HomeBangladeshBangladesh has over 150 universities providing quality education?

Bangladesh has over 150 universities providing quality education?

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Kazi Nafia Rahman: Hasibul Alam Plaban enrolled at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Digital University in Gazipur out of his passion for information technology. However, as he nears graduation, he has found that the university is not offering him the necessary opportunities to develop crucial skills, reflecting a common concern among students in Bangladesh’s education system.

“Our instructors lack experience. With no professors available, they’re falling behind in digital expertise,” Plaban remarks.

The number of universities in the country has surged, surpassing 175, encompassing both public and private institutions. However, this expansion has outpaced the development of the necessary infrastructure and qualified faculty. This has left educators and students frustrated and unable to access the quality education they had anticipated.

Education experts argue that the fundamental aspects of traditional higher education are being overlooked. Instead of setting examples, universities only contribute to the problem of educated unemployment.

Former University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Prof Abdul Mannan expressed his concerns to bdnews24.com, stating, “There is no other place in the world with such a high concentration of universities in such a small area.”

Former Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, Prof AK Azad Chowdhury, also attributes the decline in higher education quality to the uncontrolled proliferation of universities.

Despite these criticisms, the UGC remains optimistic about the potential for new universities to deliver quality education within the next two decades.

BANGLADESH UNIVERSITIES LACK STANDARDS

According to UGC, there are 55 public and 114 private universities in the country. However, many complaints have arisen regarding these institutions’ education quality and management.

Dhaka University is one of the leading higher education institutions in the country.

However, a student from its mass communication and journalism department told bdnews24.com that they are taught outdated material irrelevant to current issues.

Similarly, a student from Jahangirnagar University – one of the country’s oldest universities – who requested anonymity mentioned that courses meant to have 40-50 classes end up having only 10-12.

They also said that teachers often prioritize teaching at private universities over their primary responsibilities.

Over the past 15 to 20 years, there have been numerous irregularities in the appointment of teachers, leading to a decline in the quality of education, the student said.

The student stressed the need for universities to plan for their future but noted the absence of such planning. They also mentioned inefficiencies in fundamental processes, like visiting multiple places to fill out a simple test form.

Jagannath University, another higher education institution in Dhaka, is dire. Despite its long-standing history, the campus has not been fully developed for over fifteen years.

While female students have access to a hall, no accommodation facilities are available for male students. The lack of essential educational materials presents a greater challenge than the housing shortage.

Only one batch has graduated in almost a decade in the film and television departments, while the rest face session jams.

With just four classrooms for eight batches, there are no labs or seminar rooms.

Wishing to remain anonymous, a student unable to complete his degree in six years due to limited practice opportunities explained, “We only have access to two cameras and one editing computer. I cannot use the computer because instructors often use it for personal tasks. Additionally, we need to rent cameras for shooting.”

“Some teachers rely on Google during classes, while others discuss their personal lives instead of teaching. Some prioritise appearing on TV talk shows over conducting classes, and the class sizes are petite,” he said.

Teachers also express regret that ensuring quality education in the university is challenging.

Mahmudul Hasan Rahat, an assistant professor of the mass communication and journalism department at Cumilla University, said, “Despite the establishment of universities, essential support is lacking, making our journey challenging.”

Farha Tanzim Titil, an assistant professor at Islamic University Kushtia, believes teacher appointments often prioritize academic results rather than teaching ability.

“We only consider academic achievements when hiring teachers, overlooking their teaching skills. Many see teaching as merely a job, not a passion. There are shortcomings in education management and policies, and teachers’ status and salaries are unimportant.”

Both educators also raise concerns about the housing crisis in their respective universities, with statistics indicating that 60 percent of students in public universities nationwide lack housing facilities.

Insufficient initiatives and funds are allocated to ensure quality education and a timely teaching system. According to UGC data, 15 private universities did not allocate any funds for research in 2022, while 10 universities spent less than Tk 100,000.

Prof Sadeka Halim, the vice chancellor of Jagannath University, believes that the budget crisis is a significant factor contributing to the lack of quality assurance in universities.

“To achieve quality education, we need to focus on the facilities provided to public universities.

Halim emphasized the need for teachers to have access to research opportunities and training, which are currently lacking.

She also highlighted the inadequate lab facilities in subjects such as pharmacy and chemistry at the university.

As a result of these challenges, higher education institutions in the country rank poorly in global assessments of quality.

None of Bangladesh’s educational institutions are ranked among the top 100 universities in Asia by Quacquarelli Symonds.

In the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, no university in Bangladesh made it to the top 800 universities globally. In contrast, India has 24 universities, and Pakistan has 8 universities among these top ranks.

Government policymakers express dissatisfaction with this situation.

Recently, the UGC issued warnings regarding admission to 35 private universities, while the education ministers also criticized university teaching standards.

Despite these concerns, new universities are being established without ensuring basic facilities.

Chandpur Science and Technology University, established in 2020 in the area of former Education Minister Dipu Moni, still lacks a campus.

Similarly, Habiganj Agricultural University, established in the same year, operates without its own campus, accommodating 180 students temporarily.

Sunamganj University of Science and Technology, Pirojpur Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman University of Science and Technology, and Kurigram Agricultural University are still functioning from rented spaces.

The Islamic Arabic University has also operated from rented premises for over a decade.

