<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 146 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 19, 2004

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Making of a University

Shahed Alam

Recently I was talking to a prospective student who came to speak to me as programme chair and to visit the university campus where I teach/work. The student caught me totally off-guard when he asked why the words 'Government Approved' were not included in the ad published on that day's newspaper. Incidentally, for lack of any professional help, I myself had written the text for the ad the day before. It never occurred to me that these two words would also be something that prospective students would be looking for! It was really a shocker to me, reminding me one more time that I have recently moved to my beloved country!

There are several issues regarding a private university. Private universities do have very high tuition fees. Given the fact that GoB (Government of Bangladesh) or any other entity in the country generally does not complement the budget of private universities with any kind of monetary funding, the tuition will have to finance the overall development budget of the university as well as cover the operating costs. Now if you take for granted that the tuition paid by the students will also pay for the development of a university, it is hard to lower the tuition fees without compromising the quality in the long term. So, take it for granted that the tuition will be high. Now, would choosing a university with high tuition fees guarantee good quality? Here comes the reality check, the 'Government Approved' twist. That prospective student whom I spoke about in the first paragraph did not take for granted that all the universities operating in Bangladesh are government approved. I assume that the clientele is getting smarter, indicating the existence of some present or previous universities operating without proper government approval.

On the same note, if money is not a problem for you, what should you think before deciding in favour of 'top tier tuition' universities? Is there any publicly available information that says the university governing board is using the 'operational margin' (i.e. profit) to improve the quality of education? Is it actually a 'non-profit' entity in practice? More mundanely, does the governing body act according to law of the land? If there were many choices, I would have recommended that you forget about those private universities that are operating for some time now. They are probably still on top, because they started earlier, but there is no indication that these first generation universities have operated as professional modern educational institutions or will operate in that manner in the near future. One good way to address this issue is to publish the university budget. It does not have to be on newspaper, which costs a lot of money. Now-a-days, almost all private universities have their own web presence. They can easily post their yearly budget on the web for public scrutiny.

Secondly, I think the VC factor should be taken more seriously. Somebody at the helm of a public or private university or some other 'august' public institution should not necessarily be the best choice. In fact, sometimes the legacy of a previously held public position could be damaging for a position as challenging as the chief of a private university.

Thirdly, if you think a little harder, you would find out that none of the universities in the public sector is working properly. The inflexible management structure, borrowed from the colonial era, does not work. For example, the post of Chancellor is a full-time position in most of the renowned universities of the world, whereas all fifty some private and twenty some public universities have the President or the Prime Minister of the country as their Chancellor. How ridiculous! The country's political leaders are fully occupied with their primary job at hand, how could they possibly be of any help for the betterment of all these universities? Let us say that the public sector universities do not have to think about funding per se, since they are funded through the country's public expenditure mechanism. That's why public universities might perform without much contribution from the Chancellor. But what about private universities? Who strategizes the fund-raising as well as quality education through teaching and research for a nascent private sector university? The Vice-Chancellor? It's an improbable task to perform all the duties being asked of one person. Universities such as Stanford or Berkeley have one full time Chancellor, supported by several Vice Chancellors. Are we expecting that some ex-VC or director of a public sector institution or a bureaucrat can do magic?

You might say that what can a private university do, except follow the management structure imposed by the government? Here comes the role of the governing body. The governing body of a private university has to acknowledge the challenges mentioned and try their best to solve then given the state imposed limitations. How? Innovation is the answer. Take the Asian University of Women (AUW) which will open shortly in Chittagong as an example. I saw an ad of AUW for hiring 'Chief Administrative Officer' for the university. How did they find this position to appoint in a university, even before they decide on the Vice Chancellor? Probably because they recognise the fact that if AUW has to hire a renowned VC, they should not burden him with the administrative responsibilities. If this is the case, given the legal and administrative structure we have, the Vice Chancellor will actually be doing the job of Chancellor!

For the moment, the students or their guardians probably will have to be innovative while they are looking for a good university, like the 'Flower-Pots' method. In the meantime, the founders and members of the governing bodies of the private sector universities will have to be innovative, too, if they actually mean what they say!

(The writer is Head, Dept of ECE Presidency University. He can be contacted at shahed_alam@usa.net)


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