- Two-thirds of 3 lakh seats remain vacant in private universities each year
- Many of them are unable to bear daily expenses
- In this situation, 141 applications filed for setting up new universities
- The UGC is not in favour of establishing new universities
Some 141 applications have been filed seeking approval of the education ministry to set up new private universities at a time when most existing private universities are grappling with student shortages as two-thirds of their seats remain vacant every year.
Educationists have blamed high expenditure, a lack of quality higher education and the absence of a good academic atmosphere for such a situation in private universities.
In 2020, some 96 private universities had around 3 lakh seats available for the enrolment of first year students, but only 1 lakh new students took admission.
The previous record lays bare such a situation prevailing for a long time in terms of student enrolments.
Most of the universities are fighting for survival and a good number of them are in bad shape as they are not capable of bearing the daily expenses of their institutions.
In these circumstances, as of 26 May, 141 applications were submitted to the education ministry for setting up new private universities.
But both the University Grant Commission (UCG) and educationists are not in favour of establishing new private universities in the country.
They say the government should first improve standards of the existing private universities because maximum universities are still doing business in the name of higher education.
Noted educationist Professor Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam told The Business Standard that the country's higher education system has failed to produce adequate quality graduates and that is why industries still need to hire skilled manpower from abroad.
"Meritorious students do not get scope to do research and flourish their talent properly in the country as there is no standard laboratory in Bangladesh. So, they search for another country to develop themselves," he said.
"Corruption and mismanagement prevail at educational institutions across the country, which should be stopped," he added.
The government should not give approval to new universities, he noted.
Former chairman of the UGC Professor Abdul Mannan said most private universities have been producing very low-quality graduates. The graduates have certificates but do not get jobs. Such a situation is not desired. So, there is no need to establish new universities in the country.
The UGC sources said they received files from the education ministry with the proposal of five new universities for checking papers and compliance with other conditions as per the Private University Law 2010.
The names of the proposed universities are Chattogram BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology, International Islamic University of Science and Technology in Motijheel, Srijani University in Jhenidah, Tista University in Rangpur and Khagrachari Science and Technology University.
The team from the UGC led by its member Professor Dr Biswajit Chanda visited Chattogram BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology's proposed campus and other papers.
Professor Dr Biswajit Chanda said the UGC sends to the ministry what they observed during the visit. "We just provide information about establishing new universities. The education ministry takes all the decisions in this regard. We just try to regulate the higher educational institutions in the country," he said.
Meanwhile, the UGC has no strength to monitor the existing private universities. The private university wing of the UGC finds it difficult to properly complete its routine work and can hardly get time to take new initiatives. This is why many private universities will remain off the hook even if allegations of massive irregularities are brought against them.
North South University is the recent example as it was out of control of the UGC. Dhaka Metropolitan Senior Special Judge's Court on Monday sent four trustee board members of the North South University to jail a day after the High Court handed over them to the police in a case filed over misappropriation of funds.
The court allowed the Anti-Corruption Commission to interrogate them at the jail gate for a day within seven working days from receiving the order.
According to the 47th annual report of the UGC, the Private University Division has to work in 13 areas, which include ensuring academic, administrative and financial discipline, ensuring quality education, inquiring the overall conditions of proposed universities, approving curriculum and syllabus for each programme, and conducting physical inspections regularly.
Omar Farooq, director of the Private University Division of the UGC, told TBS that the government must increase manpower before approving new private universities. Otherwise, it may create a complex situation, which may continue for a long time.
Current situation of private universities
Private universities have mushroomed in the country over the past 30 years since the institution of the Private University Act in 1992, but most of them have been operating academic activities, flouting rules and regulations in the absence of appropriate punitive action by the government.
People concerned say some of these universities have scant regard for the law and are being run as per the whims of their authorities.
For instance, it is mandatory for private universities to obtain a permanent certificate from the government within 12 years of starting operations. But only 5 private universities out of 51 that were established before 2008 have secured the documentation by fulfilling all conditions, including having permanent campuses.
Besides, most of the private universities are reluctant to even submit their annual audit reports to the authorities concerned.
Only 11 out of 104 private universities that are currently operating in the country have all the required top officials. Of the rest, 73 have vice-chancellors, 22 have pro-vice-chancellors, and 54 have treasurers, according to the 47th annual report of the University Grants Commission, published last year.
The law also makes it mandatory for every private university to hold meetings of the board of trustees, syndicate, academic council, and finance committee regularly, but 12 universities did not hold any meeting of the board of trustees, 24 did not hold the syndicate meeting, 19 did not hold the academic council meeting, and 22 did not hold the finance committee meeting in 2021, says the UCG report.