Despite the increase in the number of universities in the country, the number of students studying abroad has tripled over the last fifteen years.

According to UNESCO data, 52,799 students went abroad for education in 2023, many opting for destinations like the US, UK, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Australia, and neighboring India.

UNIVERSITY ADMISSION NUMBERS DROP

In 2023, nearly 1.25 million students passed the Higher Secondary Certificate examination, while over 1.3 million seats were available in higher education institutions.

Interest among students in many private universities has dwindled due to concerns about the quality of education.

For example, Dhaka’s Central Women’s University, with 3,000 seats, admitted only 257 students in 2022, totaling 564 students. The university’s research expenditure for the year was a mere Tk 20,000.

Similarly, Millennium University admitted 135 students in 2022 out of 1,500 available seats.

The privately-run Asa University received 405 students in 2022 out of 2,000 seats, with a total student count of 707. Notably, the university did not allocate any funds for research in 2022.

Despite the increase in available university seats, timely education seems to have become less significant.

According to UGC, 40.76 percent of students are enrolled in arts and humanities, 25.52 percent in social sciences, and 18.21 percent in commerce in public universities nationwide.

In contrast, only 1.26 percent of students pursue engineering and technical education, 8.38 percent in science, and 2.31 percent in agriculture.

With five decades of teaching experience, Prof Mannan expresses concern over the unplanned expansion of higher education driven by political motives.

He believes there is a lack of consideration for the need for universities versus technical institutes.

He argues that the education system fails to harness the potential of Bangladesh’s large youth population effectively.

According to the Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey 2022, 3.53 percent, or 2.6 million people, in the country are unemployed, with a significant portion being highly educated.

According to a government report, the unemployment rate among university and equivalent educational institution graduates is 12 percent, with approximately 800,000 unemployed graduates recorded in the survey.

However, analysts believe the actual number of unemployed university graduates is much higher.

Prof Mannan, the former Vice-Chancellor of Chittagong University, advocates for prioritizing technical institutes over universities, highlighting the high unemployment rate among MBA and BBA graduates.

He identifies the severe shortage of qualified teachers as the most significant crisis in Bangladesh’s higher education system.

According to the latest UGC annual report, around 16 universities lack faculty members meeting international standards, and nearly half of all universities face teacher shortages.

Furthermore, 72 private universities have fewer than 10 professors, 50 lack the required number of teachers relative to student enrollment, and 40 private universities operate without a vice-chancellor.

Emeritus Professor AK Azad Chowdhury raises concerns about the sustainability of the current university expansion, questioning the availability of qualified administrators and faculty members.

He emphasizes the need to prioritize quality over quantity in university expansion.

Prof Azad underscores the importance of maintaining quality education, cautioning against uncontrolled university expansion, which could compromise educational standards.

PROPOSALS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION REFORM

Prof Tariq Ahsan from Dhaka University’s Institute of Education and Research (IER) believes that the current learning system in Bangladesh’s universities is lagging far behind global standards.

He said universities should focus on creating knowledge rather than solely emphasising certificate-based courses.

He advocates for courses that prioritise applied and creative aspects to better align with the evolving demands of the world.

Furthermore, Prof Ahsan calls for the redesigning of courses to align with the subjects shaping the future world, and urges for implementing international standard policies in university management, especially regarding teacher recruitment, promotion, and student participation.

He stressed the importance of quality control in universities and emphasised the need for programmes that foster student creativity and knowledge development.

Prof Mannan emphasized the importance of updating curricula, especially in science fields, rather than just increasing the number of universities.

“Most public university curricula, especially in the sciences, are outdated despite constant changes in the field. As a result, graduates often lack the skills needed for employment,” he said.

He encouraged a shift towards technical, engineering, and agricultural education, “I don’t see a need for general universities in Bangladesh at the moment.”

He emphasized the importance of technical education and establishing institutions focused on vocational training and skill development, questioning the reliance on foreign expertise instead of nurturing local talent.

Prof Mannan criticized the appointment of government bureaucrats as vice-chancellors and suggested that academics lead the education sector.

He attributed issues in Bangladesh’s education system to the unplanned growth of higher education and the appointment of people lacking teaching experience.

Former Dhaka University vice-chancellor AK Azad Chowdhury noted the rising number of educated unemployed graduates as millions of students graduate annually.

“The government may argue that they aim to expand higher education. However, universities require adequate funding. Increasing the budget of universities is essential to produce skilled manpower. The government needs to take action.”

UGC CHAIRMAN ON UNIVERSITY EXPANSION

Prof Muhammad Alamgir, the UGC chairman, asserts that there is no inherent conflict between the number of universities and the provision of quality education.

“Establishing a university is a gradual process. Following a systematic approach, universities will evolve. It may take another 15 or 20 years to reach the desired standard.

“Progress depends on each university’s strategic planning. They will incrementally open departments, hire faculty, and develop infrastructure, including laboratories. This is the natural progression.”

Addressing the decision to establish a university in each district, Prof Alamgir explains, “Without proactive planning, it could take many years to establish universities in every district.

“Universities are not just educational institutions; they also serve as hubs for community development. They help decentralise population concentration by attracting people to smaller towns rather than solely to major cities. The establishment of universities is a comprehensive endeavour, considering various factors.”

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