Once again the public universities are at the centre of public discussion. Unfortunately, it is not due to the fact that the University of Dhaka has been ranked 601-800 and 701 in the world university rankings published by Times Higher Education and QS World University ranking respectively. It is rather due to a disputed advice of the government for the public universities through the University Grants Commission (UGC). The government has recently expressed two specific concerns about the recruitment of teachers in the public universities. Firstly, they are worried about the recruitment of candidates involved in the anti-government activities and the criminal activities. Therefore, they have recommended that the police verification must be accomplished before publishing the final list of recruited teachers. Secondly, they are seemingly anxious about the iniquitousness in the teacher recruitment process and has recommended introducing a written test as a mean of picking out the true talents and reducing the malpractice of recruiting less qualified candidates. Although their intention seems to be good, the technique they want to employ to achieve the goal is bird brained.
One may argue what is the problem in appearing at one more written test for becoming a teacher of a public university when in all other government sectors, a written test is mandatory. However, I would claim that the first and foremost criterion for the recruitment of the teachers in the public universities is and should be the candidate’s academic excellence which is primarily reflected by his grades and research publications. I cannot but admit that one student who has not secured the first or second highest CGPA, is not less intelligent, but in most of the cases, the first highest CGPA holder is more academically sound than his batch-mates immediately after graduation when lecturers are recruited usually in our universities. Yes, it is possible that an academically less qualified student may excel during his higher study or in his professional life and even surpass the first CGPA holder of his batch and if so happens, he, of course, should be appreciated and considered for the teaching position if he wishes, even at a superior position than his first highest CGPA holder batch-mate. In other government sectors except for the research organisations, in-depth subject oriented knowledge is not always needed, therefore a written exam may be required to find out the suitable candidates.
One may further claim, because in the recent years the teacher recruitment in the public universities has been questionable and many less qualified candidates has been recruited by means of their political or personal influence, a proper and fair written test i.e. a written test executed without any fear or political influence will help screen out the less qualified candidates. However, I would rather maintain what are the benefits for one more or five more written tests for becoming a public university teacher if the current system is executed properly and the chiefs of the selection boards and other members uphold their dignity and honesty by not being influenced by any political or personal factors. It is an open secret that most of the unfair teacher recruitments in the public universities happen due to the unjust political influence which can be easily resolved by the goodwill of the government and the ruling party. Do the government really believe, a standard written test may play an essential role to make the recruitment process unquestionable? Do they think, solely a written test (even of best standard) will be convenient in any way to find out the best one of the first two/three highest CGPA holders (who have secured their positions by appearing at hundreds of exams in their 4-5 years of university life) in more than 90% cases? They may consider it useful, however, I don’t find any strong and cogent reason for introducing such a test and I strongly believe, to screen out the less qualified ones, one more written test is not required at all and will simply be an absurd method. It is possible (and done by many universities including the University of Dhaka) to rank the first three, five or ten highest CGPA holders in an academic session and the university authority can simply increase the CGPA threshold that must be obtained by a candidate to be eligible for applying for the post of a lecturer. And for higher posts (assistant professors and so on), publications in worldwide recognised journals and other factors should be considered provided that the government will provide sufficient research support to the teachers. Unfortunately, the current scenario is not pleasant. For example, the Ministry of Science and Technology now afford BDT 50,000-100,000 to an individual young lecturer which is not sufficient to carry out any fruitful scientific research (at least any molecular biological research cannot be initiated with this amount). Although in total, the ministry spends several crores for research, but due to the lack of visionary authority, most of the money distributed remains fruitless. One alternative approach could be that the ministry can award a group of researchers a handsome amount of money based on their research proposal and define several goals for the group that must be fulfilled to be further considered for any government grant. The same lack of far-sighted ideas is also evident in the UGC. They also grant a financial support of BDT 100,000 to the individual young lecturer by which no significant research output can be expected.
To be truthful, there might be a very small period of time when teacher recruitment was 100% fair in Bangladesh (including the period of British reign) as evidenced by the writings of Prof. Dr. R.C. Majumdar, an eminent historian, who also raised some questions about few recruitments in the University of Dhaka at his time. Although the rate of unfair recruitment has increased for decades but it is still much lower in public universities (it is not more than 10-15% of the total number of recruitments, I assume, although a single such unfair recruitment is not desired) than other government or autonomous sectors. And this small percentage of irregularities has been due to the unjust political influence in the most cases, as I have mentioned before. Based on the socio-political culture of our country, which is more likely to happen- introducing a written test will stop this corrupt practice of recruiting less qualified candidates or will equip them with a new weapon to justify their wrongdoing? Isn’t it true, if there is no political pressure and the senior teachers involved in the recruitment process possess a strong sense of responsibility, sincerity and dignity, it is possible to recruit the most competent candidates for teaching profession in more than 99% cases in the existing system? If yes, what is the use of introducing such a meaningless and un-smart written test for picking out the smartest citizens of the nation?
The government’s recommendation to prevent the recruitment of candidates involved in criminal activities is praiseworthy but the measure recommended to achieve this goal may produce many unexpected side effects. To expect that there will be sincere police verification and no political interference will occur is like a utopia for us. The government has already informed their concern to the UGC that they want to avert the recruitment of candidates who are active against the government which is really annoying for a democratic country. Don’t we have enough evidence to believe that a competent candidate who strongly cherishes the spirit of our Liberation War but a critic of the ruling party (whatever the party is) may be deprived in the current socio-political perspective of Bangladesh if police verification becomes a prerequisite? If all the teachers are supporters/blind supporters of the ruling party/oppositions or are apolitical, will it take much time to have the legs of our brittle democracy broken? However, to ensure that no candidates involved in any anti-social or anti-national activities are recruited, a better alternative approach can be engaged where opinions (in the form of a letter of recommendation) from two or more of his departmental teachers, who know the candidate very well for more than 4-5 years, may be considered for recruiting the candidate. I still believe that the comment of a university teacher about his student is more reliable than the report of a law enforcement agency.
To conclude, I believe firmly that if the government cooperates cordially to thwart unjust political influence and competent, honest and sincere teachers are involved in the recruitment process, which are the fundamental prerequisite to making it fairer, the most competent candidates will be recruited in more than 99% cases (considering error in judgment) in the existing system and introducing one more written test will be proven boneheaded. If the government continues undertaking insincere attempts to improve the education sector without trying to understand and uproot the crux of these problems, no significant achievement in education as well as in other sectors is possible. In this situation, I am very sorry to presume that the competent bureaucrats/teachers have not been placed rightly and therefore such doltish measures are being recommended to ensure justice in the university teacher recruitment process.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of Microbiology, Jagannath University