As a nation-state, Bangladesh has come a long way. We have graduated to be the second-largest garment-exporting country in the world and businesses around the world now depend on “Made-in-Bangladesh” tags.
We’ve earned global fame with a Bangladeshi winning the Nobel Peace prize. We’ve confidently learnt to engage our womenfolk in our economy. We’ve started to expand our private sector in order to boost our businesses. The world cites our example in controlling population growth and withstanding and tackling disasters. We have even become the 24th arms-importing country in the world.
The full list of our success stories would be quite long. Unfortunately however, despite many indiviudal successes in research at home and abroad, our universities are not succeeding in making their presence felt in the international arena. Not a single Bangladeshi university was placed among the top 500 institutions around the world in the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2013, also known as the Shanghai Rankings. American and European universities have topped and largely filled up the list.
Many may deem the idea of Bangladeshi universities being placed in the top 500 as “too ambitious” in a backdrop and methodology that features only one South Asian institution, the Indian Institute of Science in the 500. Well, I beg to differ, intensely, saying that securing a place in top 500 may be difficult, but it is certainly not impossible and not “too ambitious.” To my mind, we’re not there because we haven’t been ambitious and improving the state of affairs at our universities has been neglected.
It is quite apparent that the quality of education at our universities has declined; no one would argue with that. So-called political activities by teachers and students have reached an unacceptable level and obstruct the way to improving the quality of education at our universities. The overall management at the universities is in such a sorry state that it’s not possible to make a mark in the international educational arena without raising our ambition and expectations.
An incident such as the recent holding captive of the vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University in his office for a few days, is rare in any other country in the world. Whatever the VC’s “acceptability” to some teachers and refusal to speak to them may have been, keeping him captive is unconscionable and should not be tolerated or expected from university teachers. When the majority of the university teachers are engaged in national politics, it does alas seem close to impossible to dream of achieving a place in global rankings.
Senior figures and VCs in Bangladeshi public universities were always chosen for tbased on political affiliations. Without any political links, preferably with the ruling party, it is almost impossible to become a VC. This practice raises several questions as far as seeking educational excellence at our universities. We haven’t seen any potential VC candidate refusing his/her position against this practice of “political appointment.”
I believe someone needs to stand up and say: “it’s time for the teachers to stop getting involved in party politics and start ‘education politics’.”
Teachers getting involved in party politics accrues from our long tradition of student politics in national life. Much has been said and discussed by a great many of analysts about our way of doing student politics in the last 42 years, but it is not justifiable to argue that the country needs the kind of politics by students that existed before 1971.
The glorious chapter in our history of student politics was fulfilled by and actually ended with our liberation. Post-independence politics by our university students can hardly be termed as “glorious.” Student wings of political parties at universities are now seen stripping off students from all forms of student-ship and not working for the improvement of students and education in the country.
We need to rethink whether this band of student-politicians could ever do any good for our education.
Another aspect that pops up when we talk about education and seek to achieve global recognition is the quality of research and publications. To our common minds, universities have a fundamental role in advancing research for the benefit of our national life.
Our university teachers, when they were students, have all excelled in their academic feats as each and every one of them was a first-class student. When they graduate as teachers, it must surely only be right for them to be allowed to spend their time on delivering high quality and world class research works. However, if our time is spent on party politics, our ambition for quality research may be a far cry.
And it is because of our “blunted” sense of ambition and expectations, that achieving excellent global rankings in education also remains a far cry.