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What’s wrong with our universities?

  • Published at 12:02 am November 19th, 2019

It's not the students

Every year at a time when various global organizations release their yearly university ranking reports, we see some discussions on social media, talk shows, and newspaper editorial pages about why our universities fail to secure good places in such rankings.

The discussions continue for a week or two at best and do a brainwipe while universities go an appointing vice chancellors who are more interested in making money than focusing on advancing our education and on the various problems that exist within our campuses.

It often seems like universities in Bangladesh are doing everything within their capability to make their institutions fail and thus rank so low. But why is this happening and who is going to shoulder the blame for this? Is it a problem that lies with our students, perhaps our professors, or maybe the higher education system itself? 

It’s unlikely to be students because we often hear news of Bangladeshi students doing outstanding research at some of the best universities around the world.

The same students who were in Bangladeshi universities where they had failed to produce any good research can be see publishing outstanding papers in any average, run-of-the-mill North American or European university.

We don’t even have to look that far as the same holds true for universities in our neighbouring countries.

I interviewed the vice chancellor of a private university about a year ago, and my first question was regarding the relatively low rankings our universities get.

In reply, he asked me whether we want it -- whether we have any desire to make our universities be recognized worldwide.

While I was struggling to come up with an answer, the VC -- who used to teach at a well-ranked North American university -- followed up by saying that, if our universities had that desire, it definitely does not show in how they are carrying out their operations.

There is tendency among our academics -- particularly those who are in a leadership position -- to downplay the importance of global university rankings.

This way, some of our university faculties are not only contributing to the poor rankings of our universities but their narratives of rankings not being important, are also discouraging policymakers from taking measures to have our universities try and do better.

The lack of political will is harmful for our education system as is, to demonize the importance of rankings only further harms our education.

One of the major problems within our universities is the documentation of research -- we are failing to let the world know what our universities are doing, to put it simply.

Our universities conduct next to no research and whatever research we actually do carry out we fail to showcase in any meaningful way. After reading an interview of Dhaka University Sociology Department Supernumerary Professor AI Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, I checked out the DU website to read some of his papers.

There were none.

The “research activities” column in his profile is empty.

However, I already knew that he had published some very good papers. This is sadly true for almost all departments and faculties in all of our universities.

Then we have the historically bureaucratic tensions between our universities and the University Grants Commission, problems with teacher recruitment, our admission system, backdated syllabi, and overall the way students are taught at universities.

However, the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when discussing Bangladeshi universities is washrooms.

Most washrooms in American colleges tend to be quite clean, while the washrooms in our universities are barely useable, let alone sanitary.

I mean, if a student is expected to deal with an unfair education system, bloated syllabi, student politics, overbearing lecturers, at least provide them with clean bathrooms for them to contemplate exactly where it all went wrong for them.

If there is any place for our universities to start fixing their institutions and thus advancing the state of our national higher education, let it be the bathrooms. 

Mushfique Wadud is a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Nevada.