as I have seen, they are really inquisitive. They are good in English as well. May by I’m being a little biased, may be only those who are good in English came forward to talk to me. But there is no shortage in enthusiasm to participate. In terms of quality, they are not behind American or Chinese students. When I say ‘quality’, I mean the raw material. If you look at diamonds, for example, we get diamonds from mines. You won’t get the smooth, sparkling diamond inside the mine. You have to make it. The students, too, are like diamonds. They are really good as raw materials. Now it’s our turn to give them the shape.
What is your aim as the vice chancellor?
A teacher’s job is not just to give knowledge to their students. Rather, they should inspire their students. Many think that for a private university, students are like ‘customers’. I completely disagree with this notion. The students are rather our ‘products’. The students are like the diamonds and our responsibility is to give them the shape. No matter what they are studying, I want our students to be good citizens. Not just national but global citizens as well. The eventual purpose of education is to service humanity. I want to shape up our students in such as way that people all over the world know one day that there is an educational institution named Brac University in Bangladesh. I will be here for just four years. So, I will have to think of a plan that is practical.
You want to cement a strong footing for Brac University in the world map. How do you want to achieve that?
I’ll talk about three things. First is internationalization. You’ll have to be international in terms of manpower – international teachers, students and officials. Why do you need internationalization? Because a university is a place for conversations. In order to have conversations, you’ll have to open your door and windows. Take me for example. I don’t care much about who is holding which position at the university. When I first came here, the Students’ Service organized a program. There they wrote ‘welcome honorable vice-chancellor’. I said omit the word ‘honorable’; use as little adjective as you can. These adjectives create divide. I tell my colleagues to give me good news, but also give me the bad news. Unless we listen to the bad news, we wouldn’t know where we should improve.
Second is global standards. We could emphasize on a number of things. For example, there is public health. We should do a lot more research on this. There is a famous program at MIT named the ‘Poverty Lab’. But that kind of research should have been done here because in order to see poverty, they have to fly to India, Bangladesh or Pakistan from MIT. BRAC has so far helped 130 million people. This means BRAC has 130 million human stories. It’s important that we turn these stories into knowledge. For example, BRAC is not as well known in the world as Grameen Bank. This is because we were taught about Grameen Bank in the classroom 25 years ago. When you make a story concise, it becomes a theory. Then the story becomes part of the knowledge.
Third is an experience for the students. It’s important to know what kind of experiences a student is getting between the time they enter the campus and graduate. Not just academic studies, they must also be involved in co-curricular activities, they must take lessons on discipline. For example, when I came to office this morning, the students were standing in queue in front of the elevator. I stood in the back of the queue. One student said, ‘Sir, stand in the front’. I said, ‘no’. I might be the VC of this university, but the rule is same for me. This might be a very small message, but I want to give them that message.
Many young men and women find it hard to fix a goal for their lives. What would you tell them?
You may study anything – engineering, English, biotechnology – but they have to know what they want to really do. What is it that makes them think? What are you dreams? Try to find your passion. There is no point in looking for these answers in the future because nobody knows the future. You can’t control the society. What you can do is expand the horizon of your thoughts. You have to international in your mindset.
What challenges are you facing in implementing your plans?
The main challenge lies in the mindset. You’ll meet two kinds of people. The first kind will say, ‘Nah, it’s not possible. We can’t do it’. The other kind will say, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try’. We want more of the second kind – those who have the ‘can do’ mentality. Apart from this, we have some financial limitations as well. The private universities in Bangladesh are run completely on students’ fees. But it’s hard to survive in this way. We are thinking of an alternative financial model so we could reduce dependence on students’ fees and still survive.