Thursday, 2 February, 2023

Lackluster Universities and Need for Reform

  • Pranab Kumar Panday
  • 7th December, 2022 07:11:25 PM
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At the 53rd Convocation of Dhaka University, His Excellency, the President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, made several noteworthy remarks. His Excellency, in his address, called into question the actions of some university vice-chancellors and a subset of faculty members for their lack of ethical behaviour. The honorable President's focus on these concerns is understandable, given his position as chancellor of the nation's public universities. His views are spot on, as there have been considerable discussions lately about whether Bangladesh's current higher education system can keep up with the needs of the present time.

We are now living in the age of the fourth industrial revolution. There has been much back-and-forth on whether or not Bangladesh's educational institutions are up to the task of adapting to the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The most crucial fact is that in recent times, the poor results of Bangladeshi universities in the international ranking of universities have been widely criticised, and vice-chancellors of various public universities have embraced the fire of this criticism. Some vice-chancellors shrugged at the international rankings, while others scoffed at the methodology used to compile them. Nonetheless, the outcome has prompted severe discussion regarding the trajectory of higher education in Bangladesh.

Investing in the education of its citizens strengthens the country as a whole. It's always been true that if you want to educate a nation, you must build its educational system on rock-solid ground. The inability to contribute to national development as an educated nation stems from failing to strengthen the education system. Due to this, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation in post-independence Bangladesh, passed a law in 1973 making universities financially and administratively autonomous. Bangabandhu offered university teachers autonomy because he perceived them as the country's moral compass. Many of us are exploiting the autonomy afforded to us by the nation's founder in ways that worry him. On the one hand, we are bringing down standards in higher education and, on the other, making a mockery of ourselves internationally.

The person holding the highest position in the university is the guardian of the university. Therefore, the government needs to be more aware when selecting university guardians. The main task of university teachers is to keep busy with their teaching and research because the research knowledge of university teachers plays an important role in the nation's development. After completing these two tasks, university teachers perform various administrative duties. Even they have the opportunity to participate in politics. But with time, we could notice a change in the concept of the university. To be considered for various positions, university teachers prioritise politics over teaching and research.

An academic faculty's reputation as a scholar is crucial to academia. The place of publication of his or her research findings is what really counts.Some say that a researcher's skills may not translate well into administrative roles. There is no basis for making such an assumption. Outside of Bangladesh, a candidate's reputation as a researcher and the capacity to generate funding through international collaboration are two of the most crucial prerequisites for becoming a vice-chancellor. Therefore, it is fair to say that a professor who has already made a name for himself in the realm of research will have a lot simpler time leading a university to the forefront of research than a novice researcher. A person with high research skills is also likely to have high moral standards. A faculty's foreign experience and network of professional contacts might be just as helpful in leading a university as their expertise in the field of study.

Remember that in this age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is a growing need for the educational system to forge closer ties with industries. It will be less of a struggle to secure funding for research if the dialogue between industry and academic institutions is strengthened. We all know that universities simply do not have the means to support extensive research in developing nations. Therefore, they are totally reliant on government funding. In actuality, it becomes difficult for a person at the institution's highest level to manage the university if he lacks the skill.

One cannot, however, draw the broad conclusion that researchers in Bangladeshi institutions are not competent. Almost every university in the country employs at least a few professors who have earned reputations for themselves in their professions on a national or worldwide level through their scholarly work. Throughout their careers, they have received several accolades. However, there is a marked shortage of these types of academics in higher education institutions, and their numbers continue to fall. The university's political culture is to blame for this mess. Teachers prioritise political engagement above scholarly research because doing so is essential to advancing academic careers at many universities. Because of this, a teacher's job search typically begins soon after he or she enrols in university. As a result, he/she stopped putting as much effort into teaching and researching. But you can't generalise this either since some individuals actively seek to distance themselves from this culture.

The main criteria for selecting the people who occupy the highest positions at the university should be their aptitude for research. If a teacher is not good at research, he or she will not be able to take the university to a higher level of research. Therefore, the government has to rethink the recruitment process for university vice-chancellors and pro-vice chancellors. The university would not benefit much from having a person with strong political connections occupy the university's highest office. Instead, those who put him in this position will benefit.

The time has come to pay more attention to universities. When compared to Western universities, Bangladesh's educational institutions look pitiful. The problem can be improved by tightening up the university's regulations. Conversely, the government may exercise more caution when proposing candidates for the most senior positions on campus. A search committee to find qualified candidates to fill these positions was said to be formed by the Ministry of Education. If recognised scholars could have headed the search, it would have been a positive step forward. Higher education in Bangladesh has to be updated to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the 21st century. A lack of worldwide recognition for our graduates and their diplomas is a real possibility if we don't start implementing numerous reform plans immediately.

Disgraceful details concerning the top administrators of the universities have been widely reported in the media. Moreover, His Excellency the President has understood the concerns and presented them in his address. We hope those involved in the recruitment process for the university's vice chancellor and the pro-vice-chancellor will take the matter seriously. Appropriate authorities should consider the selection of qualified teachers in this process. In reality, only academics supporting the ruling party will be considered for these positions in Bangladesh. It's also true that the ruling party is home to several highly competent educators whose appointment would be mutually beneficial to the institution and the party in power. Therefore, it's necessary to look into universities more carefully.

 The author is a professor in the

Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi

Source: Sun Editorial