Education is the backbone of a nation” is a proverb that we have been listening to from our childhood. This proverb has become a reality in most of the countries of the world that are considering education as one of the pillars of development. From this perspective, the essence of higher education is immense in the context of Bangladesh as higher educational institutes produce future leaders of the country. Several higher education institutes including Dhaka and Rajshahi universities have played an important role in the development of the country by not only producing quality graduates but also contributing during the national crises like the Language Movements, the War of Liberation, the movement against military dictators and the movement for restoration of democracy for the second time in the 1990s. But, unfortunately, over the periods of time, the quality of higher education has declined. Rather, quantity has emerged as the most important indicator of measuring the quality of education. This has become a national crisis that has led us to a debate on the issue of quality and quantity in higher education.
Now a pertinent question is: why has there been a decline in the quality in the higher education sector? As a matter of fact, the decline of quality is not a consequence of a particular action. Rather, the process of deterioration of quality was started in the 1990s through politicisation of university administration. Over the years, the intensity and shape of politicisation have gone up.Bangabandhu enacted the “Public University Act” of 1973 giving full autonomy to public universities. He treated university teachers as the “conscience of the nation” with the expectation that university teachers would not only produce quality graduates for steering the country but also strengthen ethics and morality of the students by nurturing those in their individual behaviour. In order to avoid the possible political influence on the recruitment of university administration, he kept the provision of appointment of Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor through the recommendation of University Senate. Unfortunately, we have noticed that the Senates are not active in most of the public universities. In the last twenty years, we have not seen many instances that university administration has been appointed on the basis of recommendations of the Senate. Of course, there are few exceptions, but those cannot be considered as exceptional. Rather, political linkage of the prospective candidates has played the most important role in the appointment. Thus, the placement of the right people at the right place has become one of the significant issues in our higher education sector. As a result, once someone gets appointed on the basis of political consideration, they find it very difficult to ensure quality.
Appointment of teachers on the basis of political consideration is another important factor that is affecting the quality of education negatively. If we fail to recruit quality teachers it would be very difficult for them to offer quality education to its students. A very easy promotional guideline is also hindering the process of the quality higher education sector. If we compare the situation of the public university of Bangladesh with different world-class universities, it would be evident that someone is becoming professor due to his great academic achievements where quality publication is treated as one of the most significant indicators to evaluate someone’s contribution in the academic field. But, in Bangladesh, a candidate's length of service is considered as the prime indicator. It does not mean that publication is no longer required. Of course, there is an obligation of having more than one publication in order to get a promotion to the post of assistant, associate and professor. This sort of legal framework is not only destroying the quality but also making faculty members unproductive. Another factor is that there is no system of incentive and punishment for those who are devoted towards research and those who are not.
The institutionalisation of politics among the teachers of public universities is another factor that is contributing to the decline of quality in higher education. A large group of teachers is actively involved in politics as their involvement provides scope for them to become an office of profit holders. The provision of holding elections in different categories was kept in the law in order to promote democratic practices in the universities. But, over the period of time, this provision has been manipulated by the university teachers. Nowadays, an election is held on a partisan basis. Most importantly, the institutionalisation of politics has created scope for groupings and conflicts among the teachers.
Mushrooming growth of private universities is also impacting the quality of higher education very badly. At present, we are having 37 public universities and around 60 private universities in the country. Among the private universities, only a few are providing quality education. On the other hand, several newspaper sources report that most of the private universities are doing business without considering the quality of education. The existence of many universities is not only accelerating the process of decline of education but also creating pressure on the job market by producing millions of job seekers with Master degrees.
Finally, the central policymakers need to consider the debate on quality and quantity in higher education with great importance. The government has carried out many infrastructural developments in different universities. The government has also contributed a lot to the primary and secondary education by ensuring free books to all students and making education free for the female students up to graduation level. Now it is the high time to take some serious actions for ensuring quality in education. The government has enacted the Accreditation Council Act in 2017 for ensuring quality in higher education. Accordingly, the appointment to the post of Chairman of the Accreditation Council has been made very recently. Now, the government should form the full-fledged accreditation council at the soonest possible time and delegate them the authority to ensure quality in higher education. This will not only ensure quality in high education, but also help the government to produce quality manpower who would contribute to the development of the country in the long run.
The author is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.