DHAKA, Bangladesh 

The World Bank on Friday said it has approved a $191 million credit to Bangladesh to help strengthen the pandemic-hit higher education sector and better respond to the impacts of COVID-19.

The loan will support student mobility through equivalence programs, credit transfer schemes, and university twinning arrangements within the region, and support more women access quality higher education, which will result in increased female labor force participation, a World Bank statement said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the higher education sector in South Asia, causing more dropouts and fewer enrolments. Female students are likely to be disproportionately impacted, further exacerbating the existing gender gap in higher education,” the statement said.

The Higher Education Acceleration Transformation Project, the first World Bank-supported regional education project in South Asia, will support regional collaborations in the higher education sector, it said.

The project will support pandemic and emergency response and build systemic resilience in the higher education sector with a specific focus on digitization, it added.

“For our collective future, higher education is a necessity, not a choice. As Bangladesh aspires to achieve an upper middle-income status, the country needs to invest in its youth to create a skilled and globally competitive workforce,” said Mercy Tembon, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The project will build a network of women’s universities and institutions, which will be initially anchored on the Asian University of Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

It will establish a South Asian Higher Education Portal, hosted in Bangladesh, to facilitate the “virtual mobility” of students, by allowing students from the registered universities to take courses for credit outside their home country, according to the World Bank statement.

Students from other South Asian countries will be able to access the portal, it added.

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors also approved an $18 million grant to Afghanistan to support the higher education sector.

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