Tuesday, April 24, 2007

To Be and To Make NIB A Centre of Excellence

Bangladesh is one of the most crowded countries in the world, seventh largest country in terms of population. Due to her huge population we have insufficiency in every sector of food, feed, fuel and environmental pollution becoming dangerous day by day.

To keep Bangladesh suitable for living for her large population with at least minimum supply of fundamental needs, science and technology should and must play leading role.

But science and technology is an issue nowhere in Bangladesh, not in national budget discussion , not in newspapers and talk shows of TV channels, not also in the scientific communities, e-mail groups of scientists like bdresearchers, microbiologydu etc.. Neither Bangladesh Academy of Sciences nor other scientific professional organizations try to draw the attention of government for giving due importance to scientific research.

But to meet the fundamental needs of food, fuel and medicine of her huge population in a suitable environment, effective use of Science and technology particularly biotechnology is a must for Bangladesh. Biotechnologists must take lead to provide food, fuel and medicine and keep the environment fit for living for her vast population in this very small land. So Bangladesh needs Biotechnology research centre and industry in the field of agriculture, medical, environmental biotechnology and industrial biotechnology.

In Bangladesh we have some very good research institution in the field of agriculture biotechnology, namely BARI, BINA, Bangladesh Agricultural University and they have done excellent job by developing high yielding varieties of different crops and transferring them to farmers. These are not enough. we need more research centre for other sectors of biotechnology e.g. industrial biotechnology, medical biotechnology and environmental biotechnology etc.

All these imperatives are realized by Professor Ahmed S Islam, retired professor of Botany from Dhaka University, 75 year old young man (I kneel down to salute him).And his realization has lead him to form a global network of Bangladeshi biotechnologists along with Dr. Abidur Rahman that has formed a bridge between biotechnologists in Bangladesh and anywhere in the world. He has been trying to promote Biotechnology in Bangladesh for the last two years and moderating the website www.gnobb.org. One big step of his effort is the recently held international conference on “Promotion of Biotechnology in Bangladesh: National and International perspectives", on April 6, 7 and 8, 07(www.promotebiotechbd.net)

The conference had some well defined objectives. One specific objective is to find out strategies for up-grading National Institute of Biotechnology (NIB) into a “Centre of Excellence”, a research institute where excellent biotechnology research will be done.

As the legends of biological sciences in Bangladesh and from abroad took part in this conference, we are very hopeful on finding out effective strategies to make NIB a centre of excellence .However, I would like to share my observations and suggestions from my experience of working in Bangladeshi research institutes (Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and ICDDR) and visiting (by internet) centre of excellence in different countries for higher study.

First of all, What NIB should develop to be centre of excellence?

NIB must develop three core activities to be centre of Excellence.

Firstly. Strategic basic research.

Research groups in NIB must define research area addressing foods, fuel, health and environment related problems of Bangladesh. And develop a long-term strategic plan that defines their mission, long-term focus and the basic (biological) questions they address. To ensure high quality and relevance to Bangladesh socio economic demand, these research plan and projects must be submitted for peer review, regularly be submitted to critical review by specialised international science advisory boards. This advisory board must include expatriate Bangladeshi biotechnologists along with local and foreign specialists. Any research, if not approved, by this review committee should not be done in NIB. Another thing that is must is strong back bone financing. For doing excellent research strong financing is a must. But relying only on government, NIB can not be centre of excellence. NIB must receive substantial backbone financing from the government but local, regional, national and international granting bodies and collaboration with industry must be included in the list of priority for financing from the very beginning.

Secondly, an active technology transfer policy to transfer the inventions to consumers.Doing excellent research have no justification if not transferred or commercialized. Bangladeshi research organisations such BAEC have many, may be small, transferable inventions with high demand in the Bangladeshi market. But these are not seeing the light of market as these organisations have no assigned person and policy to reach them into the market.
So from the very beginning NIB must have a mission of technology transfer to facilitate the commercialization of research results for the public good and to be a catalyst in the economic growth of the life sciences activities in the country.
To attain the mission there must have a technology transfer team, initially it may comprise of only one or two MBA graduate (major in marketing) with bioscience background to do the following jobs:
(1) Pro-active tracing of inventions with commercial potential

(2) Securing the necessary property rights

3) Marketing the technology through negotiating and executing agreements with companies from home and abroad.

And for this there must have a tech transfer Budget specially earmarked to facilitate the rapid transformations of transferable inventions into solid technology platforms.

Thirdly, Scientific information generation for the policy makers, press, general public, and students.

This is critically important for demanding increasing fund from government because policy maker must feel that NIB deserves more funding for its excellent research. Whole nation should also feel that NIB is doing excellent research for them and the way to reach the policy maker and public is the press. So the Press must also be a target for scientific information generation. Same message needs to reach to different group of populations’ e.g politicians, press, youngsters, students, teachers and layman. Only skilled specialist can transfer the same message to different target groups making it understandable to them. So a communication team with specialists must exist in the list of required wings for NIB to be a Centre of Excellence. This is very important otherwise researchers from NIB will face the embarrassing questions like “What NIB is doing for the country? And one of the responsibilities of the communication team will be to get its’ staffs ready to answer such questions.

To make these three core activities excellent, NIB must have excellent manpower, procurement process and time management.

