Friday, 30 September, 2022
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Politics in Our Universities and World University Ranking

Md Khaled Bin Chowdhury

Politics in Our Universities and World University Ranking
Md Khaled Bin Chowdhury

Abrar was beaten to death allegedly by some BCL leaders of BUET. Many students of dormitories of BUET and other universities have experiences of the brutalities meted out to them by the ruling party organisation. But, none of them will agree to disclose their identities apprehending reprisal. Each hall has a gang of six to seven leaders who are mainly behind such torture.  Ruling party student organisations are engaged in feats of muscle-flexing every now and then. But, during the last few years this has increased manifold.

Why are the BUET students becoming more and more involved in such criminal activities? Do these perpetrator students also need not attend classes and take exams frequently as the regular but ordinary students? Or are they treated by the teachers in any extra-ordinary way for their political affiliation? We have heard that medical college students engaged in politics are also entitled to more facilities than the ordinary students in yearly examinations and even professional exams like FRCS or FCPS. If such rumour is true, then we cannot blame those students who are getting involved in student politics for such facilities.

We are worried about the quality of our higher education and standing of our universities in the global ranking of universities. We are concerned about the employment prospect of our graduates in the context of global competitiveness. But, how can we find our place in the 500 or 1000 globally ranked universities while the premier seat of learning in Bangladesh is reeling under   the vagaries of student and teacher politics?

None of our universities are ranked within the top 500 universities in world university rankings, such as the Financial Times or QS World University Rankings. The Bangladeshi University Ranking 2017 by Research HUB is an eye-opener for those concerned. It consists of two parts. In the first part ranking of universities is done based on research output in the years 2015 and 2016 by each university. The second part is based on students’ perception about 17 criteria of their universities, inquired through the Research HUB online survey. Public universities top the ranking based on research output, but the private university students are more satisfied with their universities compared to the public ones. It indicates that public university students are fed up with session jam, irregular holding of classes. Inability to make a position in the top 500 universities of the world on the QS World University Ranking raises question about the quality of higher education in the country.

Meanwhile, neighbouring country India has three universities making position within top 200 world universities in the same ranking. Other Asian countries such as Singapore, China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong has multiple universities positioned within top 50 world universities. The small number of research publications by Bangladeshi universities kin the top-ranking journals compared to universities of other countries raises also the issue of quality of research publications. The journals where many teachers publish are not listed in scholarly journal database such as, Scopus, JSTOR, Scorpus.  There  are  small number of articles published  in Elsevier, Springer, Nature, Routledge,  Inderscience  or  any one  similar to them in terms of impact factor.

The pity is that whereas we are falling behind in the world ranking, other universities abroad are making bigger strides in terms of quality of education and research. The researchers in experimental science may claim that inadequate fund and instruments account for a few researches in science and technology, but what excuse is there for the academics in the humanities and social sciences? Though Bangladeshi universities are performing reasonably well in teaching, they are far behind the standard in research and innovation. What is very frustrating is that we could not establish a single full-fledged research university after 50 years of our Independence. Nor could we declare any of our leading universities, such as, Dhaka University or BUET as a research University. Malaysia has declared their four leading universities i.e. UM, UKM, USM, UPM as completely research universities. The Indian government is going to establish five research universities to have an edge in the global competitive market. But, a redeeming factor is that Bangladesh Agriculture University (BAU) has made significant contribution to agricultural research in the context of global standard.

