<%-- Page Title--%> Nothing if Not Serious <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 119 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

August 22, 2003

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North-North-West University
Shakhwat Hussain


If I had the wherewithal to start a university I would do it, and I would call my university, North-North-West University, NNWU for short. It sounds pretty neat. All the other main points of the compass have already been taken. There is of course North South University, globally known as NSU for its quality education. And there is East West University, Eastern University and Northern University. I am told that applications for South Asian University and Southern University have been submitted. There are a few more but it is difficult to keep track when the wind is southerly. My inspiration for North-North-West University comes from Hamlet who told his friends that he was “but mad north-north west.”

One has to admit that there is a bit of madness going round with private universities sprouting up in every street corner and new ones being launched every other week. First it was shrimps, then it was the garments industry (or maybe it is the other way around), and now it seems that establishing a private university is the new band-wagon that everyone is climbing onto. Almost anybody who is somebody, or thinks he is somebody, and has a bit of money, gets together with a group of people, also with a bit of money, and opens a university. It's that easy. Earlier it used to be poverty that was big business; now it is Higher Education.

Square inch for square inch, the two or three square miles covering the Dhanmondi residential area/Satmasjid area, and the one square mile in the Banani/Gulshan area, must surely have the largest number of universities and academic institutions of various sorts anywhere in the whole world. If Bangladesh is the second-lowest nation (after Afghanistan), in the world in terms of tele-density (number of telephones per citizen), we at least can claim the distinction of being the first in uni-density (number of universities per square mile) in the two areas mentioned. Simply, in terms of the number of schools, colleges, institutes, coaching centers, and universities located in the Dhanmondi/Satmasjid and Banani/Gulshan areas, Bangladesh might very well claim a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Drive through Satmasjid Road and Dhanmondi and you will come across DIU on your left and further down and you will see CUB (Dhaka Branch), and if I remember right there is PUB right next to a diagnostic centre. Look towards the left on Jigatola and you will see the signboard of another university with the same abbreviation, DIU, and ambitiously named, Dhaka International University. Further up, there is SU, and on either side of the road, there are at least a dozen universities, and sundry institutions and centres, all with foreign-affiliations. Somewhere in Dhanmondi, there is Eastern University, and IBAIS University, IUBIT and Central Women's University, American International University and People's University of Bangladesh, and University of Development Alternatives, and on and on it goes. The originality in naming is overwhelming. The name that stands out in my memory from all the rest is one institution that calls itself, “Amorous Coaching Centre,” just behind the police box on Mirpur Road. One wonders what they do or teach.

There is also no reason why Dhaka Government College shouldn't soon become Dhaka University College, and Dhaka City College metamorphose into Dhaka City College University. I remember Viqarunnesa School became College became University, and like a conveyor belt supplying quarter-finished products (SSC students) to its college, the institution promised to send HSC students onto the final stage in the university when fully-finished products with BBAs and degrees in Information Technology were expected to tumble out of the education factory. The University however was closed down before this could happen. Who can guarantee that today's Tiny Tots Tutorial will not transform into tomorrow's Tiny Tots University? After all, today's tiny tots are tomorrow's hot shots. The names really don't matter as long as the product is hot.

It is not quite proper to bite the hand that sometimes feeds you. Hundreds of well-qualified teachers from public universities moonlight in these institutions, supplementing their own meager salaries; quite a few former vice-chancellors and senior professors of different public universities now officiate as vice-chancellors of these private universities. If I am lucky, even I might be offered a position someday. However, it would be equally improper not to say something but an educational phenomenon that is arguably one of the most unique in the world. The proliferation of private universities since the Private Universities Act of 1991 has been staggering. About 45 private universities in a little over 10 years, and less than 15 public universities since Bangladesh became independent! Not only is there something very wrong and frightening about these figures, it is absolutely imperative to do something, and do it quickly.

The UGC, under its new Chairman, is now closely scrutinizing the operation of the universities. This is the body that permitted the private universities to come into existence, and this is the body that must ensure that they function properly. A committee has already found 18 irregularities; the size of the campus, the tuition fees for students, the salary structure for teachers, the number of full-time teachers, admission procedures, and so on, are some features that have been examined.

If higher education is now big business, the UGC has much more of a responsibility to monitor the activities of the private universities. This is what we expect from the new UGC Chairman, and this is what we believe he will deliver. In the meantime I have to get a copyright on the name of my university, North-North-West University.