Mechanical engineering is a parent subject and people had used the mechanical technique since the beginning of civilization, said Dr. S M Nazrul Islam, an icon of Mechanical Engineering in Bangladesh, who is currently Vice-Chancellor of BUET and formerly Vice-Chancellor of Khulna University, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian. In this context, he added that even now the demand of mechanical engineers exists globally and it goes on increasing with industrial development across the world.
In the context of Bangladesh, Professor Islam mentioned that the growing economy of Bangladesh demands increasing services of mechanical engineers, adding that the small and medium enterprises are prospective for economic growth in a developing country like Bangladesh.
In this context, he observed that these industries may get finance from the government and are being established and operated by local experts as well as local workers but the mechanical engineers are capable of contributing professional services to these industries.
Professor Islam mentioned that though the mechanical engineering is very difficult, but a continuous research advances technology makes it easier for useful application to industries; and research outcome, innovation and creativity are transferring technological knowledge fast to the users.
A high profile engineer and technology expert, Dr. Islam further mentioned that the transfer phenomenon of technology plays an important role for the change of civilization and for improving society; and for these issues of technology impact are to be faced by establishing industry-academia relationship, as sound industrialization is possible by establishing industry-academia relation.
In this context, he observed that this is not much adapted in Bangladesh, for which the updated technology cannot reach to the factory and ultimately the industry tends to become sick. He then added that many industries in Bangladesh are becoming sick due to lack of technology and those are being abandoned or becoming liabilities to the government.
Dr. Islam, a high profile educationist of the country, stressed that the engineers be professionally trained to fuel innovation and entrepreneurship, adding that teaching and higher training to mechanical engineers must be job-oriented to steer the economic growth.
Citing an example for this, he said that The Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh is an organization that chalks out programmes to train engineers professionally and while he had been the President of the Institution of Engineers, he organized various training programmes for engineers relevant to Bangladesh Industries.
In this context, he mentioned that in IEB through continuous training programmes the engineers are upgraded to professional engineers and they are recognized by awarding the certificate, PEng; and thus the engineers are made professional leaders and qualified engineers to propel the development wheel of the country.
Citing one more example, he said that similar training was organized when he was the Secretary General of the International Energy Foundation in Tripoli; and he also organized similar engineering education and training at the Maiduguri University in Nigeria as the Dean of the Faculty.
In this context, he mentioned that the machineries and laboratory equipments were planted in the Maiduguri University Laboratory for giving higher training to the engineers professionally; and, after training, the engineers of this University joined many NGOs and multinational companies of the globe.
Keeping his international experience in view, the engineering veteran of the country, Dr. Islam feels that Bangladesh needs cultivation of future experts with a steady stream of the best researchers and innovators, who will come up with new ideas and inventions to inspire and mentor new generations of scientists and engineers, to make discoveries that can help solve social problems of justices and equity in Bangladesh.
While passing his comment on the present state of BUET, Professor Islam said that with the establishment of many new Universities of Engineering and Technology in the country, BUET has given more emphasis on quality education along with expanding its education programmes. In this context, he mentioned that the Faculties of BUET are engaged vigorously in contract research and have adapted a definite goal to expand Master’s and Ph.D. programmes, adding that only through quality education and advanced research, BUET could retain it as role model for other institutions of Bangladesh.
Professor Islam believes that this kind of education in engineering will keep Bangladesh at par with the scientific and technological development in 21st century; and hopes that scientists and engineers can make tremendous contributions to agricultural development, engineering firms and medical research and their contributions can ensure enhance economic growth, technological progress and reduction of hunger and remedy of diseases.
In this context, he said that engineering education, especially mechanical engineering must be directed to multiple levels to attract high-achieving students to meet national needs, drawing on the full potential of nation; otherwise Bangladesh cannot reach at the forefront of science and technology.
