Dhaka University was born out of a struggle by the people of East Bengal for asserting their regional identity. It reached its apotheosis through its vanguard role in the struggle for Bangladesh’s nationhood. The year 2021 is significant for both Bangladesh and the University of Dhaka as both the entities will turn 50 and 100 respectively. Dhaka University started its journey on July 1, 1921 with Mr P. J. Hartog as its first Vice-Chancellor.
After hundreds of years of exploitation, the Banga Bhanga (Partition) 1905 emerged as a great blessing to the people of the region especially to the Muslim majority Bangla and Assam. Because of the deviation, the long neglected people of the region got the opportunity to be educated. But a section of the people opposed it rigorously. And opposing this, they made a strong public revolution. Following the mass-uproar, the then East Bengal authority dissolved the partition of Bengal in 1911. Later the East Bengal leaders asked the British colonial authority to establish a University in Dhaka for the education of the Muslim majority areas as a compensation of the dissolution of Banga Bhanga. Today’s University of Dhaka is fruit of herd labour of Nawab Sir Salimullah, Nawab Nawab Ali Chowdhury, and Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq. Although it was in the face of strong opposition from certain quarters at its beginning, yet after the establishment, it remains open to all communities.As we know that the Dhaka University Ordinance 1973 was passed with a view to bringing this institution under some sort of democratic and legal structure. Originally it was thought that such an ordinance would help create a democratic environment in conducting university elections, selecting Vice-Chancellors and syndicate members and other important administrative and academic positions. The Ordinance was also seen as a guideline for student bodies and their respective elections. But what we have seen in the last four decades or so is that the original essence of the ordinance has not been followed. As a university, the core of its ordinance was to make sure that it nurtures an appropriate environment for the practice of knowledge. But that is not the case. We have witnessed worsening of the situation while have seen the rise of unruly political activities.
In recent years, Dhaka University has often taken flak for excess politicization of its teaching and student bodies. And yet, the university is also acclaimed for its pivotal role in the great political upheavals of this country. The proliferation of party politics is omnipresent in DU now. If we take a look at the students, teachers or the people in the administration, we will see that the presence of party politics is very evident. Dhaka University has always been politically active but the scenario that we witness now is pretty different.
Since its inception, Dhaka University has been fulfilling the national leadership crisis. In earlier times, the students of DU used to play their parts in various anti-establishment movements. The proud history of Dhaka University's various political movements is intertwined with the history of creating movements against oppressors. The reminiscences of '52, '69, '71, '90 remind the University’s role repeatedly. During these years Dhaka University rarely departed from its commitments to scholastic standards where advancement remained merit based. But now most of the student bodies are dancing in tune with party politics. One-party politics in DU is an unfortunate reality now. Even two decades ago, we used to see people with different political beliefs and views maintaining peaceful co-existence. They used to show respect and tolerance to each other and paved ways for democratic practices in the University. But that is all but lost now.
We have to understand that a university is a place for pursuing academic excellence. University denotes: creation of new knowledge; storage of it and dissemination of the same. As a student of the country's premier university, we cannot stay insulated from the national agenda or politics but over politicization has created impediments to nurturing talent. It is now a common phenomenon that most of the students of the universities including DU are becoming obsessed with the administrative jobs of the government. They now start studying for the BCS and other competitive exams from their university years. This is because the incentives of government service have increased manifold in the last few decades. In early decades students used to aim for academic excellence and try to excel in their respective subjects. At present the University consists of 13 Faculties, 83 Departments, 12 Institutes, 20 residential halls, 3 hostels and more than 56 Research Centres. The number of students and teachers has risen to about 37,018 and 1992 respectively, according to the Annual Report 2020 of UGC. The number of academic disciplines has increased but the question remains whether their curricula are updated with the latest information or not.
Fact is that the students in Dhaka University are not well equipped with the latest or advanced knowledge because if that was the case, we would not have to witness a paradox in the job market. Most of the employers in the competitive private sector are saying that they are not getting DU graduates with appropriate skills suitable for the job sector. A large chunk of people from the surrounding countries of Bangladesh are now capturing lucrative positions in the private sector. This is happening because the employers and the entrepreneurs are not getting people with the right skill sets.
The result is pretty evident as we have seen Dhaka University ranks very poorly in various World University rankings, i.e. QS (Quakquarly Simonds) World University Ranking, THE (Times Higher Education) Ranking. In economics, there is a theory called Gresham's Law. It states "Bad money drives good money out of circulation" Analogically, it means, if a system allows something bad to grow, then eventually it will drive out the good from the system. Dhaka University is suffering from this syndrome. But the university still produces a number of meritorious students. At the core, the students of any university have to rely upon themselves for academic excellence. This is more so evident in DU. Now, we see a lot of excellent students coming out from DU but the university does not play that big role in producing those students. So, even if the university does not help in honing these talents, they themselves are working hard to pave their own path of success.A healthy political role can be played by the university once again only if a duly elected Dhaka University Central Students' Union (DUCSU) is given a lot of space to work and if the people at the helms of power can listen to the demands of students elected thus and work together with them to solve student problems.
The DU Order of 1973, which granted institutional autonomy to the university, and DUCSU, was intended to serve as a medium for democratic activities and to ensure a democratic university atmosphere within the institution. That mechanism has been affected negatively over the decades. Of course, the Order needs to be amended in some ways as well. For this, there must be some discussion among relevant bodies.
