Research work, one of the key factors behind a university's academic strength and fame, is almost absent from the country's premier institution for higher education – the University of Dhaka.
Most of the university's 60 research centres exist nominally only in the university's annual report and, of course, its budget book. There are no researchers or publications.
The very few centres that still continue research activities are also faring very poorly, producing works that are below par.
The absence of research activity and the poor quality of published works are hurting the university's international ranking, too.
The Nazrul Research Centre is one of the oldest but there has been no research and no publications since it was established in 1988, 12 years after the death of National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.
With no room and no staff of its own, the activities of the centre are run from the room of its Director Professor Dr Begum Akter Kamal. The room belongs to the Department of Bangla.
Dr Begum Akter, a Nazrul researcher, said the centre has organised four seminars in the past five years.
She said she had urged the university authorities several times to allocate rooms and appoint staff, but in vain.
Dr Begum Akter said poor amounts of funds are the key reason why no research has been possible so far.
"I have received Tk5 lakh from the authorities but it is impossible to do research with this amount of money. And how will I publish a research book when I have no researcher?" said the academician.
"I have a plan to publish a book with the articles presented in seminars at the centre," said Dr Begum Akter Kamal, author of "Nazrul Dristri O Srishti", which she self-published in 2018.
Professor Md Rafiqul Islam, founding director of the centre, told The Business Standard is disappointed with the centre's current state.
"We organised many seminars and tried to do something new. But we failed as the university administration did not allocate any room even after repeated requests," he said.
Ajoy Ray, a deputy registrar at Dhaka University, admitted that the centre is in a poor state.
"Of course, it is bad but I cannot make any further comments because the university's Syndicate approves research centres.
Five jewels out of 60
Dhaka University has 60 research centres – 45 of them have been established after 2000.
The Economic Research Bureau, the university's first research centre established in 1956, is one of the five that are doing well.
The four other centres are the Bureaue of Business Research, the Centre for Advanced Research in Sciences, the Centre for Advanced Studies and Research in Biological Sciences, and the Semiconductor Technology Research Centre.
However, only six of the DU research centres have web presence. Only seven have active researchers who are engaged in research at present.
The university allocated Tk40.80 crore – 5 percent of the university's total budget – for research centres and teachers' personal and departmental research in 2019-20 fiscal year.
The allocation for all 60 research centres of Dhaka University is less than Tk15 crore.
Most of the research centres spend the fund for seminars and trainings.
No publication, no address
There are a few centres, such as the Delta Research Centre, which have not done any research in the last 20 years.
The Centre for Bangladesh Studies was established in 2000 and has had many directors since. But it has no publication and no official address now.
It has been without a director since 2018.
The immediate past director, Professor Dr Rafiqullah Khan, told The Business Standard that the university authorities were requested to allocate a room and increase budgetary allocation.
"But our request fell on deaf ears. The centre exists in name only. I do not know if anything was done by the authorities after I left," said Dr Rafiqullah who is now the vice-chancellor of Sheikh Hasina University.
The centre receives an allocation of Tk4 lakh for research and other activities.
The condition of Nazmul Karim Study Centre is a bit better. It has a room in the Lecture Theatre building. It began its journey in 2000 but does not have any publication. It usually collects write-ups from Dhaka University teachers and researchers from elsewhere in the country, and publishes those annually.
Nasrin Pathan, an official of the centre, said she just receives the contributions and prepares a record of those.
"We have no permanent researcher. We have no research fellow either. We are not doing any research under our own supervision," she said.
Professor Dr Nehal Karim, director of the centre, told The Business Standard that the university teachers have no real interest in research, and most of them do research only to be promoted.
"Once they get promoted, they are no longer associated with any research activity. I have tried to get teachers involved in research but received poor response," he said.
Dr Nehal said there is no supervision of the performance of the research centres by the university.
The Centre for Policy Research on Business and Development was established in 2011 with the target to conduct research on business and development. However, the performance of the centre is no different from the others.
Its Director Professor Dr SM Mahfuzur Rahman also said teachers have no real passion for research.
"There are over 2,000 teachers at the university but most of them do research to get promotion and other benefits. Only a few researchers are creating new knowledge," he said.
The Bose Centre for Advanced Study and Research in Natural Sciences usually gets the second highest budgetary allocation in terms of research. But the last time it appointed research fellows was three years ago.
Professor Dr Supriya Shaha, director of the centre, told The Business Standard: "We were busy with 13 previous research projects but will appoint new researchers this year."
Inadequate research funds
Almost all the directors of the research centres blamed inadequate budgetary allocations for the poor state of research. They said hiring skilled researchers is impossible without sufficient funds.
They also said the university authorities are not sincere in improving research work and quality.
Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Akhtaruzzaman told The Business Standard that they were trying to increase research activities at the university.
"I have requested all faculties to concentrate on quality, international standard research. I have also requested the directors of the research centres to run their centres properly," he said.
"We will take action against the director of a centre who is not carrying out their duties. We will also do everything necessary to improve research work at the university," he added.
University ranking affected
The pitiful condition of research is one of the key reasons Dhaka University did not appear in the Asia University Rankings 2019 – a list of 417 universities by the London-based Times Higher Education (THE) magazine.
Among the South Asian countries, India has the highest number of institutions, followed by Pakistan with nine universities in the ranking. There is also one Sri Lankan university and one Nepali university on the list.
Dhaka University was at the 127th spot on the QS Asia University Ranking 2019 published in October 2018. Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) secured the 175th position.
QS Asia University Ranking is a ranking of Asia's 500 best universities.
Former Dhaka University VC and former University Grants Commission chairman, Professor Dr AK Azad Chowdhury said the university was positioned near the top in ranking of South Asian universities between 1995 and 2000.
"We had tried to do world-class research work. Now that the university has slipped in ranking, the authorities must take action," he added.
What experts say
Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury expressed grave concerns over the present situation of research centres, wondering how a centre runs without researchers and designated rooms.
"This is unique in the world," he said.
Recalling the bygone days, the eminent educator said: "The Centre for Advance Research in Humanities was established when I was the dean of the Arts Faculty. The goal of the centre was to grant fellowships to researchers. It was also in good condition at the time.
"Most of the research centres were established by influential teachers. The university also approved of those without checking if all the requirements had been fulfilled. The university authorities must put pressure on officials of every research centre to improve their activities."
Professor Azad Chowdhury told The Business Standard: "It is a positive thing that there are 60 research centres at the university. It will be good if they do research."
"It is emergency to build quality human resource to develop a nation. The research centres can play an important role in this regard by appointing skilled researchers and ensuring sufficient fund. I hope the university authorities now realise this," he said.
Another former chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Abdul Mannan said, "During my tenure at the commission, no university informed us that they needed more money for research. We would have appealed to the government for more allocation accordingly.
"It is very unfortunate that the universities are not spending their allocated budget on research even though their main job is to create new knowledge."
Noted educationist Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam said no university can earn recognition and reputation without extensive and substantial research.
"Sufficient budgetary allocation is a must to do quality research but research grants for public universities in our country is very poor. Even research grants for India's Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Delhi, Pakistan's Quaid-i-Azam University and Sri Lanka's University of Colombo are substantially higher than that of the University of Dhaka," he said.