A morning with Dr. Hafiz G.A. Siddiqi, Vice Chancellor of North South University
It was a pleasant morning last week and it became all the more pleasurable when spent in the company of a renowned academician of the country Dr. Hafiz G.A. Siddiqi, Vice Chancellor of North South University. There was much to discuss and much to learn but we only had the morning at our disposal. So we had to make the best use of the time. Before going into the details of the discussion, we are giving below a brief history of the university.
A brief history of North South University
North South University (NSU), the first private university in Bangladesh was established by the NSU Foundation with the initiative of a group of philanthropists, industrialists, bureaucrats and academics. The government of Bangladesh approved the establishment of North South University in 1992 under Private University Act 1992. It was formally inaugurated on 10 February 1993 by Begum Khaleda Zia, Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The President of People's Republic of Bangladesh is the Chancellor of NSU.
The BOG is headed by the Chairman elected by its members. Mr. Iftekharul Alam was the founder Chairman of the Board of Governors. Mr. M.A. Awal was the second, Mr. M.A. Kashem was the third and Mr. M.A. Hashem M.P. is the immediate past Chairman. Mr. Iftekharul Alam is the current Chairman of the Board of Governors of NSU Foundation. Mr. Muslehuddin Ahmad was the founder President of the university.
The Vice Chancellor of North South University (NSU) Prof. Dr. Hafiz G. A. Siddiqi worked as teacher and director of IBA for long 22 years. Then he took up a lucrative teaching job in the United States of America. After nine years of teaching there he took the bold decision to come back to the country to join NSU, almost as a challenge to develop the private university when it was still in its nascent stage. Dr. Siddiqi remembered and discussed the vision and endeavour of the founder members in establishing NSU despite many odds that existed in those days. Some salient features of the discussion are given below.
We began by asking how did the founders of NSU assess the need for a private university when there was no such institute in the private sector?
In reply, Prof Siddiki said that at that time he was posted as Director IBA. A feasibility study was done by the students of IBA as a project under the supervision of Prof. Alimullah Mia, who is the founder Vice Chancellor of IUBAT (International University of Business Agriculture and Technology). Definitely NSU founders felt the need of a private university and the prime mover of the initiative was former ambassador Mr. Moslehuddin Ahmed. He had conceived the idea and then motivated others to come forward and join in the project. “We all talked about the prospects of private university in the country as early as 1989. We also talked informally about the feasibility of private university with Prof. Shamsul Haque, former Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University. But the idea was seriously taken up by Dr. Alimullah Mia. He then went on to establish IUBAT. It was set up before NSU was formed, but it did not get the recognition from the government. That is why we claim that we are the first government approved private university in Bangladesh because NSU got the approval first. Historically it would be interesting to know that the first private university was established by Moulana Bhashani at Shantosh in the 1960s, and it was named Islamic University. But it was not recognised by the government. The second private university that was established in the '70s was Darul Ihsan. Then in 1992, IUBAT was established. But NSU got the approval letter before these two.”
We wanted to know from Dr. Siddiqi what gave the courage to the founders to establish NSU when people had no idea about a university in the private sector. In his reply he gave a vivid description of the private university situation in Pakistan and India. He said that it was obvious that the NSU founders had seen the potential quite clearly. They had also known about some private universities already operating in Pakistan at that time like The Aga Khan University, which was established in 1983. Then followed Lahore University of Management Science (LUMS) in 1985. At present it is a renowned institute in South Asia. But Bangladesh went ahead of Pakistan eventually in terms of quality and quantity, said Dr. Siddiqi. “Private university in Bangladesh is a success story in South Asia, in terms of number of universities, enrollment and general quality. In my assessment, Bangladesh is ahead of India and Pakistan as far as private university is concerned. India has given permission to establish some private universities but at the same time it has closed down many because of poor standard. There is a huge demand there since public universities cannot accommodate all the students. But the government of India gave certain conditions to the interested entrepreneurs. Among the conditions were: one, thy must create an endowment of Rs. 10 crore; two, must have huge land area to establish the campus; and three, 30 per cent of the poor but meritorious students will have to be allowed free tuition. But the entrepreneurs did not agree to all the conditions and as a result the Act could not be passed. They came with business motive therefore they could not agree to providing free tuition to 30 per cent of the students.
