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Why a ranking helps

  • Published at 01:02 pm November 15th, 2017
Why a ranking helps
I can recall the commentary on television and radio channels during Test cricket matches in the initial years of Bangladesh becoming a Test playing nation. Back then, Bangladesh played very poor Test cricket -- sometimes five day test matches ended in three or four days. During those depressing days, one thing every expert had pointed out was that the first thing Bangladesh needed to do was to improve domestic cricket. Cricket players should be used to playing longer versions of cricket in the domestic setting; and now, we have seen how that technique bears fruit. Our cricket team performed much better in Test cricket in the last couple of years. The same might be true in case of university ranking. I have been involved in reporting about education for Bangladeshi newspapers for five years now. Every year, during the publication of Times International Ranking, we were assigned to report on how far the rankings went down for Bangladeshi universities. Unfortunately, our universities are going down every year in the international rankings. When we were speaking to academics, they often pointed out that a local ranking system might help our universities to perform better in the international rankings, as this will create competition among the universities. Recently, when I saw that Dhaka Tribune and Bangla Tribune took up the initiative to publish private university rankings, I thought to myself: Good days are coming to our universities, because our universities have entered the ranking age. I believe if this continues, this will take our universities to a new height. In response to this report, on Dhaka Tribune’s Facebook page, I have seen some private university teachers and students have raised questions about the authenticity of the ranking. In Bangladesh, nothing is free from controversy and debates; more importantly, I think, this sort of debate can be healthy for universities. There can be debate and suggestions about such private university ranking accolade. Other media houses can also come forward to conduct their respective ranking, and our public universities should also be included in the rankings.
Many private university students now come from rural areas. It is even more difficult for them to know about how good or bad a private university in Dhaka really is
However, some comments on the Dhaka Tribune Facebook page baffled me, especially when a private university student wrote: “What will be our benefit of such rankings?” To many, it might seem that the ranking is useless, but it has a big impact on our tertiary education system. It is the students and their guardians who will be benefitted by such rankings. When I was involved in education reports, I often received phone calls from across the country -- some from relatives, some from friends, and some from complete strangers. These phone calls were basically questions about which private university is good. We have reached a point, for the better, when many private university students now come from rural areas. It is even more difficult for them to know about how good or bad a private university in Dhaka really is. And so, many, ultimately, get admission to low quality (and sometimes unapproved by the government) private universities. With a private university ranking at hand, it will be easier for students and guardians to take decisions when it is time to seek admission to private universities in this country. For universities, this ranking will create constructive competition among them. They will try to outperform others by recruiting better faculty, conducting research activities, and improving overall quality of education. This may even push universities to put in more sincere effort into some crucial activities, which are often ignored, like research work and publication. And this competition, in time, will help our universities to perform well in the international university rankings. However, when such initiatives are taken up in Bangladesh, there is always a question of neutrality and authenticity. Organisations often suffer from short-sightedness and absence of long-term goals. They want to see results instantly, and this hinders all effort to make real progress. The organisers should be very serious about neutrality and authenticity, and even internationally recognised experts in this field of rankings should be involved in the process. Only then, no one can raise questions about the ranking system. One aspect of the findings is very remarkable. Some comparatively newly-established private universities performed well in the ranking, while some universities, which were established much earlier, face competition. This is a positive thing, as there is already constructive competition among private universities. We can hope that universities who are below on the list now will improve to secure better positions in the coming years, and that the overall quality of tertiary level education will flourish. Mushfique Wadud is a freelance journalist.      
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