Dr. Islam believes that Bangladesh can step up to the developed level by 2041 if the country can ensure struggling of science and engineering students. For this, he suggested the government, UGC and Universities to play the leading role to bring all students up to the level of proficiency creating multiple pathways.
In an exclusive interview, Professor Islam replies to several questions, covering different issues of education and science, engineering and technology, development and challenges and potentials of Bangladesh, including some more interesting stories of BUET and of his personal life. His deliberations are quite smart, interesting, educative and informative as well. The excerpts of his valuable interview are presented here for The Guardian readers at home and abroad:
The Guardian: Please tell us something about your boyhood and the socio-economic condition of the country at that time and the professional attachment of your family to that situation.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Bangladesh is a land of rivers. The green trees on river banks make a real look of the country. Habitation on such banks is attracted by any people. I was born in a small village named Uttarpar situated on a river bank and that was my maternal home. My paternal home was at a village, named Hiron surrounded by farming land. I was brought up in the environments of these two villages.
Most of my childhood times were spent in maternal home. But I started my schooling in the paternal home. A primary school was near to my homestead. This area was a low land in the district of Gopalganj. Most of the people used to live on agriculture. The land was fertile and plenty of paddies were grown in this low land, called beel. Plenty of fishes were caught in this beel area. Most of the people were farmers. They used to work in the paddy season and remained idle during rest of the time.
During those idle times people arranged games, cultural functions, zari, sari, village fair, etc. Almost the whole year people enjoyed their lives through games and cultural activities. A group of people did small business in addition to farming. My father was one of these groups.
The Guardian: And tell us something about your forefathers and the social environment of your locality at that time.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: I’ve already told you that I grew up in a village society through local culture, games, schooling, clubs and village show. Our forefathers lived in Arabian culture. It is said that our forefathers came from Iraq and stationed in this area for preaching. Our family used to control the social management of ten villages around us. This culture still exists in this cluster of villages. Majority population of this region was Hindus, but most of them left in the fifties.
My classmates in my first school were mostly Hindus. A few Muslim boys used to go to school at that time of my boyhood. I never felt any disparity in the class though the Hindu students were majority. But the sad part is that, all my Hindu classmates in the school left the country in 1960s. That created a cultural and environmental transformation in the society.
The Guardian: Can you also tell us something about your secondary and higher secondary education?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: O yes, after completing my primary education in 1958, I was admitted into a secondary school. I went to Gournadi in the district of Barisal and got admitted to a secondary school at Bagdha. I stayed there as a house tutor and studied in the secondary school. There I got an opportunity to know a rural environment different from that of my homestead. This region was also a Hindu- Muslim populated area. They lived friendly neighbours. In the secondary school the Muslim students were majority, but most of the teachers were Hindus.
People of this area lived on agriculture and business. A good number of rich families lived there. Communication was better than that of our area at Gopalganj. As I came from a different culture, it took some time to be friendly with school boys. Nevertheless the local boys accepted me and I found so many friends in a few days. I was the shortest boy in the class, but my performance was better, so teachers loved me.
It was my pride to say that I got all supports and affection from the teachers. It helped me possible to stay there away from my parents. The people of the area loved the school very much. Many dignified people of that locality used to visit the school frequently. I also loved my school. That tin-shed school house has now been changed into College Buildings, but my memory still looks for that old scenario. I studied in that school and appeared SSC in the year 1963.
My higher secondary education was carried on in Jagannath College. Two years study in that College was passed through various student movements. The students of this College took part in movements against Ayub’s military regime along with Dhaka University students. During 1963-1965 the police force of Ayub regime raided the College two times and threw teargas shells on students’ crowd.
The Guardian: We know when you had been a student of BUET it was a turning point of politics that gradually culminated in the achievement of our great victory on 16 December 1971. Please discuss the overall situation of BUET and the role of BUET students at time.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: In 1965 I got admission to the East Pakistan University of Engineering & Technology (now BUET). I studied four years in Mechanical Engineering and obtained B.Sc. Engineering degree in 1969.