Then in 1994-95 the government gave the deemed status to some universities. Finally, the government gave approval to the Private University Act Chatrishgar and Private University Act Jharkhand. Soon after some private universities were established in these two states. In Chatrishgar more than 100 private universities came up in one year. As a result the obvious happened. There were even two-room universities. About 80 of them were closed down within one year. Same thing happened in Jharkhand. Now in many other states private universities are being set up. But the entrepreneurs are finding it difficult to meet the strict criteria of the Indian UGC (University Grant Commission).
Now, let me say a few words about the situation in Bangladesh. Today nearly 70, 000 students are studying in various private universities and among them about 40, 000 are very bright.
I was in India to accept an award for Leadership in Education by a Bombay based Foundation. There I said in my speech that private university in Bangladesh is a success story in entire South Asia. No one can really put up a challenge.
Going back to the question of courage and vision of the founders, Dr. Siddiqi said that as he had the interest in him about developing a private university in Bangladesh, Mr. Moslehuddin gave him the offer to join NSU anytime he was ready. He was already teaching in a university in the US and was quite comfortable there. In fact, he was about to be offered US citizenship. But he said very frankly that the thought of doing something good, something challenging, kept haunting him. “I always had the conviction that one day private universities would do well in Bangladesh. But I don't know whether anyone was ready to leave a job in the US and come back to Bangladesh to join a private university. In those days people used to call these as coaching centres. No one had any idea what was ahead. But I took the firm decision to work on and develop the institute. The founders also had the same conviction and courage. At that time many illustrious teachers came from America as visiting faculty but none stayed back except me. What I did was like plunging in the darkness.
Are you satisfied with the standard of teaching in NSU? It was a difficult question but Dr. Siddiqi did not show any hesitation in giving his reply. He candidly said, “I would say yes and no. We have to go a long a way to attain the global standard. I must be very frank because I am a teacher myself. No doubt, we are the best in Bangladesh. But we are not close to Harvard or Oxford, we need to develop a lot. I would like to see much more improvement in future. To improve the academic standard you have to ensure several things at a time. Number one, you must offer academic programmes that are locally useful and globally acceptable. When I say locally useful I mean the graduates NSU produces must be of world class, highly qualified, and highly skilled people who can serve the business and non-business sectors and also other social sectors. Another thing I personally believe that it is not only the skill, we also need at this moment graduates who are also enlightened persons. They will work for the country, promote peace and work against injustice. Now, to offer such academic programmes you need highly qualified and dedicated teachers. We need such teachers so that we may attain the standard of Harvard or any good university of the world. We are on the look out for more such teachers. The supply of teachers must increase. There should be some joint efforts by the private universities with the help of the government to implement a programme which we call faculty development.
I personally feel without a concerted faculty development programme it will be difficult to meet the increasing need for qualified teachers. Unless we increase the number of qualified teachers the quality of education is bound to suffer. You must admit only those students who are really qualified and have the potential to complete the graduate programme within the specified time. There should not be any such thing as a “walk-in-admission”. This should not be the practice. It would only mean “garbage in, garbage out.”
Dr. Siddiqi also informed that he has requested the relevant authorities in the government to set up a scholarship fund to send brilliant students of the private universities abroad after graduation to do doctorate and come back to teach in private universities. In that case the supply of teachers would increase. I have initiated a unique programme in North South University. Under this programme, we are ready to allow study leave with pay to a young teacher if he/she can prove to be academically capable and can get admission in a good university. But the pay will be given on their return to the country. Eight teachers from NSU have gone abroad under this scheme and one has already come back to join NSU after doing Ph.d.
On the question of the job market response towards the NSU graduates, Dr. Siddiqi said that one indicator that may explain the position of the NSU graduates is that for the five years it has been seen that in many advertisements for jobs advertisers mention ;only MBA or BBA from IBA or NSU should apply. This is an indicator to prove that employers have confidence on our graduates.
Dr. Siddiqi informed that already nine (9) batches of students have passed out from NSU. The 10th Convocation will be held in the coming November. He also said that the construction work of the NSU campus on a six acre of land has already started. Already abut sixty-five percent of the work has been completed. They expect to move there in 2008.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006