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     Volume 8 Issue 72 | June 5, 2009 |

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Education in Bangladesh
Its Achilles' Heel

Mushfiq Wahed

They say Education is the backbone of a nation. But what if Education becomes a high priced commodity in a developing nation like Bangladesh where the need for educated people is the most to sustain the development of the country? It is quite a known factor that education is one of the major components, contributing to widen the difference between rich and poor. To add more on that, recently it's become an unaffordable need even for middle class people as the cost for proper education is increasing every day. This situation exists in every single level of education from primary school to university, and most evidently in private universities.

After the introduction of Private University Act, 1992 such universities were first established in Bangladesh. This act legalised the formation and operation of private universities in Bangladesh which led to an establishment of 52 new universities in the country within a few years. To safeguard the autonomous character of the universities, University Grant Commission (UGC) was appointed to monitor the private universities, besides already monitoring public universities after its formation under section 4(1) of the President's Order No. 10 of 1973.

Are they winners?
It is clearly stated on the mission and vision of UGC that, “As the statutory apex body in the field of University Education in Bangladesh, the vision of the UGC is to enhance and strengthen the quality of Higher Education. The standards of teaching and research in public and private universities in the country are the main concern. It also aims to bringing in qualitative improvement in the governance and management of the universities by establishing academic discipline, financial accountability and transparency. To ensure high quality education in the public and private universities, keeping in view the needs and aspirations of the people and the society.

* To develop the universities as centres of excellence which in turn will produce trained and skilled manpower capable of resolving socio-economic problems and contribute in economic progress and prosperity of the country.
* To organise and motivate the universities to act as change agent so that they can create new frontiers of knowledge through demand-driven and innovative research to cope with the rapidly changing globalised society.

* To assess the financial needs of the universities and formulate and implement plans and programs for proper and appropriate development of the universities.

* To foster national, regional and international linkages and collaboration in the field of teaching, learning and to ensure exchange of knowledge, and research.

* To help the universities in staff development, student mobility etc.”

With regard to enhancement and strengthening of the quality of higher education, do we really see the same quality in every single private university? The answer should be “No” as we are all aware about the differences between the educational qualities of various private universities. A lot of universities were questioned throughout the past few years regarding their educational and administrative qualities. Journals, articles, and reports in mass media further clarified the scenario, reflecting the failure of the promise for high quality education.

Grading Policies in different universities show us how the 'should be emperor' fails to regulate the educational infrastructure. University Grants Commission (UGC) introduced a Uniform Grading Scheme, in the year 2006-2007 to ensure same kind of result preparation which should be followed by every private and public university. In reality top private universities like North South, East West, BRAC, AIUB and IUB completely follow their own grading policy and they refuse to adopt the uniform grading system of UGS as the grade distribution in the uniform system is way too liberal. As a result difference in grade distribution never ensures the same quality education in these universities. Table 1 - provides us with a glimpse how different the universities and UGC think regarding grade and their grading policies.

Course structure in a particular programme in various universities is not the same. Even in some cases, the universities have incorporated unnecessary courses to generate more money from the students. Moreover, many universities are recruiting less qualified teachers who don't even hold a master's degree in many cases. Administration is making money by paying these teachers less because of their lack of qualification. Last year an allegation was raised against a well-reputed university in Dhaka for appointing a director in the BBA programme who doesn't even have an accelerated university degree. If this is what happens in the case of well-known private universities, how bad can the scenario be in less reputed ones? In the interim of this money making contest, such university management perhaps forgot about the quality of education and avoided the responsibilities of being an educational body which promised to serve the nation while taking permission for the institution. Sad but true, UGC again doesn't live up to its own expectations or pledges.

The 'should be' remains 'Shouldn't be'
There are many factors that should have been a concern for UGC but remained as an ignorant one. Fees structure of the private universities is a major questionable factor. Many of the universities are registered as Non-profit organisations hence taking the advantage of tax exemption from government. The picture in reality is quite different though. Recently, we have seen students from North South University protesting on increment in fees and ended up getting beaten up by the police force and being arrested. Also, allegation for charging illegal campus development fees and many other fees, which should have been borne by the university authorities is being charged on the students. All these factors are making university education a high priced commodity day-by-day and taking education away from the reach of even middle class people.

Unfortunately, the authorities from these universities fail to understand that there are only a small number of rich people's children who study in these institutions as most well-to-do families can to send their children overseas for education. As a result, we see that students from middle class families who are taking education in these institutions are being seriously affected. These issues come under the financial accountability and transparency code of University Grant Commission. Again the government agency exhibits its failure to introduce a universal fee structure to avoid these accusations.

To cope with the rapidly changing globalised society, research on various issues and topics are essential for the growth of educational environment. Private universities in Bangladesh avoid funding innovative and demand-driven research. It has been seen that many of the teachers are working as consultants for different donor agency projects but fails to work in a research and development wing in the university itself. Some of the faculties complained that the university registers them for 6/7 classes per day in many cases that they don't even get spare time to work for their personal researches. They have also mentioned that despite having higher degrees and recognition, the university never encourage them to get involved in a research project. The numbers of research work conducted by the private universities are not as high as the growth rate of these institutions. According to the mission of UGC, these factors also come under their supervision. Alas! The Emperor again fails to hold his promise.

Who's lagging behind?
Surprisingly, this question arises automatically when we visit the act page of the University Grants Commission website (www.ugc.gov.bd). The policies and acts regarding private universities are not given in the website. The Monitor of education who should have been the frontier of establishing and promoting 'Digital Bangladesh' has unfortunately been incapable of availing the blessing of information technology, hence keeping the page under construction. The website of the apex body is deficient to exhibit a digital copy of Private University Act of 1992 and the Private University Ordinance of 2008 initiated by the caretaker government. Having said all these, the question that arises is who exactly lags behind-the monitoring body or the private universities?

University Grants Commission should act more actively to restructure and develop the educational environment of Bangladesh. We all know any private organisation tends to do business. But their business should be under strict monitoring so that a core component like education doesn't become a luxury for poor and even middle class people. The government should take some initiative to make the apex body stronger and effective to promote and regulate education and the educational system in the country.

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