Devoted manpower: First of all, NIB needs a passionate leader who dreams to make it a world class research centre. Part timer will not be able to serve the purpose. To get devoted manpower NIB must recruit Science graduate and senior scientists who have passion and potential for research. So recruitment process/procedure must be up to the mark, there must have Human resource specialists in the recruiting authority, at least an MBA graduate (major in human resources) with biological Science background. Present’s one MCQ written test and then one viva is not a well stand procedure for getting devoted researcher. Submission of research proposal and presentation of it before a board should be included in the recruitment process to get potential researcher. Psychological part can be added in the MCQ test to get devoted researchers.

Recruiting devoted and potential researchers is not enough. Holding them and keep them motivated is the biggest challenge.

Promotion policy must play major role in this regard. Promotion must not be dependent on availability of posts. Rather promotion taking might be made compulsory by doing enough research by the assigned time. For example, a scientific officer becomes eligible for promotion after four years. And four years is the standard time period for a PhD degree. In some countries it is 3 years and in others it is 5 years. So it is expected that a young scientific officer does at least such amount of research work required for getting a PhD degree. So if one young scientific officer can prove that he has done enough work by three years to get PhD degree, he should be promoted with one additional increment. If one takes four years, he will just get promotion. And those who will take more than four years may lose one increment but get promotion. Such a competitive promotion policy dependent on time and work done, not on availability of post might prove superb to keep the scientists devoted and motivated. This is quite possible because in research negative results are also results and there is no problem if all scientists working in a laboraty become chief scientific officers. The number of total scientists in a laboratory may be fixed but he number for a specific position (such as SO, SSO.PSO and CSO) need not be fixed. Giving such incentive increment is more effective alternative of giving high salary. Human resource managers are never in favor of giving high salary in general, rather they are in favor of competitive incentive, increments.
For better management of Manpower two other points deserve attention. One is cycling of Divisional and Institutional heads. The change that must be brought is cycling of the head of different laboratories or division and institutions, just like the chairman of different departments in public universities.

The points in favor of the changes are: 1) Head of division or institution is not scientific post, rather administrative post. If the most senior person is busy with administrative work, then it is wastage of his research experience as he hardly get or give time for research work. If the most seniors are free from administrative responsibility, they can contribute more in research. 2) If the person is inefficient in administrative work, then it causes great damage to the division and juniors cannot rectify him. If a junior does mistake as head of the division, then the seniors can rectify him. 3) If he is efficient, most of the time due to long existence in the same position, he become autocratic and favors some and deprives others. Some juniors get extra and illegal facilities and others become de -motivated being deprived. All staff becomes accountable only to one person and they don’t want to care the mid level officers.4)In the present system, accountability is one way, junior Senior. But cycling will make the accountability two ways, Senior Junior. The two-way accountability will certainly improve the situation. 5)The reasons for which a government official is not supposed to stay in a station for more than three years for the same reason one should not hold one position for a long time in the laboratories.5)5. 99% junior officers want such system. But they are not able to get the bell in the neck of cat. 6) Only seniority cannot be criterion for getting such central and vital position. If so, we should give job based on seniority.

Designation should also be changed .Present designation of scientific officer, Senior Scientific Officer, Principle scientific officer and Chief Scientific officer should be changed. Because these designations have a conflicting effect on the psychology of the scientists. They try to balance between the two designations from which scientific officer are derived: scientist and officer. But ultimately most become neither scientist nor officer. The more logical and updated designations may be Assistant scientist, Associate Scientists, Scientist and Senior Scientist.

But recruiting devoted and potential scientists will not bring desired results if they are not provided with chemicals, reagents and instruments timely. Here comes the question of efficient procurement system, supply chain management.
The present procurement process of government research organizations is unscientific, time consuming and wasteful. In present system, we get separated allocation of money for buying chemicals, instrument and others, also for local and foreign purchase. We cannot use money allotted for one purpose for another. For example, we do not need to by chemicals for this year but we need an instrument. But the allocation is not enough for buying an instrument (sometimes we get as little as 15000.00 TK for buying instrument) and cannot buy the needed instrument. Sometimes we get large amount money for buying instrument but at that moment we do not need any such costly instrument. But we buy it to use it in future. By the time we want to use it, it becomes useless.
In the present system, instruments and chemicals are bought by tender. Those who promise to supply at the cheapest rate get the tender. And we work with cheapest chemicals and instruments and hence our research is also cheapest and the state of quality is three (Saster tin obosta).
We give requisition at the beginning of the year and we don’t know when and what we will get from which budget, local or foreign purchase. Hence we give same item in two purchases (local and foreign) and some times we get from none. Some times we get from both. Both the situation is not good for research work. If you investigate you will find many unused chemicals and instruments due to such faulty procurement process in every laboratory of every government research organizations in Bangladesh. So to make the procurement process research worthy and minimize wastage, the system must be change.
We must be allowed to buy what ever we want and when ever we want so that we can buy chemicals and instruments as per our requirement. For this, there will have no separation of budget such as for chemical, instrument, local or foreign purchase.
All the money for each institution and division or project will go to the bank account of each institute and division. They will buy as per their need from previously listed Supplier Companies. In the present system, in many cases seasonal supplier win tender and provide low grade chemicals and can not give training and post sale service for costly instruments. Ultimately most of them become useless.
We must make sure that the company that are listed must have track record of such supply business, enough manpower for installation of instrument and training on its operation and to give post sale service. Yes, there must have accountability and transparency in purchasing but there must also have freedom in terms of time and quality.
If we can ensure these three things then we can make NIB different from other research organizations, a centre of excellence. Working with the same procedure (of recruitment, promotion and procurement) we can not expect different results. This expectation is not scientific.