Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, May 21, 2009

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya and Kazim Ibn Sadique

WE'RE pretty sure that all of you reading this article know someone who is studying in a private university, if you are not studying in one yourself. We're also quite sure that most of you know about the recent protests at North South University regarding the hike in the tuition fees. That protest has roused the 'dormant' private university population of the Bangladeshi students. Some of the students seem to think it's about time.

The fact that many private universities charge a lot of money as compared to public universities is not a secret. They have to make a profit. Contrary to popular belief, education is a business, to a certain extent. When the students enroll, they know what they are getting into. And they still pay the fees, because they know the quality of education in some universities are worth it. Not everyone gets into the public university of his or her choice.

Yet, at the same time, education is not a full-fledged business. Providing the not-so best or eloquent form of academics with the lack of proper facilities is not part of the bargain. Indirectly asking for a bribe or chaada is not what the students got themselves into. However, they don't complain. This very lack of complaint has led some of the authorities to believe they can get away with anything. It is commonly thought that private university students are “farmer murgi”. They lack the grit of the public institutions' students. There's lack of unity and a general lethargy. The NSU protests seem to have woken up the rebel in them.

Is that a good thing or bad?

As with most things, there's a positive and a negative side. It's better to have a student population who is more aware of their situation and their rights. We do not want the future generation to be filled with apathetic fools. At the same time, we do not want them to be uncivilized like many public university students.

What can we do to make sure the students keep their heads?

We can hope for students with some sense of logic in their minds. And for that, we need a formal student council. A formal student council at the private universities will act as a mechanism for the most important stakeholders of any institution (in this case, the students) to exercise their democratic rights towards their respective authorities. It would not only counter mob mentality to an extent, but also provide a platform for building qualities such as leadership that will result into a more multi-dimensional student body.

The only problem with this theory, particularly in context to Bangladesh is the rampant invasion of politics and political parties in practically every organization. How do we keep this student council politics free? As a former student of a renowned private university and the founder of non-partisan youth organization Jagoree, Rubayat Khan had some ideas. In his words,

“If there are independent mechanisms for tracking and monitoring the students, politics can be avoided from invading into the student council. This can be done by laying down a set of rules via a centrally acceptable authority such as UGC (University Grant Commission) or the National Education Council as opposed to particular university authorities. There are many ways to ensure transparency and effectiveness of a student council. For example,

Independent audits on the council's budget and financial management would ensure every council is financially accountable.

Elections will provide a way for students to choose their representatives.

No council member can be involved with a political party or spread a particular political party's ideology in campus.

A minimum GPA of 3.0 must be maintained to be part of the student council.

They have to be full time students with a minimum class participation, and can no longer be part of the student council if they are students for over 5 years

If these rules, amongst many others, are properly exercised, a student council at any private university may as well be independent of any political party's influence.”

As part of a democratic system, students should be allowed to reach out to their concerned authorities. Although the NSU outburst has been immensely successful in rousing these apparent 'dormant' students from private universities into a singular cause (and a real one too, as opposed to what is sometimes seen at public institutions) and disproved many pervading notions about them, it is also true that the students themselves expressed the need of a platform. As Rubayat said, the NSU students he talked to were feeling the absence of a common leader to put forth their demands, and thus had to undertake necessary actions themselves.

A unanimously acceptable student council can remove all these problems and act as a bridge between the authorities and the students. Jagoree (www.jagoree.org), in case of Bangladesh, can act as a youth platform that will advocate for functioning and non-partisan student councils in all local universities. The student council can not only put forth their demands in a systematic way, but also bring noticeable differences in the campus environment as seen by universities and colleges across the globe. In this time and age, it is probably our best shot at ensuring we get exactly what we bargained for and are not misled into false promises.



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