In the last few weeks, there has been an extensive discussion in online, print and electronic media on the issue of the publication of a list of top Asian Universities by the London-based “Times Higher Education (THE)”. Most of the discussions have remained centred around the issue of the failure of Bangladeshi public universities to find their position on the list. The quality of the whole education system has been tremendously criticised by different actors as none of the Bangladeshi universities has managed to find their place in the list. Educationists, university administrators, university teachers and other actors have put forward their personal views in an attempt to make an evaluation of the ranking. Even some of the actors while offering their justification have questioned the methodology and indicators used by THE during the preparation of the list. Thus, this issue deserves an analysis.
Before making any comment on the list, it is important to shed some light on different indicators that were used by THE to prepare the list of top Asian Universities. The available information presented in the report suggests that 13 calibrated performance indicators were used to guarantee the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons, trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and government. Most importantly, THE has been using these indicators since 2011-2012 while preparing the list of world’s top universities. THE has grouped 13 performance indicators into five areas including (i) Teaching (learning environment) (ii) Research (volume, income and reputation) (iii) Citation (research influence) (iv) International Outlook (staff, students and research) and (v) Industry income. Within these five broad categories, they have used 13 performance indicators. For instance, in teaching areas, they have used five indicators, including reputation survey-teaching, academic staff-student ratio, doctoral awarded/undergraduate degrees awarded, doctorate awarded/academic staff and institutional income/academic staff.Three indicators that have been used in research are reputation survey-research, research income/academic staff and publication/staff (academic staff + research staff). Through using an indicator entitled “field-weighted citation impact" they have tried to evaluate the citations. Three indicators including the proportion of international students, the proportion of international academic staff, and international co-authorship (international publications) have been used in the area of international outlook. On the other hand, an indicator entitled “research income from industry and commerce/academic staff” has been used to evaluate industry income.
Now a pertinent question is whether Bangladeshi universities have the capacity to make good score when they are adjudicated by these indicators or not. A critical analysis of the overall situation of the higher education leads us to conclude that the majority of the public universities would find it difficult to make a good score in the assessment as they are yet to attain the desired level of standard comparable to universities of other Asian countries. For instance, if we evaluate the teaching-learning environment using five indicators, it will be evident that other than the award of the doctoral degrees to the students and academic staff, Bangladeshi universities lag behind in other indicators. For instance, there is the possibility that teachers would not make a good score in the teaching survey as the traditional classroom teaching method is being used in most of the universities. Moreover, the system of teaching evaluation is non-existent in most of the public universities. The academic staff-student ratio is not in line with the international standard. On the other hand, the income of the institution as compared to academic staff is also very low. Although PhD degrees are being awarded by the old universities in greater numbers they are failing to ensure the quality of these degrees. Thus, these PhD degrees have failed to gain international exposure that adds value to the university in gaining a higher score during the ranking assessment.
If an attempt is made to assess the situation of research in public universities in the country, it will be evident that there is the absence of an affable research environment. Moreover, the support for research from the government is very low. A very few academicians could manage funds from the private sectors. On the other hand, the university authorities do not invest their exertions to make communication with the industry. Moreover, the scope for receiving funds to conduct research on different aspects of social science and humanities from the industry is very limited.
As regards to research and publication in impact factor journals, the public universities of the country are yet to make discernable progress. It does not mean that faculty members are not getting their research findings published in impact factor journals. But, at the same time, it is also true that there are many university teachers who do not have a clear understanding of the impact factor. Therefore, how can we expect that our universities will enter the list of top Asian Universities? An important factor that is affecting the quality of research and publication in public universities is the stretchy promotional guidelines. If someone does not require an impact factor journal article for getting promoted to the post of Professor, why will people work hard in publishing their research findings in quality international journals? Moreover, there is hardly any system of the incentive for good researchers who are publishing their research findings in quality journals. Thus, over a period of time, even active researchers are becoming exasperated and loath.
There is a strong possibility that our universities will fail to make a good score in the criteria of international outlook as we have a very limited number of foreign students. When it concerns the number of international academic staff, there is hardly any in any of the public university in the country. There are few academic staff who are conducting collaborative research with international scholars and making joint publications at the international level. But, their number is not on the soaring that could make an impact on the assessment. Along with reluctance and incapability of our academic staff, lack of research funding within Bangladesh is also creating hindrance to the process of building collaboration internationally. Finally, the income from the industry is also very low in almost all public universities in the country. As stated above, there is hardly any communication between the universities and industries in the country like in the developed countries. The government, university administration and the industry people have collective responsibility for the failure to generate funds from the industry. Even after 48 years of independence, we have failed to establish an environment in the country where there will be a strong linkage between higher educational institutes and industries which is really improbable.
The above discussion substantiates that the quality of higher education has not improved to a certain level that is required to qualify to enter the list of top Asian universities. Now a pertinent question is: why do we fail to proceed further even after 48 years of our independence? Political interference is one of the prime factors adding fuel to further deterioration of quality of higher education. Coupled with political interference, the appointment of the Vice-Chancellors on political consideration instead of academic merit is also pampering the whole situation. It is unfortunate that many responsible authorities while expressing their comments on the list of top universities have questioned the parameters of the ranking. Such remarks indicate the grief state of the quality of university administration of the country.Thus, we should remain careful while expressing our assessment on the list of top Asian Universities. Instead of blaming others we all should put our best efforts to make an assessment of our existing situation and figure out possible ways for improving our quality of education so that we could secure our position in the list of top universities of Asia. Along with all the involved actors, the government requires to take bold decisions in order to improve the quality of education in the country.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) of the University of Rajshahi.