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

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 140 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 30, 2004

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In Search of a University
Shawkat Hussain

I grew up in a house with a front lawn and a backyard with fruit trees. This is now just part of my memory of a past forever irrevocable. I had real ground beneath my bare feet and real fruits to pluck from trees overhead. When my children were growing up, the house where I had grown up was gone; in its place had risen an ugly, multi-storied building with tiny balconies and small rooms. The children were lucky to have spent at least some adolescent years in a university flat with large spacious verandahs, and even if they did not have their own front lawn and backyards, there were big communal playfields and compounds. They too had some ground beneath their feet. Some years ago, I remember seeing a grand-nephew, about two years old at that time, standing on the tip of his toes on the grass on Liberty Island in New York. He had never seen grass before. He was growing up in Queens in New York and the nearest grass was beyond his tiny treads. For strange reasons I thought that just as houses should have lawns, universities should have campuses with open spaces, gardens, and grass.

I was having these pastoral thoughts about lawns, grass and open spaces, while sipping tea in the lawn of the Teachers Students Centre in Dhaka University on a beautiful late winter afternoon recently, and wondering if a niece would manage to get admission into Dhaka University and enjoy the charms of this lawn. Her chances were slim, because she was one of about nine thousand student seeking admission in a faculty where only 110 would be admitted. The odds were a little better in other faculties, but still, realistically, I thought she had only an outside chance of getting in. Her heart would be broken and her only consolation would be that thousands of other hearts like hers would be broken as well.

Private universities were her only other option and she turned to me for help. This was a new challenge for me: choosing a private university from the 52 registered state-approved ones. How does one go about the job? A How-to-Select-a-Private-University-and-Be-Happy-Forever book would be useful but there were none available. One could look closely at the different ads that appeared daily and make a considered choice.

There is the antiquity factor: it is well-known that, like wine, universities mature with age. At least two private universities are more than a decade old and have good reputation. However, the tuition fees are too high in both; also one has a scattered campus with 13 buildings, and the other is housed in two buildings that are surrounded by traffic jams throughout the day. These were strong deterrents for my niece. Besides she does not have a car to contribute to the jam and that just won't do.

It was possible that the motto-factor would appeal to my niece's literary sensibilities. Choose the motto that appeals to you most and go for it, I suggested. "Future will be better than thy past," promises one. Though a definite article before "Future" would have helped, there is a Shakespearean twang to this motto that is very seductive. "…Creating a Culture of Excellence" is the hallmark of another university. Such a resonating motto, uplifting and inspirational! Education is all about culture, except that this island of cultural excellence is surrounded by a sea of CNGs and cars in one of the busiest roads in Dhaka. "Towards a New Horizon" is the ambitious motto of another university. Climb to the rooftop of this university housed in the fifth and sixth floor of a multi-purpose building and you will see the sky meeting the slums in the far horizon. And then there is this university named after a flower that Wordsworth loved very much, but the motto is so unpoetical and ungrammatical that this university must be dismissed summarily.

If the motto-factor fails, one can simply ponder the different "special features" that are bulleted in every newspaper ad. The VC-factor may offer another strategy for selection. Since I have the privilege of knowing some of the VCs of the private universities, many of whom were posted previously to public universities and other august public institutions like the UGC or PC, I might simply send my niece to the VC I like most.

But my niece has made her own choice. If she fails to get into DU she has decided to go to the university with the largest number of flower pots. Flower-pots were the next best things to grassy lawns. She reckons that's where she will get her best education. I can't disagree with her.






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