How can higher education be improved?
I attended a two-day convention on higher education which was organized by University Teachers’ Network -- a group of socially conscious and academically upfront university teachers -- at the Social Science Gallery of Jahangirnagar University from April 11-12.
Teachers from different universities, both public and private, attended the convention to discuss how to improve the quality of education at the country’s higher education institutions and to ensure progressive thinking at universities.
On the first day of the convention, eminent educationist and public intellectual Serajul Islam Choudhury, professor emeritus of Dhaka University, underscored the importance of two things -- student unions and higher education in the mother tongue.
According to him, student unions are needed for ensuring social and cultural education of the students. Secondly, the quality of education has deteriorated over the years, because we do not have original textbooks and research works in Bangla.
Bakhtiar Ahmed from Rajshahi University presented a paper on UGC strategy, where he focused on the strategic plan for higher education in Bangladesh (2006-2026) supported by the World Bank, and also shed light on the UGC’s role as a regulatory body.
This is the reason why we see, nowadays, almost all public universities launching evening or weekend programs where students have to pay exorbitant tuition fees to get a degree.
A workshop was conducted by Prof Kamrul Hasan Mamun of the Department of Physics at Dhaka University.
He shared his own experience of teaching at DU.
According to him, the teachers’ elections for key positions are the main causes for the deterioration of quality education and of the academic environment as well.
Our universities lack international characteristics, and we have failed to draw international students over the years. Though once upon a time, students from different countries -- Iran, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia etc -- used to come to Dhaka University for higher education, these days our students go to those countries for higher studies.
The over-politicization of teacher recruitment also results in the appointment of teachers who are less qualified and more interested about proving their political allegiance.
This is why the truly meritorious teachers who are dedicated to teaching and research are being sidelined, and the less capable ones are holding the key positions -- both academic and administrative -- at public universities.
The second day of the convention started with “Beyond Public Universities: Experiences at Private and Government Universities,” which was conducted by Professor Rehnuma Ahmed. Some private university teachers participated in the discussion and shared their personal experiences of teaching at their institutions. ULAB Professor Salimullah Khan’s statement was found significant and worthwhile.
According to him, the teachers at private universities are not allowed to have academic unions or teachers’ associations.
They are also discouraged from teaching for more than five years at a university.
Professor Rushad Faridi of Dhaka University presented a paper titled “teaching and research” in the second session. According to Professor Rushad Faridi, we have to question whether or not a teacher goes to teach in classroom regularly, let alone the quality of teaching.
Other professors also took part in the discussion. According to Professor Fahmidul Haque, university teachers tend to write research papers in English instead of Bangla, because if they write in Bangla, they have to write it themselves. But when they write in English, they can insert many things on paper by applying “copy and paste” technique.
Teachers will now compile the recommendations that emerged and submit them to the UGC and the government very soon.
We know that a project dubbed “Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP)” funded by the World Bank in collaboration with the UGC and the Ministry of Education ended in December 2018.
Most of the public and private universities were included in the project. The aim of this project was to enhance the quality of education at universities, establish good governance, and practise quality culture in higher education institutions.
However, we -- the academics -- need to be very aware of the prescription given by the World Bank in the name of strategic plan for higher education in Bangladesh (2006-2026) so that this plan does not turn out to be a straitjacket.
Last but not least, we must have our freedom of expression and thought, and keep speaking without fear, in support of standard practices free of unhealthy partisan politics and mercantile attitude at universities, because we have to uphold the ethos, philosophy, and prestige of higher education.
Otherwise, our universities will turn into business centres or corporations.
Sheikh Nahid Neazy is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.