Is Dhaka University’s poor ranking a surprise?

When we started our journey in higher education in the mid-1980s, the public universities, especially the University of Dhaka, were the breweries of political turmoil, gun-slinging and to a great extent, the fertile grounds of drug addiction. The then ruler wanted to contain the students’ political organizations at the universities and the students’ organizations wanted the ruler to go. Gunfights between and among opposing parties were frequent at the university campuses. The authorities had no choice but to vacate the halls of residence for an indefinite period of time. We termed the unannounced vacations as ‘Ershad vacation’.
Anybody who studied at Dhaka University at that time would certainly agree with me that defining the focus of education was a difficult task. Politics also infected the teachers who got divided into panels of various colours and political dimensions. We had seen many teachers getting their entry into the universities to teach on political considerations. They were however not very successful as teachers.
We didn’t hear about any rankings for the universities. After all, we all saw that the political leaders were using the students for national politics. Our four-year course at Dhaka University took eight years to complete. We thought that was our destiny; we were fated to be a bunch of students who would mostly be government bureaucrats. We passed through a collective depression as far as our education and future were concerned.
In that psychologically challenging and physically unsafe time, we still had hopes. We had all stalwart teachers of that era as our educators. Many of them were very serious about our education and tried their best to teach us. They also were struggling to do everything they could to educate us. They too perhaps didn’t have any idea about university rankings at that time. We never heard them talking about such matters.
The only thought that drove us through WAS that we were all studying at the [so-called] Oxford of the East. We thought our university was the best in the region; we don’t know why. We even gave cold shoulders to the students who used to join us after graduating from Indian universities.
After the fall of the autocrat, the atmosphere at the public universities slowly calmed down and ‘session jams’ were gradually eliminated. The students no longer waited for eight years to get their master degree.
But then came the ranking-related news. In the past few years, we had seen our university sliding away from a considerably-respected rank to NEAR oblivion. The latest ranking by Times Higher Education magazine said that only Dhaka University, often dubbed the Oxford of the East, made it to the list of 1,396 universities. But the university was not even among the best 1,000, among which are 36 Indian universities. Even Pakistan has seven universities among the best 1,000, while Sri Lankan has one.
So, Dhaka University is still the best in Bangladesh! Wow! That’s great news for us who had their degrees from it!
Is that a concern for us that our university has gone out of the top 1000? Should we be worried about it? Should we be surprised and realise that we had an eventual fall and do something about it? Or should we just sit back and take it for granted that it was destined to be? Can anything worse happen to Dhaka University other than this? Do we want a Dhaka University better than this?
These are a few questions that need to be answered? In clear terms.
A university needs to do quite a lot of research. People involved with the university have been claiming that the research budget at DU is very poor. They also say that there’s a lack of quality research publications. I remember we used to purchase university magazines and journals when we were students during those days. I don’t know whether they still publish them.
There’s also an allegation that nowadays classrooms see very little quality studying. Now, why would there be quality studying in the classrooms? We have all first-class-first securers as the faculty members at the university. The recruitment of faculty members is a problem. They are either being recruited on political considerations or the first-class-firsts are being recruited as teachers. I don’t think the first-class-firsts can always be world-class teachers.
They also say that students nowadays are more concerned with earning their livelihood than learning. If the students lose interest in learning, the teachers would also lose interest in teaching. The teachers are already too busy teaching at private universities. A large number of faculty members had not come back after they had gone abroad for higher studies. And the administrative officials are more interested in politics than improving academic standards of the university.
It’s in this backdrop the latest ranking of our university hasn’t come as a surprise. It is what we want to do with the university. If you want education, the education would certainly improve, but if you want other things rather than education, education would experience a further decline.
First published on Bangla Tribune.

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