Monday, 27 September, 2021
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Management of Public Universities Must Change with Time

Fakhrul Islam, PhD

V.H.H Green in his book, ‘The Universities’, said, “The universities were undoubtedly one of the most significant creations of medieval world. Their graduates helped to shape its thoughts to create a mode of intellectual discipline, to lay the foundation for a scientific culture, to interpret its laws and its customs and to administer it governments.”

Many aims and objectives have been added with the medieval era to cope with the present era. At present, universities are the changing media of social, economical, and cultural scenarios. The main task of ‘modern universities’ is to cultivate and generate knowledge with its dissemination aiming for the welfare and development of human beings and the living creatures. The view of knowledge for knowledge's sake, thus, has been replaced by the view of knowledge for the sake of change and development. University is the place of creation of knowledge and dissemination of knowledge. In higher education, universities are the institutes of creating knowledge and disseminate it to the field level. Among others, it ensures that it reflects and responds to the people living around it. Based on causal curiosity, a university rectifies the society to which it belongs and to what direction it should move. It is because of the fact that a university is the primary producer of innovative knowledge. A tradition-bound and stagnant society is transformed into a modern and progressive community mainly through the intellectual and moral leadership of the institutions of higher education.

As we all know, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman recognised the importance of quality higher education towards building a knowledge-based economy. Accordingly, the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh, as an apex and statutory body in the field of higher education and research, was established by the President’s Order (P.O.) No. 10 of 15 February 1973, which was deemed to have come into force with effect from 16 December 1972, the first Victory Day of the newly-born Bangladesh. With time, the higher education sector in Bangladesh has expanded significantly. The functions of UGC are now allocating funds to universities, facilitating the development of the higher education system with the purpose of upgrading the qualities of teaching-learning at the tertiary level, encouraging cutting-edge innovative research and development, and improving governance issues at the universities. UGC is also responsible for formulating higher education policy and quality assurance to meet the international standards and advise the government accordingly.

The major responsibilities entrusted with the UGC by President Order No. 10 of 1973 are to receive funds from the government, determine the financial needs of the universities, and allocate and disburse funds to the universities for their maintenance and development. In addition, the government allocates necessary funds against the Commission in compliance with this Order of 1973 for the development and maintenance of higher education and research, fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to the Commission.

The principle, on which the UGC of Bangladesh is based, like its role and model in the United Kingdom, is that the government shall not directly deal with the universities individually or collectively but shall deal with the UGC, which in its turn shall deal with the universities. The advantage of such an arrangement was succinctly described by the Kothari Commission on Education in India (1964-65) in their report.

The Bangladesh Gazette Extra (1998) stated that “The University Grants Commission shall be accountable to the Government for all the funds it receives and the way they are utilised. The Commission shall enforce discipline in the universities and shall have control over them. All government funds to the universities shall be channelled through the Commission. No new faculty and teaching positions in the universities shall be opened without the prior permission of the Commission.”

As per the Gazette, UGC usually sends a set of guidelines/instructions to all public universities during the period of budget allocation. On behalf of the government, universities are also highly requested to follow and maintain mandatory obligations. But it is observed that a good number of universities violate financial rules and regulations. It is also a matter of great regret that universities are reluctant to implement UGC’s guidelines/suggestions. In this connection, few examples are mentioned here:

The Annual Report (2019) of the University Grants Commission, published in December 2020, depicts that 72% of the allocated money of the principal budget has been expended on the head of staff salary and allowances. Otherwise, 16% has been expended on emergency and maintenance costs and 12% has been expended on education-related programmes. For research work as an individual head only Tk. 64.58 crore is allocated for 46 public universities. It is estimated that in the fiscal year 2020-2021, teachers’ salaries, allowance, electricity, gas, water transport expenses may increase. Though govt. has allocated Tk. 4290 crore, nevertheless this allocated money is inadequate because higher education is now more expensive. Over and above that, university authorities are disinterested/callous in the state of economical expenses. Universities have been transformed into an “Exchange” agent. Terms and conditions of appointment, promotion/upgradation have not been followed by the university authorities. Even the university authorities are creating new posts violating the principles/guidelines of UGC. Consequently, huge budget deficiencies and disruptions of finance are found. Due to the liberal policy of pension schemes, the number of pensioners is increasing gradually. A huge amount of money is spent to provide allowances, encashment of earned leave and unforeseen expenditure. An extra burden has been created due to the easy procedure of pension sanctioned by the government. The demand for increased budget allocation is coming up from the six oldest universities of the country to provide pension money for the teachers, officers and staff.

