In Search of a University
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
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.
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.