Our researchers always fret over the fact that allocation of fund in our education budget is very meagre. Currently, less than 1 per cent of the annual budget is allocated to higher education, and only a miniscule portion of that is available for research (e.g. 0.0135 percent of Dhaka University’s annual budget is allocated for research). A productive knowledge-based economy requires the education budget to be increased to the recommended 20 per cent of the annual budget, or 6 per cent of GDP, with at least a quarter of that to be fixed for higher education. At the same time, it is true that money, without attitudinal changes, will not bring about the desired results. Huge amounts of funds have been spent for Bangladeshi universities by the UGC through three rounds of the WB-funded HEQEP project, but any perceptible improvement in performance or ranking is yet to be seen. Will the authorities of private universities and government for public universities do anything to improve the nine areas of quality assurance in higher education?  Many areas of quality in higher education, such as, physical facilities, governance and funding for research are to be addressed by the management and owners of the   private universities whereas those of the public universities are the responsibilities of the government.  But, the problem is that even in public universities research funding is not properly and rationally utilized. In private universities authorities allocate negligible amount of money for research purposes. There teachers going on leave for higher studies   have to go without pay. 

The unemployment rate among our university graduates is more than 30 per cent. In spite of such a high unemployment rate among local graduates, the private sector cannot find employees with the right skills. This suggests a mismatch between the employer expectations and the reality. Technological proficiency, needed for Bangladesh’s ambitious economic goals, requires higher education to be science and technology-centric, with a major emphasis on research and innovation and a vibrant postgraduate research culture and world-class research facilities.  To boost up the position of the Bangladeshi universities, the rate of award of research degrees, such as PhD and M. Phil should be increased. But, the reality is that in proportion to the number of population, universities, enrolment of students in higher education, we are miserably producing the lowest number of PhDs. The bureaucratic red-tapism regarding admission, registration and progress of students in PhD programs in Bangladeshi universities are the worst in the world. The honorarium paid to the supervisors in the public universities for supervising a PhD student for 4 to 5 years is the most negligible. A university teacher can earn more than that amount of money by teaching a course in a private university in a month. So, why will a teacher feel interested to guide PhD students? Supervision of PhD students also has no connection with the teachers’ career progress, including promotion to the next post and increment. So, teachers are not under any pressure to take research supervisory responsibilities.

Putting aside research activities, normal academic activities in many old universities are not properly running. There is a hearsay that at a department of an old public university in Chattogram, a handful of teachers did not give a single class to a batch of students all through the session. A teacher of that department had an argument with a female student of a batch regarding putting on hijab by her in the class. The teacher stopped giving classes to that particular batch from that day.  That very teacher abused the spirit of autonomy of 1973 Acts of Universities that the four old public universities of Bangladesh are enjoying. But, people like him are crying hoarse for the freedom of expression. Another teacher of that department still shuns her routine duties of taking classes and students hardly see her in the campus. What shall we do with these teachers?  What contribution do they have to the enhancement of qualities of Bangladeshi universities? But, their promotion and career progress is not hampered though the students are the cruel victims of their whims.

In spite of all these anomalies, I still believe that universities of Bangladesh have a good number of internationally acclaimed academicians, researchers and scholars. I am doing my PhD at a public university of Malaysia. I have got my admission there not because I think that all Malaysian universities have better PhD supervisors than Bangladesh. But, what they have got is a very professional supervisory system. You may also need to wait there for one week for an appointment with your supervisor. But, he will give you constructive guidance and advice at every meeting.  There is no red-tapism and systemic procrastination. The universities there do not limit your prospect and desire for research degree. But, our universities are sustaining a very restrictive, de-motivating and in many cases inhuman system of research based higher studies.

Against the backdrop of the current fiasco in our universities, shall we blame only the student politics for the miserable condition of our universities? Definitely not. Teacher politics like the student politics is no less responsible for the sorry state of our universities. Nepotism at the time of teacher recruitment and promotion, the appointment of Vice Chancellors on the sole basis of political affiliation are eating out the vitals of our higher education. So, not only the student politics but also the teacher politics should be banned in universities and other educational institutions. This would be very difficult because the nasty nexus between national politics and student politics has been made inalienable. None of the major political parties would agree to ban it because they need student organisations to have control on the national politics.

 

The writer is an Associate Professor and Chairman, Department of English, BGC Trust University,

Chattogram. [email protected]