Mohammad Khokon got admitted to Government Titumir College – one of the seven colleges affiliated with Dhaka University – in January last year, but he never imagined his first year would carry over well into 2021.
Khokon is still waiting for his final exams, initially slated to take place last December. Just like him, the fate of at least two lakh students is now in limbo, as neither Dhaka University nor the government has announced any decision to hold exams.
To make matters worse for these students, there is still no way for them to get registered for receiving Covid-19 vaccine on a priority basis.
Detailing his predicament, Khokon told The Business Standard, "One of my friends studying at Dhaka University has completed all his classes and is now waiting for the final exams, set to be held in the last week of July. He also got registered for a vaccine.
"Even my friends studying at the National University received an auto promotion to the second year. We recently contacted our teachers, but they could not provide us with any updates."
A student of Dhaka College named Bahar Chowdhury is still in his fourth year, while his friends studying under the National University and different public universities have already completed their masters.
"Under the circumstances, I have already wasted two years of my life, and still do not know how many years I will lose. No one is here to take responsibility."
'Make proposals first'
The Dhaka University authorities and administrations of seven affiliated colleges blamed each other for the academic loss of thousands of students.
The colleges are – Dhaka College, Eden Women's College, Government Shaheed Suhrawardy College, Kabi Nazrul Government College, Begum Badrunnesa Government Women's College, Government Bangla College, and Government Titumir College.
Professor Dr AKM Maksud Kamal, pro-vice-chancellor (academic) of Dhaka University and coordinator of the affiliated colleges, said, "These institutions have their respective administrative bodies. They must make proposals first for resolving the issues. We can then take initiatives to help these colleges achieve their goals."
Meanwhile, focal point of seven colleges and Principal of Dhaka College IK Selim Ullah Khandaker said, "We are yet to make any decision about holding the yearly final exams. We are still observing the ongoing Covid-19 situation. I will speak to the education minister soon, and then we will make the final decision."
"In reality, neither the Dhaka University nor the University Grants Commission (UGC) takes responsibility for students of the seven colleges. Aside from the current issues, these colleges have been suffering from a shortage of teachers, accommodation, library, laboratory and other infrastructure for a long time.
The colleges have applied to the ministry concerned on multiple occasions requesting it to implement a project for developing academic activities in these colleges, but in vain.
Fewer students attend online classes
The government shut down all educational institutions across the country in March 2020 in a bid to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Secondary institutions started online classes on 29 March, last year while the private universities started taking online classes and exams in April and June 2020 respectively.
Public universities also began taking online classes in July last year. According to the Bangladesh Teachers' Network, around 40%-50% of students have participated in online classes of public universities.
Compared to students at public and private universities, fewer students from the seven affiliated colleges are attending online classes, insiders said.
On condition of anonymity, a philosophy teacher at Government Titumir College said, "My class has 250 students, but only 50-60 attended the online classes. The situation is more or less the same in other affiliated colleges."
A Dhaka College student wishing to be anonymous said his teachers just focused on completing the syllabus without giving too much consideration to students' presence.
No initiative for vaccination as yet
As part of a government programme, residential students of public universities are registering for Covid-19 vaccines so that they can get the doses on a priority basis, and return to their dormitories.
The seven colleges have around 30,000 residential students who have vacated their dormitories due to the Covid-19 crisis. But there have been no initiatives as yet to get them vaccinated.
As per Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's directive, no institution will be allowed to reopen its dormitories before vaccinating their residential students.
Crisis never ends at affiliate colleges
The government established the National University Bangladesh in 1992 to modernise and improve the curriculum and syllabus of under-graduate and graduate-level programmes in colleges.
Prior to this move, public colleges used to operate under different public universities. The seven colleges too operated under Dhaka University before 1992. The education ministry – in a gazette notification in 2017 – re-affiliated these institutions.
But without a plan in place for the continuation of academic work, students of the seven colleges began facing problems. The authorities did not announce the schedule of examinations even five months after re-affiliation.
On 20 July 2017, students took to the streets demanding immediate announcement of their exams.
Siddikur Rahman, a student of Government Titumir College, lost his eyes after the police charged batons and fired tear gas shells at protesters. This tragedy however did not bring an end to the crises of seven colleges.
From 2017 till present, students of the colleges have taken to the streets multiple times placing demands, such as an end to session jam, publication of error-free results in time, establishment of an administrative building for them, publication of academic calendars, holding examinations in time, fair evaluation of examination papers.
Noted educationist and former Professor of Dhaka University's History Department Syed Anwar Husain said the seven colleges became affiliated with the university under political consideration.
"It [Dhaka University] had no preparations to take on the responsibilities of such a large number of students. Indeed, it was not a wise decision. The government decided to hand over the colleges to Dhaka University without consulting the institution and educationists.