Dhaka University, once an embodiment of Bangladesh’s dream, a hundred years after its emergence is a mere shadow of its glorious past. It began well and the standard has continued to be fairly high thus far. If we look at the history of Dhaka University, we will notice that every few years it produces at least a few teachers of international calibre. Even today, there are very good scholars who are coming out from this University and publishing in the best journals and university presses and taking part in state of the art research. Being a student of English department I know, in our English Department, for example, at least a few teachers have published internationally in recent decades. We are confident that this is the case in quite a few other departments.
Of course, teachers could do better in terms of publishing work internationally. With the knowledge that many of our teachers possess, they should be able to perform optimally. No doubt a committee should be set up immediately to find out why very qualified teachers are underperforming. As the Bangladesh economy grows impressively and we are heading towards becoming a middle income country. We feel that Dhaka University is providing the right sort of education and preparing students adequately for the new job market.
Certainly, many Dhaka University students are still in high demand. IBA graduates are doing exceptionally well both in our country and abroad. Many students from English, Economics, Sociology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering are also doing fairly well. Students from various departments of the biosciences, the applied sciences and the pharmacy faculties are also working in many biotech, pharmaceutical and computer-related industries home and abroad. So, there are quite a lot of success stories as far as employment goes.
We firmly believe that most of our students are fully capable of contributing significantly to the betterment of our country even after it advances to the next level. However, over the last three decades the University over-expanded; far too many new departments were opened. Before launching new department university should assess the demand and scope of job market locally and globally. I think part of the job of a university is to open new departments in new fields of studies that are opening up and to evolve with time. However, such expansion should be done keeping in mind the student-faculty ratio, the job market and the infrastructural capacity of the institution, which includes the number of seats, available rooms, library and digital facilities, and so on.
When we talk about Dhaka University, we are talking about the best university in our country right now in terms of rankings. If we want to keep and even improve our position, we must prioritize quality. Limiting student intake is another way to ensure quality because each department will be able to take better care of their students then, resulting in more skilled graduates who could have made greater contributions to the growth of our country.
At the moment we have 50 public and 107 private universities; of which 147 are functional where 4.3 million (including NU and BOU) students are studying. Dhaka University has made and continues to make far more significant contributions to our country than they have in every way. We do not see how a private university can surpass or even come to overtaking Dhaka University. It is also important to mention that some of the private universities are also doing a good job in producing skilled graduates. We are confident that, together with our students, they will be able to steer the country toward a brighter future.
Dhaka University's most significant contribution in the last 50 years or so has been to accept students who cannot afford to pay even a fraction of the tuition fees charged by private universities. Dhaka University and other public universities are doing fantastic work in educating people who would not have been able to study in the university otherwise, become self-reliant and contribute to the country's upliftment. Many of these students go on to have successful careers and hold high-level positions. The entire family then becomes solvent and family members live better lives. People who criticize Dhaka University most often ignore this aspect. However, we believe that tuition fees should be raised slowly over time and marginally. But what we have seen from our experience is that every time the tuition fee is raised, the move tends to attract the wrath of students. The administration often has to withdraw from its decision. So, this has to be handled with utmost care.
To sum up, we would like to say that people have high expectations of Dhaka University, and rightly so. It has always striven to provide the best possible service to the country. It has also played an important role in key junctures of the country's history but it must continue to do so and not compromise as far as quality is concerned. Proverb goes that quantity without quality is a sure prescription for disaster.
Nevertheless, we cannot simply dwell on the past. We have come a long way in 100 years, but much more needs to be done if we are to live up to our reputation as "the Oxford of the East." We must evaluate ourselves on a regular basis and make changes as needed in order to stay on top and be a much better university in the future than we are today. If they are given the right environment and infrastructure, we believe our faculty members can take Dhaka University to a much more respectable position in world rankings in the days ahead.
In conclusion we firmly believe that Dhaka University can play a pivotal role in achieving the goal of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Innovative Entrepreneurial Education Ecosystem in the days ahead. Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Machine Learning, Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, Block-chain technologies, Quantum Computing, Big data and many others are at the heart of 4IR. In order to achieve the vision 2041 i.e. to turn the country into a developed one, there is no alternative but to leveraging 4IR, especially in the higher education sector. The concept of Digital Bangladesh and its successful implementation have created the appropriate environment to develop innovative entrepreneurial education system in the light of 4IR. For example, the establishment of high tech park at various universities of the country will ensure establishing industry academia collaboration and hence, the innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem within a university where DU alumni can play a significant role. This innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem will ensure the optimum utilization of the huge resources available in each university of the country. Thus, Dhaka University will become great entrepreneurs like Stanford, MIT, National University of Singapore, Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Tokyo University etc. Eventually, such an approach will act as the core driving force behind an innovation driven business model, which will ensure the economic growth at exponential rate as we have observed in other parts of the world. Therefore, Dhaka University authority may take the challenge to upgrade entire gamut of higher education system to cope with the demand of Fourth Industrial Revolution and Innovative Entrepreneurial Education Ecosystem.
The writer is a former student of English Department, University of Dhaka and now works as Director at UGC