It is observed that expenditure on electricity is increasing continuously in the universities. It has been turned up to about Tk. 86.50 crore in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, with the comparison of 2019-2020, which was only 58.82 crore. Still, this trend is continuing. The focal causes are that the electric unit rate is high and the misuse of electricity in the residential halls. Teachers’ due outstanding payments are still rampant. Abnormal pressure is created on the budget due to this subsidy of electricity bills and other utilities in the public universities. Water and gas expenditures have also been increased. Invaluable natural gas is burning unnecessarily in the university kitchens day and night long. University authorities need to pay proper attention to these things.

Every university has a transport facility to carry teachers, officers and staff to and from their respective places. Transport expenditure is increasing every year. If there is no equilibrium between income and expenditure, a huge deficiency will arise in the other head automatically.

Every year the expenditure of University School & College, situated in the university campus, is increasing. Initiatives should be taken to find out resources to generate their own income. With this end in view, the UGC has prepared few documents in the recent days, such as:

(a) A Uniform Accounts Manual and Financial Guidelines for all public universities;

(b) To bring uniformity in the recruitment, UGC has formulated a unified recruitment, promotion and up-gradation policy for teachers of the public universities;

(c) To ensure transparency and accountability in financial management of the public universities

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software is going to be launched soon.

In Bangladesh, public universities are run by the state. That is why these universities are reluctant to generate revenue from their own resources. In our country only TK. 20 is charged as a monthly tuition fee from each student. To collect TK. 20, we have to invest TK. 40 in some cases. Nowhere in the world is education so cheap. In many countries of the world, universities collect money from different sources through their own endeavours. They are less dependent on government allocation. For example, the University of War Wick, the University of Keel, England, and Macquarie University, Queensland University, Australia, earn above 80% revenue from their own resources by adopting various endeavours. Renowned universities across the world collect revenue by establishing hotels, hospitals, restaurants, IT and Innovation hubs, auditoriums, fishery projects, agricultural projects in the campus area. Besides this, they deposit a portion of their earned money by doing research and consultancy. Alumni association plays a vital and progressive role in this regard. In SAARC countries, even Pakistan also collects about 50% of revenue from their own resources. There are many glaring pieces of evidence in today’s global world.

We should mobilise internal resources so that we can preserve autonomy in our public universities in the true sense. Students’ tuition fees should be increased, but we must ensure that poor and meritorious students can acquire knowledge through poor funds. At the same time, universities should be frugal on the point of expenses. A culture of fairness and accountability should be established in all public universities. Simultaneously, we must create a congenial environment for good governance, higher education and research.

The University Ordinance of 1973 has given enormous autonomy to the universities. The main autonomous part is the financial autonomy of the universities. On the whole, universities are run by 100% govt. donation and grants. In the present era, the autonomy of university is a great question mark. The University Ordinance of 1973 was promulgated to control financial misappropriation, low standard of education, political interference, lack of teachers’ accountability, terrorism, session jam, delay to publish the result of examination etc. This was promulgated to attain academic freedom and democratic management of the university affairs. Enormous power is entrusted to the university syndicate. The university authority sometimes misuses this power. As a result, financial management and educational programmes are disrupted.

In conclusion, it is evident that the system, mission, and goal of higher education have changed all over the world. In order to keep pace with the changing world, we also need to reshape and reorganise our entire gamut of administration and management system of higher education. The need of the hour is quantitative expansion without undermining the quality of higher education, maximum utilisation of existing resources and directional change. Like other institutions in a democratic society, universities should take all necessary measures for changing the mobilisation of their own resources towards the achievement of the goals for which universities are established.

 

The write is a researcher and now works as Director at the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh