Our universities should be points of light







Let us leave aside for the moment the question of the world ranking of Bangladeshi universities. Not that rankings aren’t important. They are because these rankings are a measure of the performance or performance of our higher education institutions internationally.

For now, beyond all this debate about our embarrassment at not being able to stand out in these rankings—both our public and private universities continue to fail these tests—we need to focus, in our own interest, on what needs to be done to raise academic standards in the country.

The very first area of ​​concern that we need to address is the generally prescribed low allocation in annual national budgets for education. While Unesco clearly prescribes that no less than 6% of GDP should be spent on education in a country, successive governments in Bangladesh have generally never exceeded a 2% allocation for the sector. Indeed, in the budget announced in parliament last week, the education component remains below 2%. It represents 1.83% of GDP.

This begs the question: how then can we expect our universities, with this paltry sum, to make a qualitative or quantum leap in academic excellence, especially in public universities? The sector received Tk 81,499 crore—just 12% of the total budget expenditure. It’s not a sum to be happy about, is it?

And yet, we cannot continue to complain about the budget allocation to education, because there are all the other ills that have constantly plagued our universities. In recent times we have had the unsavory experience of vice-chancellors of public universities accused of financial corruption and nepotism. Such stories are indicative of an undeniable lowering of standards when it comes to VC appointments.

Next comes the rather troubling factor of political partisanship that takes center stage in the academic community. It remains our enduring pain that some of the best of men, intellectual powerhouses in public universities, have been routinely sidelined whenever windows of opportunity to serve as VCs have opened. Vice-Chancellors notorious for their controversial roles or remarks have hurt our universities’ chances of keeping up with the rest of the world.

Returning to the question of teachers’ political loyalties, the propensity of a large proportion of academics over the past two decades to maintain partisanship in the halls of universities has severely affected their ability to conduct research and inspire their students. to explore worldviews. through the prism of intellectual ambitions. The university administration took a beating.

Where research is an essential criterion for universities, both for teachers and students, the reality has been quite disconcerting for us. Not much, even insignificant, has been on the table where writing world-class papers and speaking up for Bangladesh at conferences abroad is the issue. The waters have often been muddy by academics who have felt unembarrassed to indulge in plagiarism and get caught red-handed by domestic and foreign scholars.

A major factor in the decline of our public universities has been the growing prevalence of student politics, in its violent form, on campus. Where once student organizations engaged in progressive intellectual debate to the point of articulating the aspirations of the nation, the picture is messy today. With members of rival student organizations armed and literally chasing each other to propagate their various political leanings and often leaning to modest physical assaults on each other, is it any wonder that our public universities are being abused abroad ?

A plethora of universities dot the landscape of higher education in the country. Of Bangladesh’s 157 universities — and more may be on the way — 50 are in the public sector, with the remaining 107 in the private sector. While we have many grievances about public universities, we also have very legitimate questions about the quality of education provided in the ubiquity of private universities.

How many of these private universities offer the best of education to the young men and women who flock there each year? And then focus on their teaching staff. It turns out that quite a number of academics employed in many of these universities have been poached from public universities, which, one could reasonably argue, is clearly to the detriment of public universities. This inability of private universities to establish their own faculty regime has been a disadvantage for private university education.

Add to this the propensity of some private universities to recruit foreign teachers as part of their staff. Some institutions are known to hire foreign vice-chancellors. This does not put these universities in a good light. Then comes the crucial issue of the expenses borne by tutors whose wards happen to be students at private universities.

If all of this falls into the dark zone, there is also this other concern — that private universities are not allowed to hold doctoral courses for their students. If private universities, at least the best equipped and most efficient, have the required number of qualified academics to guide young people through doctoral courses, why prevent them from doing so?

Clearly, universities in Bangladesh are in dire need of reinvention. This calls for serious rethinking on the part of the government with regard to a significant increase in the allocation for education. Excellence cannot be expected in the absence of resources.

In public universities, chairs dedicated to a range of subjects that test the intellectual acuity of students should be created. Schools of thought on behalf of national luminaries — academics, economists, politicians, journalists, writers — will go a long way to revitalizing universities. Inviting visiting scholars from home and abroad will add to the quality.

In private universities, similar efforts could be part of the academic structure. However, care should be taken to ensure that the education provided in these universities avoids being described as elitist in form and content. Also, the admission process in private universities should be made strict in a manner similar to the process applied in public universities.

Our collective concern should not be about the place of our universities in world rankings per se. It should be about the need for a complete overhaul of education in our universities — through the presence of modern curricula, dedicated and committed teachers, and young men and women seeking knowledge.

Mediocrity or a laid back attitude will do us no good. Every university in this country should be a point of light.

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