The environment of this University was very congenial for learning and teaching. The authority used to declare examination schedule at the beginning of a semester and students followed that accordingly. Nobody can think of changing the examination schedule. Students studied two semesters every year. In the mid of a semester students wrote a special examination. The answer scripts of examinations were given to students for identifying errors after these were checked by the examiners. Students could find their mistakes and they can discuss their laps with the examiners. At that time none can think of adopting unfair means in the engineering examination.
A student had to obtain a minimum marks in any engineering subject otherwise he/she could not continue engineering education. Under this termination rule many students discontinued the University education after studying one/two years. Students attended laboratory class, survey class and physical education class in a festive mood. They enjoyed the classes and made cooperation with each other. It is true that students had to pass through a severe learning pressure. They were not involved much in national movements. So this University was always in the good book of police force.
Of course, the students of this University took very active role in 1969 movement and in the liberation movement. It is a fact that the Bangladesh flag that was used during liberation movement was designed and made by the students of this University.
Annual sports, games, tournaments of this University were very attractive. People from other localities came to enjoy the performance of BUET students, because it was very much disciplined. Similar academic and sporting environment probably did not exist in any other Universities.
The Guardian: The time you chose to study mechanical engineering, students generally preferred to study civil engineering, probably considering it that mechanical engineering is a difficult subject. But, you had chosen it. Please discuss the reasons behind your choice and the impacts of mechanical engineering.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Your idea is true. But, I chose my field of study mechanical engineering. It is a difficult but essential subject in engineering discipline. Usually students did not like to study mechanical engineering for its difficult nature. The students’ enrolment in this department did not exceed usually 30 or 40. But in our time it goes up to 120 because students declined to study civil engineering for its prevailing unemployment situation.
Sudden jump of the number of students made the facilities increased and spaces extended in Mechanical Engineering Department. Many teachers expressed their concern of job opportunity for this large number of mechanical engineers. But most of us got jobs while we were in our third level.
Mechanical Engineering is a parent subject and people had used the mechanical technique since the beginning of civilization. Even now the demand of mechanical engineers exists globally and it goes on increasing with industrial development. I feel proud of becoming a mechanical engineer. I had the opportunity to render services in mechanical profession in the global market.
The Guardian: When did you join the teaching profession and why did you choose teaching in spite of covetable job opportunity for mechanical engineers at home abroad at that time?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: After graduation in Mechanical Engineering, I started teaching in 1970 as a lecturer in the same department of BUET. At that time it was possible for me to avail any job with higher salary in many organizations. But the teaching profession was preferred, because of its innovative nature and as noble profession.
The degree of Master of Engineering was completed and I was appointed to the rank of an Assistant Professor. At that stage I got involved in students’ residence hall administration. It gave me a new direction of career earning experience on management of solving problems of the students. At that time the country was just liberated. The students got inspirations for participating in programmes of building new Bangladesh. People of all walks of life helped each other and tried to get the taste of freedom.
The Guardian: As a practical observer of the time and the situation, would you please tell us something about the journey of new-born Bangladesh.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Bangabandhu came home and shouldered the responsibility of rebuilding the war-ravaged country. From the same inspiration the planning commission adopted 1973-1978 development programme. The reality of development programme was executed through 1973-78 the first five-year plan. The professionals from all sectors worked relentlessly to fulfil the five-year plan. The target was to establish egalitarian society throughout the country.
An effective measure was adopted to bring about a radical transformation in the rural areas through promotion of agriculture, industries and education. Progressively it was also attempted to remove the disparity in the standard of living between urban and rural areas. The people were very cooperative to reach the goal. But the environment of the society changed opposite due to sudden sad demise of Bangabandhu in 1975. Its impact falls on the educational institutions too.
