Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to enhance the quality of education in line with global standards. Speaking at a national council of principals of colleges affiliated with the National University, she acknowledged the significant improvements in education quality within the country but stressed the importance of keeping pace with international standards. Sheikh Hasina outlined her government’s measures to foster comprehensive educational development, ensuring that future generations are equipped to navigate the ever-evolving world of science and technology.
To make the education system more diverse, she mentioned the establishment of universities in each district, four medical universities in divisional headquarters, an Islamic Arabic University, a digital university, an Aerospace and Aviation University, as well as science and technology universities. The Prime Minister highlighted the government’s focus on creating a skilled workforce to meet the increasing demands of the fourth industrial revolution. Initiatives such as the establishment of high-tech parks and computer incubation training centers aim to provide education in areas like nano-technology and artificial intelligence.
Sheikh Hasina urged principals and teachers to nurture students into responsible citizens of Bangladesh. Emphasizing the significance of education in shaping future leaders, she called upon students to prioritize their studies, foster patriotism, and contribute to the welfare of the country and its people. The Prime Minister reiterated her commitment to fulfill the vision of Bangladesh’s founding father, aiming to create a prosperous and equitable nation, free from hunger, poverty, and exploitation by 2041.
During the event, Sheikh Hasina distributed scholarships to 10 underprivileged meritorious and special-needs students. A total of 12,394 students, including 11,285 underprivileged meritorious students and 1,109 special-needs students, were awarded scholarships amounting to approximately Taka 6,19,70,000.
Additionally, the Prime Minister unveiled several development projects, including the ICT master plan under the National University, and signed a list of development schemes. Dr. Dipu Moni, the Education Minister, also spoke at the event as a special guest, with the Vice-Chancellor of the National University, Prof. Dr. Mashiur Rahman, presiding over the ceremony. Principals from Selim Sonar Bangla College of Cumilla and Rajshahi Government Women College, along with two scholarship recipients, shared their views.
Reflecting on her own experiences, Sheikh Hasina recalled being arrested by the caretaker government during the 2007 state of emergency. She highlighted her refusal to accept the status of Prime Minister offered by a military officer, instead advocating for democratic elections where citizens could choose their representatives. She emphasized her dedication to changing the fate of the Bangladeshi people, rather than seeking personal gain.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the significant progress achieved in Bangladesh since the Awami League assumed power in 2009, attributing it to democratic continuity and political stability. She highlighted the country’s transformation in various sectors, including education, health, food security, infrastructure, and digital connectivity, comparing the current state of development to 14 and a half years ago. Sheikh Hasina contrasted the budgetary allocations of previous governments, emphasizing her administration’s prioritization of education and increased funding compared to the past.
Drawing inspiration from the country’s founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina highlighted the government’s commitment to science, technology, and vocational education. To promote scientific education, her government established twelve science and technology universities across the country. The Prime Minister also criticized the previous BNP-Jamaat alliance government for discontinuing scholarships for pursuing master’s and Ph.D. degrees abroad, as well as canceling an agreement to purchase laptops, resulting in a financial loss for Bangladesh.
Lastly, Sheikh Hasina underscored her government’s efforts to ensure a peaceful and conducive environment in educational institutions, citing the reign of terror that prevailed during the rule of the BNP-Jamaat alliance. She highlighted how military dictator Ziaur Rahman diverted young individuals from education toward destructive activities by providing them with financial resources and weapons.
Decline in Remittances Worries Bangladesh Amid Focus on Forex Reserves
Remittance inflows, a crucial source of USD earnings for Bangladesh, have reached a concerning low, marking the lowest level in three and a half years. This decline comes at a time when Bangladesh is actively seeking to bolster its foreign exchange reserves. According to data released by Bangladesh Bank on a Sunday, remittance inflows stood at $1.34 billion in September 2023, the lowest figure since March 2020 when it was $1.27 billion. Compared to the same month last year, remittances decreased by 12.72 percent or $200 million.
During the first quarter of the fiscal year 2024 (July-September), Bangladesh received $4.91 billion in remittances. This was compared to $4.52 billion during the same period in fiscal year 2020. The decline in remittances has raised concerns among economists and bankers, with hundi, an illegal cross-border money transaction channel, cited as a major reason.
Remitters are drawn to hundi due to its offering of higher exchange rates in comparison to the official channel. Syed Mahbubur Rahman, Managing Director and CEO of Mutual Trust Bank, emphasized the need for the central bank to take action against hundi to reverse the declining trend in remittance inflows through official banking channels.
Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist at the World Bank’s Dhaka Office, pointed out that the primary reason for the drop in remittances is the exchange rate disparity between the banking channel and the kerb market. Remitters receive Tk 112.75 per USD, including an incentive, through the banking channel, while in the kerb market, they get Tk 117 to Tk 118, resulting in a difference of nearly Tk 5 to Tk 6.
An anonymous senior bank manager and director revealed that some businessmen are encouraging remitters to use hundi, possibly due to the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming national polls. Zahid Hussain also noted that the number of Bangladeshi remitters has not decreased, and the countries where they predominantly work are not experiencing economic turmoil.
Despite the declining remittance inflow, Bangladesh has witnessed a substantial increase in the number of overseas workers. In 2022, after the easing of pandemic restrictions, Bangladesh exported a record 11.35 lakh manpower, the highest in its history. In the first eight months of 2023, this figure stood at 8.82 lakh, surpassing the 2021 yearly figure of 6.17 lakh.
The impact of this decline in remittances is being felt on Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves, which have been steadily decreasing. In September, reserves dwindled to $21.14 billion, compared to $36.5 billion in the same month the previous year. The devaluation of the Taka against the USD continues due to declining reserves, with the interbank exchange rate recently increased to Tk 110.5.
While the government’s austerity measures curbed imports of luxury goods, leading to an overall decline in import payments in July, the cost of essential goods imports has risen significantly due to USD price hikes. This situation has prevented Bangladesh from benefiting from the drop in global goods prices.
Bangladesh, India Explore Free Trade Agreement Talks to Strengthen Economic Ties
Bangladesh and India have engaged in discussions regarding the initiation of talks for a free trade agreement aimed at bolstering their economic ties. This noteworthy development emerged during an official-level meeting of the Joint Working Group on Trade (JWG) between the two nations, which took place in Dhaka last week.
The discussions, as outlined by the Indian Commerce Ministry, encompassed a wide array of bilateral issues. These included addressing port restrictions, laying the groundwork for the commencement of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), aligning standards, mutual recognition of standards, and ensuring the supply of essential commodities to Bangladesh.
These annual meetings serve as a crucial platform for both countries to delve into key trade-related concerns and explore opportunities for collaboration, trade expansion, technical cooperation, and diversification of their economic engagement.
CEPA, a variant of a free trade agreement, involves a substantial reduction or elimination of customs duties on a substantial portion of traded goods between the participating nations. Additionally, CEPA facilitates the easing of regulations to encourage trade in services and investments.
In the course of the meeting, discussions also revolved around matters pertaining to the enhancement of road and rail infrastructure, regional connectivity via multi-modal transportation, and the development or fortification of infrastructure at Land Customs Stations and Integrated Check Posts, as well as the establishment of border haats.
Notably, bilateral trade between the two nations has seen fluctuations, with it registering at $14.2 billion in the fiscal year 2022-23, compared to $8.13 billion in the preceding fiscal year 2021-22.
Country’s Goods Export Witnesses Strong Growth in September, Falls Short of Target
In September of this year, the country’s export earnings from goods demonstrated robust growth, surging by 10.37 percent and reaching a total of $4,310.33 million. However, these single-month export figures fell short by 7.05 percent of the strategic export target set at $4,637 million, as reported by the latest statistics from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
Comparatively, the export earnings for September in the previous year amounted to $3,905.07 million, indicating a noteworthy increase in the current year.
Taking a broader view, the data from EPB revealed that the overall export earnings during the first quarter of the current fiscal year (July-September) saw a significant growth of 9.51 percent, totaling $13,685.44 million. This exceeded the strategic target of $13,988 million set for the same period.
In contrast, during the same July-September period in the last fiscal year (FY23), the export earnings were recorded at $12,496.89 million, illustrating a noticeable upswing in the current fiscal year.
Among the various exportable items, the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector continued to dominate the overseas market during this three-month period, amassing an impressive $11,617.5 million with a growth rate of 13.07 percent.
Breaking down the RMG category, knitwear stood out as the frontrunner, securing the highest export amount of $6,762.59 million, followed closely by woven garments with earnings of $4,854.91 million.
For the current fiscal year, the government has set an ambitious target to export goods worth $62 billion, aiming for an 11.59 percent year-on-year growth. This follows a remarkable achievement in the previous fiscal year (FY23), where exports reached a record-breaking $55.56 billion despite challenging global conditions and uncertainties.
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