Going after numbers, while ignoring quality, seems to have been our national objective for a long time.
With anything that we do or build, our aim has always been to do as much as we can, disregarding the feasibility or sustainability of what we are building.
Take the number of universities in the country, for example. Following the recent approval of two more privately-run universities, the number of such universities in Bangladesh now stands at 101. If we add 40 public universities to the list, the total number stands at 141.
There’s no denying that it’s a big number for universities. The number of television channels can also be thought of in this way, but that is not my subject today.
According to news reports, a total of 30 universities don’t have vice chancellors who are appointed by the chancellor. There are no deputy vice chancellors in 70 universities. In 52 universities, the post of treasurer is vacant. A total of 33 universities don’t have their own campus. Overall, only about 20 universities are up and running and have some quality.
So, the question of quality has come to the fore in these institutions that have been mushrooming for more than two decades. Before establishing these institutions, our public universities had been failing to house students seeking higher studies, most of whom didn’t know where to get admission. We saw a huge number of students go to countries such as India, Thailand, and Malaysia to complete their education.
When these new universities showed up in the horizon, people welcomed them with relief. After quite a lot of trials and tribulations, a few of them had shown their commitment to contribute to the country’s education sector, but unfortunately, most of them could not make any headway in the right direction. Everybody, every share-holder, thought setting up a university was one of the quickest ways to make money.
The government also fell into the trap, like it always does in many cases, allowing these privately-run institutions to grow in number without even thinking of what kind of education would be imparted. The government is still in the process of approving more such institutions — in many cases political consideration is in play in the approval process.
It looks like the approval authority, or whoever is behind the approval process, doesn’t have any plan and vision as far as the higher education of the country is concerned. Universities aren’t coaching centres, where one fine morning you just rent a few rooms and start lecturing to students. Universities require good infrastructure, and above all, they require a faculty of a minimum standard, who really have the ability to teach.
Does the approval authority know the level of skills of those who are teaching in these institutions? Probably not.
One of the most serious crises that these institutions face is the lack of teachers. We all know that the quality of education depends of the quality of teachers.
Then, the professional skills of those who are administering these institutions also come into question. These universities may be free of session jams, but over the last two decades, their campuses have become the storehouses for various kinds of problems.
There are allegations that narcotics traders have infested students with drug addiction, and local and international militancy-mongers have been trying to pollute the atmosphere of these institutions with religious radicalism.
We must keep in mind that about 63% of all students of Bangladesh study in private universities.
The government should now be attentive to ensure the quality in these institutions if we really want our professional workforce to attain excellence.
But unfortunately, whenever the government tries to ensure quality, they only think of governance-compliance without considering the quality of “education.” It tries to regulate these universities with an iron hand, but regulating or governing institutions of higher education is an art, and it has to be done with extreme finesse. However, our authorities don’t, perhaps, know what finesse is.
Why doesn’t the government promote mergers in this arena?
Most of these institutions seem to have run out of their capital expenditure and operational expenditure. Running a university isn’t an easy task. It’s not a task for those share-holders with a quick-buck mentality.
Universities: No one is asking you to stop making money from these institutions. But do make the money sensibly — when you get an approval for running a university, you need to think you have been given an approval of shouldering a great responsibility, not just running a neighbourhood playground.
It’s time for most of these universities to get merged with the serious and successful ones, so that some sort of quality is ensured; for them to impart education, to contribute to our families and national economy. Otherwise, we may experience educational bankruptcy very soon.
First published by Dhaka Tribune of Bangladesh.