Nurul Islam, educated at Dhaka University (BA, Economics) and Harvard University (PhD, Economics), was successively Professor of Economics, Dhaka University, Director of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (later Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies), and Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the first Planning Commission of Bangladesh. From 1975 onwards he was a Fellow at St. Antony's College at Oxford University, Assistant Director General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and Advisor and later Emeritus Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. He now resides in Potomac, Maryland. 
He held several visiting academic appointments at Yale and Cambridge Universities and both the London and the Netherlands School of Economics. He was a member and later the Chairman of the UN Committee of Development Planning Policy.
Islam is noted for his part in the independence war of Bangladesh from Pakistan in the early seventies as well as for his leading role in designing Bangladesh's current economic system and laws.