According to the University Grants Commission (UGC), Bangladesh currently has 151 universities, including public, private and international universities. But these are not only the places where the students can pursue their higher studies. There are also several government and privately-owned colleges that provide higher education facilities under different universities.
Though we have a huge number of universities in our country, whenever the university ranking comes out, we have never found any of our universities on the list. And we have always been questioned: "Why are we not on the list?"
If we look into the university ranking system, we will find that the university ranking depends on six criteria – academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty ratio, and international student ratio. But to how extent do we actually follow or maintain these criteria?
Academic reputation of a university depends on the quality of the faculties and research facilities of the university. But it is sad that we have failed to ensure both of these to some extent.
When we think of a university teacher, we get an image that the person was the brightest student amongst his peers. But is it truly happening in our country right now? Do we only see the brightest students as our teachers? True to some extent but not entirely. But it is not the fault of the government. Nor is it the fault of the students. The fault goes entirely to the system that has become corrupt and allowed money, personal affiliation and political identity to take a higher place over merit.
Next comes the research facilities to ensure academic reputation. Our universities do not have proper lab and equipment to conduct higher quality research. We do not even provide the budget for that. And sometimes, if someone gets fortunate enough to get the budget, there is still doubt whether he will ever receive the full amount!
The problem of ensuring the first criterion, academic reputation, does not even end here. We have a structure that if someone has a teaching experience of 12 years or more, he can become a full-time professor. It does not matter if he has proper research or not. But if we take a look at the universities on the list, most of them use a different method to promote their teachers. In Malaysia, I have seen that one cannot become even a lecturer if he does not have a PhD degree in his relevant subject.
A university teacher in Malaysia starts his career as the teaching associate and only after obtaining his PhD, he gets appointed as a lecturer. After that, to be promoted to the next level, that person needs to ensure research papers and articles in international journals. As a result, when that person becomes a full-time professor, he actually obtains the level of intellectuality he needs to have. If we can ensure such criteria for teachers in Bangladesh as well, it can be very fruitful in ensuring academic reputation.
Another problem we have seen is that the top students are sometimes not interested in a career in teaching. It is because if we look closely, even though the teachers are at the same salary grade as the first-class gazetted officers, the facilities are not the same once they become seniors. Also, this discrimination is present in the civil service. The officers of the education cadres never get a wage more than the fourth grade and there are only two or three posts that has grade 1 or 2 salary. Conversely, officers from other cadres are getting cars and higher salary!
The same thing happens in the university as well. Though the university teachers are fortunate enough to obtain grade 1 salary, still, when it comes to facilities, they are no way nearer the grade 1 civil service officers. Also, we have seen teachers and university officers getting harassed by police officers that are not even close to their ranks. However, we have hardly seen any officer from the police cadre or an officer from the admin cadre being harassed by a junior police officer. The government should come forward to resolve this issue and they should try to eliminate the existing discrimination to encourage students to join universities.
The other criteria of measuring a university is also related to academic reputation. We have seen our students going abroad and pursuing an education in overseas universities just to get a better job. Employers do not trust the quality of education that has been provided to our students by Bangladeshi universities. And it becomes clearer when some universities in their recruitment advertisement publish that the person must have a degree from an overseas university to get the job! But if we can ensure proper academic quality, I believe this problem will no longer exist.
To see our name in the university rankings, we also need to increase our teacher to student ratio and remove the session jam. In the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they have 1 teacher for every 3 students but I hardly doubt if we even have a teacher for every 10 students.
Teaching is a key pillar of an institution's mission while another is research output. That is why citations also play a major role in the rankings. But where will citations come from if we do not conduct any research?
If we have better research facilities and highly intellectual faculties, university reputation will grow and it will draw attention of international faculties and students. But as we are struggling to build our academic reputation, it becomes hard for us to get attention from the international academic community.
We need to rethink and work closely to increase the quality of higher education. We have that infrastructure but what we need to do now is to ensure fair selection in the recruiting process of university teachers and officers. We also need to start a research-based education instead of prioritising a theory-based education. Also, if we can remove the existing discriminations in the sector, we can undoubtedly say that we will see our universities on the global rankings.
Dr Md Asaduzzaman Ukil, Controller of Examinations, Bangladesh Open University