The Guardian: When did you go abroad for higher studies? Please tell us something about your experience learnt abroad.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: At the transformation state of Bangladesh, I left to Canada for higher studies under Commonwealth Scholarship Programme. Three years were spent abroad and obtained Doctorate degree in 1979. During experimentation, a modern experimental device was set up for measuring turbulence in the Windsor University Laboratory. Turbulence measurement and prediction were carried out simultaneously.
The research group at the University of Windsor, Canada where I was a member, was the leading group in North America. Many technical papers were published in the area of turbulence and fluid mechanics. As a member of the same group I got inspiration for publishing technical papers in renowned journals. During the course of Doctoral programme I worked in that laboratory and I spent three years. After completing Ph.D., I came back and rejoined as a teacher at BUET.
The Guardian: Please tell us what role you played in utilizing your higher knowledge and experience for advancement of education and research in BUET.
Prof. Nazrul Islam: At that time BUET was at the beginning stage of research. Prof. M.H. Khan was then supervising only Ph.D. student at BUET. I joined him as a co-supervisor to guide the Ph.D. student. Research project was formulated and we guided the student to work on the assigned fluid problem.
Usually the research was continued and the work was completed in a year. That student was the first Ph.D. student in BUET and completed the degree under the supervision of M. H. Khan and myself in 1981. The occasion was a unique in the BUET history and the award of first Ph.D. was celebrated by BUET administration. The celebration of Ph.D. degree exerted a momentum for continuing advanced research.
Consequently, every department got attracted to research and now there exist a good number of Ph.D. students which is the result of our start in 1981. Such culmination of research has emerged BUET to a leading role to advance engineering education.
With the establishment of new Universities of Engineering and Technology in the country, BUET has given more emphasis on quality education along with expanding education programmes. The faculties are engaged vigorously in contract research. They adapted a definite goal to expand Masters and Ph.D. programmes. It was realised that only through quality education and advanced research, BUET could retain its role model for other institutions.
The Guardian: From engineering point of view, would you discuss the significance of mechanical engineering?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Mechanical engineering is the base engineering on the earth surface. Civilization enriches by applying knowledge of mechanical engineering. Industrial civilization is growing fast impetus on establishing small, medium and large industries. Agro-based industries are befitting to national needs for manufacturing agricultural machinery and equipment. The complex nature of the industrial system demands multidisciplinary engineering techniques. The electro-mechanical system with digital control is being used in the manufacturing system.
To manage the complex engineering systems like power plant, manufacturing, air-conditioning, automobiles, thermo-fluid, and material, mechanical engineering has been changed into different divisions. Curricula of each division are resourceful to offer degree. Aeronautical, automobile, mining and manufacturing are major divisions of base mechanical engineering. A mechanical engineering graduate will be successful if he is conversant with all allied fields. It is said that a mechanical engineer is a jack of all trades.
The Guardian: In this context, would you discuss the role of mechanical engineers in transfer of technology to industrial development?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Small and medium enterprises are prospective for economic growth in a developing country. These industries may get finance from the government. These are being established and operated by local experts/workers in the country. The mechanical engineers are capable of contributing professional services to industries. It is already mentioned that the mechanical engineering is very difficult. But a continuous research advances technology makes it easier for useful application to industries.
The research outcome, innovation and creativity are transferring technological knowledge fast to the users. This transfer phenomenon plays an important role for the change of civilization and for improving society. These issues of technology impact are to be faced by establishing industry-academia relationship.
Sound industrialization is possible by establishing this industry-academia relation, but it is not much adapted in Bangladesh. So the updated technology cannot reach to the factory and the industry tends to become sick. Many industries in Bangladesh are becoming sick due to lack of technology and those are being abandoned or becoming liabilities to the government.
The Guardian: As an icon of mechanical engineering in Bangladesh, would you comment about the professional capacity of mechanical engineers in Bangladesh and also suggest how they can be trained to be more professional engineers?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: The growing economy of Bangladesh demands increasing services of mechanical engineers. The engineers shall be professionally trained to fuel innovation and entrepreneurship. Teaching and higher training to mechanical engineers shall be job-oriented to steer the economic growth.
The Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh is an organisation that chalks out programmes to train engineers professionally. As a President of the Institution of Engineers, I organised various training programmes for engineers relevant to Bangladesh Industries. Through continuous training programme the engineers are upgraded to professional engineers and they are recognised by awarding the certificate, P.Eng. Thus the engineers are made professional leaders and qualified engineers to propel the development wheel.
Similar training was organised when I was the Secretary General of the International Energy Foundation in Tripoli. I also organised similar engineering education and training at the Maiduguri University in Nigeria as the Dean of the faculty. The machineries and laboratory equipments were planted in the Maiduguri University Laboratory for giving higher training to the engineers professionally. The engineers of this University worked in many NGOs and multinational companies of the globe.
The Guardian: As an educationist of international repute and as Vice-Chancellor of BUET, would you discuss the standard of mechanical engineering education in Bangladesh and also comment about the role and contribution of BUET in this regard?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Mechanical engineering education is similar in any University and in any country. As the Chairman of Board of Governors at the Bangladesh Institute of Technology, Rajshahi (now RUET), engineering education curricula were updated to fit with digital technology. Mechanical engineering education in the country has been raised to the status of international standard.
Especially the BUET curricula and research levels are accepted by any university on the globe. A large number of BUET graduates of mechanical engineering are serving in multinational companies in many countries of the world. Education systems along with technological support are being practiced in higher levels of education. It shall expand opportunities for Bangladeshis to ensure their contributions to per capita mark that must be stable above $1000.
The Guardian: We came to know that you have earned a high name and fame at home and abroad for research and innovation in mechanical engineering. Would you tell us something about this, keeping in mind the need of Bangladesh?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Research and innovation make mechanical engineering education resourceful. The area of research is quite versatile in mechanical engineering. I worked on turbulence in fluid flow and energy development. Turbulence research was very practical to estimate noise level in airplane. Flow character at airplane nozzle was changed by using external signal.
As a result, noise level could be made at any reasonable value for research purpose. The outcome of research on turbulent flow field was used by many end users. Wind energy is not much prospective in Bangladesh, whereas solar energy is sufficient. My publications on rural energy, wind energy, solar energy and energy consumption in irrigation pumps were advancement in research for human society development.
Many consulting works were carried out to resolve the problems of industries with an objective of industrial growth. During my whole teaching career from 1970 to 2010, I was intimately involved in research for innovation. I taught mechanical engineering in Universities of Canada, Nigeria and Libya bestowing new knowledge to learners.
The Guardian: In the end, would you please give your valuable message for present and future generation engineers and researchers, and especially for the development of Bangladesh?
Prof. Nazrul Islam: Bangladesh needs cultivation of future experts. It also needs a steady stream of the best researchers and innovators. These individuals will come up with new ideas and inventions. They will inspire and mentor new generations of scientists and engineers. They will make discoveries that help solve social problems of justices and equity.
This kind of education in engineering will keep Bangladesh at par with the scientific and technological development in 21st century. Scientists and engineers can make tremendous contributions to agricultural development, engineering firms and medical research. Their contributions can ensure enhance economic growth, technological progress, reduction of hunger and remedy of diseases.
Engineering education, especially mechanical engineering must be directed to multiple levels to attract high-achieving students. Our national needs cannot be met without drawing on the full potential of nation. Bangladesh cannot reach at the forefront of science and technology if the majority of its students (male/ female) view science and engineering uninteresting or too difficult.
Bangladesh can step up to the developed level by 2041 if we can ensure struggling of science and engineering students. The government, UGC and Universities must play the leading role to bring all students up to the level of proficiency creating multiple pathways. At length I shall advise the engineering students citing the statement of Dr. Seuss.
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are that guy who’ll decide where to go.”