• Tuesday, May 24, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

100 years of Dhaka University: A story of past glory and present despair

  • Published at 08:54 pm June 30th, 2021
Dhaka University DU- Syed Zakir Hossain/DT

DU authorities are set to arrange a virtual discussion program to celebrate the 100th founding anniversary of the university on Thursday

Setting out on an  arduous yet momentous journey with only three faculties, 12 departments, three dormitories, 60 teachers and 877 students on a 600-acre area of land in 1921, Dhaka University (DU) has in the past one hundred years blossomed into a giant educational and political powerhouse in all aspects.

As it prepares for its 100th founding anniversary on Thursday, DU now has the pride of housing 13 faculties, 83 departments, 12 institutes, 20 residential halls, 3 hostels, and more than 56 research centres. The number of current students and teachers has grown to about 37,018 and 1,992 respectively, according to the website of the university. 

At the beginning, one of the distinctive features of DU was its non-affiliating, residential character similar to that of England’s Oxford University. Such a unique state of residential facility as well as academic excellence paved the way to Dhaka University being labelled as the “Oxford of the East”.

However, since 1947 the university has had an affiliating mandate in place of an exclusive residential trait. 

It is noteworthy that Lord Lytton, the then governor of Bengal and chancellor of the then University of Dacca, in his speech at the first convocation on February 22, 1923 had said: “....this University is Dacca’s greatest possession, and will do more than anything else to increase and spread the fame of Dacca beyond the limits of Bengal or even of India itself”.

Political prowess

DU, which was born out of political considerations, has played a defining role in every important political event in the history of what used to be East Bengal before it became East Pakistan, finally emerging as independent Bangladesh.

Various political struggles, including the movement for a separate country through the departure of the British colonial power in 1947, the language movement of 1952, and major historical events leading up to the liberation war in 1971, have all taken place with Dhaka University as the focal point. 

Also Read - PM for building modern, environment friendly TSC at DU

On March 2, 1971, the students of DU hoisted the flag of independent Bangladesh for the first time on the campus and handed it over to the political leadership of the country.

Many experts are of the opinion that the role of DU was instrumental in the birth of Bangladesh. 

The repressive Pakistan army conducted one of the worst genocides in history at DU by murdering many intellectuals and students in order to break the political will of the nation. 

But the university marched forward and so many movements of the country were led by students and teachers of DU. These movements included the struggle for a restoration of democratic governance in 1991 as well as in 2008.

The long cherished quota reforms movement accelerated from the university that spread across the country was another political achievement, when the 56% reserved quota in government jobs was abolished in 2018.

Academic decline

While talking about the academic achievements of the university, noted educationists and alumni opined that DU had been on a downward trend following the emergence of Bangladesh, especially in the 21st century. 

Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, noted educationist and Ahmed Sharif Chair Professor of Bangla Department, said: “In July 1921, DU opened the door to higher education in this part of the then British India.” 

Criticizing the current condition of the university, the esteemed professor said academic excellence had been far better during the British colonial times and the Pakistani period of repression compared to the post-independence era of the country. “This university has somehow lost its own character.”

Also Read - OP-ED: Dhaka University needs to step up

“The quality of education has sharply dropped as the university has failed to address its main purpose, that of developing new ideas,” he added.

Fazlul Haque pointed to the moral degradation of teachers as the initial reason behind such a degrading situation.

In terms of global university rankings, like the recently published well-recognized Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Ranking 2022, DU has remained in an unchanged position as in previous years, at the 801-1000 range.

The university currently spends the lion’s share of its budget for the salaries and wages of officials and teachers. The authorities have proposed a Tk832 crore budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, with only 1.32% (Tk11 crore) for research.

DU Vice-Chancellor Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman said: "It is a matter of pride that we are celebrating the 100th founding anniversary of DU."

"There are many things to do in future to achieve a greater place overcoming all the insufficiency we currently have," he added.

Centering on the centenary celebrations, DU initiated a move to resolve the accommodation crisis of students by preparing a master plan. 

However, all the efforts, including developing the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC), are now at a standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DU authorities will arrange a virtual discussion program on the 100th founding anniversary of the university owing to the pandemic.

The virtual discussion will start at 4pm on Thursday, with VC Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman in the chair. Language Movement hero and Columnist Abdul Gaffar Choudhury will present the keynote speech on “Centenary of Dhaka University: Looking Back” as chief guest in the discussion.

Dhaka University, once an embodiment of Bangladesh’s dreams, a hundred years after its emergence is a mere shadow of its glorious past.

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