The birth of private universities in Bangladesh has passed more than two decades. Now their existence is a visual reality with significantly successful stories in most of the cases and with the comparison of performance of our public universities. Now private universities are not a substitute for the public ones and they stand by their own credentials. At the initial stage students opted for private universities in case of their failure to get enrolled in public universities but things have changed now proving the growing significance and standard of private universities. Our privates universities are saving 100 thousand crore taka in terms of foreign exchange which is nearly 60 percent of our annual budget. (Prof. Neaz Ahmed AIUB-Daily Sun Dec, 4, 2011). 100 percent ‘O’ and ‘A’ level students don't go abroad. Sixty-three percent stay in the country and forty percent get enrolled in private universities.
Private universities are blamed for not doing adequate research work as is mandatory for a university. A recent report says that most private universities are reluctant to do research which appears to be a major hurdle facing students in acquiring proper learning. Eleven private universities did not spend a single penny on research projects in the year 2011. Things have not changed so far. According to the private university Act 2010, institutions are bound to spend a major portion of their budget for carrying out research work. UGC says, “The commission hopes that for the sake of improving the quality of higher education and national development private universities will carry out research work. We still surely pressurize the rest of the institutions to do so”. The report says, “The rest of the 41 universities spent a total of Tk 91,52,684 for carrying out research work in 2011. On average universities spent Tk 63,20,797 in 2011.” BRAC university spent Tk 142304907 for research and it is the highest amount for conducting research work in 2011.
Government of Bangladesh has already given approval to the 56 private universities of Bangladesh under the Non-Government Universities Act-1992 and Revised Non-Government Universities Act-1998. At present 52 private universities are running their operations with more than 1 lac 90 thousand students. In the mean time, the government imposed ban on four universities a few years ago.
The government took various measures since 2004 to make the present Act in force, as void. In 2008 the then Caretaker government has promulgated the Non-Government Universities Ordinance 2008. According to the Acts of 1992 & 1998, Board of Trustees, Regency Council, Board of Governors were working together. But two different authorities have been created under this Act. One is the Syndicate and the other is the Board of Trustees, which tend to contribute administrative conflict. In the Section 20, it has been stated that private universities must have a syndicate of its own. But the vice chancellor has been proposed as the head of syndicate. In the Act of 1992 & 1998 the syndicate and the trustee were the same authority to act on the interest of the university. But in the proposed Act, it has been mentioned that the members of syndicate will be 9. Out of them only one will be the representative from the trustee. One member will be nominated by the government and the other will be nominated from the University Grants Commission. But private university bodies think that in a 100% private organization, there is no right to these two to make any kind of representation. Moreover, the chairman of the syndicate should be selected through the consensus of the members of the syndicate. In the section 37, a proposition has been made to form an accreditation council only for the private universities. But no proposition has yet been made to form any accreditation council for the public universities of the country. Standard of quality cannot be ascertained only in the private universities. So this section is very distinctive. Accreditation council must be very independent, neutral and free from the government control and above all belong to both public and private universities.The quality and expansion of higher education is much better in India than Bangladesh (In Bangladesh 7% and in India 12%). India is trying its best to move forward from their old nationalization concept and trying to flourish private sector higher education, while Bangladesh is getting backward by consuming time in promulgating this kind of Act.
Dr. Nurul Islam, VC of Eastern University, says, ‘there is no education as private education, no invidious distinction per se between private and public university education. Some people say private university students are self -centered, has no social commitment or higher motivation outside their worldly wise pursuit of knowledge. This is not correct. They have their own sense of social responsibilities.” People pay taxes and from their money the government subsidies the education of students of public universities. But an overwhelming number of students now study in private universities who as the same tax payers children -also deserve an equal share of government's education grants, subsidies, scholarships and other facilities.
There lies a tradition that private university students are good in English but poor in Bengali whereas public university students are good in Bengali but poor in English which should be changed and they must be good both in English and Bengali. As 40 percent English medium students find their place in private universities, things have come to this sight. Both the groups are the future leaders and assets of the country and so they should be trained and developed to face the growing challenges of the years to come. Still eighty-five percent students of Bangladesh don’t receive university education. So, we should try to open the doors of higher education for more and more students without compromising the quality. When we would be able to ensure real quality education, it can be a good source of income for us as the students from neighbouring countries will come to get higher education here. To keep this point in mind the government may think of establishing a separate body like University Grants Commission to ensure research and quality of higher education in the private universities. Definitely it must not be an agency of bossing or controlling or centre of education policies. It will be a world class organization to enhance research and quality of higher education.
Recently the University Grants Commission has conducted a survey on our five public universities. The survey covered the University of Dhaka, Khulna University, Rajshahi university and Bangladesh Agricultural university. The survey was conducted on 2 hundred and 50 teachers. The first finding tells us that depressingly low standard teaching is going on in these universities. A large number of academics cannot satisfy the needs of the students because of their poor performance. They don’t actually deserve to be teachers of the highest seats of learning. The survey says that twenty-eight percent teachers are observed to be extremely poor in teaching. The UGC has identified that thirteen percent are not at all concerned with research. Twenty percent teachers are doing well in this line. But the research they do hardly reach the global standard. It is also true that the research allocation shows a poor picture in our country. But one editorial of the daily Prothom Alo has raised a valid question whether our university teachers will start conducting good amount of research in case of increasing the allocation. The room for doubt lies here. We have many examples of increasing the budget but no good results accrue from those projects. Questionable means of teacher recruitment has been an open secret for many years. No measure is taken or even thought of revising it. Political consideration in no way can be given priority in recruiting university teacher. Private universities still prefer quality to political affiliation contributing to maintaining quality which deserves appreciation. The leading private universities recruit teachers having degrees from western better university to retain the quality. The phenomenon goes just the opposite of our public universities.
Many public university teachers take classes in private universities without giving due importance to their usual classes in public universities has been a fashion for the last several years. This trend has given rise to questions. When some professions allow it, our public universities teachers can also adopt this practice but not ignoring their own classes. Conducting classes in private universities by public university teachers helps minimize the intellectual and academic gap between public and private universities. Teachers will also take special preparation to disseminate effective classes and it will definitely offer benefit to both public and private university pupils and lessen their tendency to embroil themselves in questionable teacher politics.
MASUM BILLAH: Program Manager, BRAC Education Program and Vice-President, Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.