Educationists in the country have expressed absolute dissatisfaction over the poor allocation to research made in the University Grants Commission (UGC) budget 2020-21 for 46 public universities.
The UGC announced a Tk8,485-crore budget on Tuesday that apportioned only Tk66cr for research in higher education, a growth of slightly over 3 percent from last year's.
The total size of the budget increased by less than 5 percent but the allocation for the UGC's own expenditure got a spike by approximately 19 percent from that of last year.
When research draws the topmost priority in higher education in the developed world, can such nominal funds help our public universities do quality research and compete with eminent universities globally?
Professor Nazrul Islam, a former chairman of the UGC, shook his head in reply to the question.
"It is totally impossible to do world standard research with the fund allocated [in the UGC budget]," he said, adding that it was unexpected and the UGC must increase the allocation.
The quality of Bangladeshi universities is not up to the mark. Even many universities in India and Pakistan are better than the Bangladeshi ones, he remarked.
"We are afraid how our universities will concentrate on restoring their image by doing research. The UGC must consider raising our universities to world standards by increasing money for research," he recommended.
Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam from the Department of English at Dhaka University said, "We have been demanding an increase in research allocation for long. But it has not been heeded. As a result, public universities' research and academic qualities have not improved."
He also said Bangladeshi universities were usually found at the bottom of any world rankings while no university at times can even make it to the rankings. "I can say no [Bangladeshi] university will be found on the list of top-ranking world universities if research allocation is not increased."
Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed of International Relations at Dhaka University said the universities had become only a place for teaching.
"Our basic problem is that deans and other academic leaders are appointed in universities based on partisanship. They do not raise their voices for sufficient funds for research and, so, the teachers too are reluctant to do research."
Every research should have an international standard. But, unexpectedly, there is no such research in Bangladesh, he said.
Prof Imtiaz further said the university teachers should be determined about engaging in research and the universities can develop a big fund for such research.
The Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, Professor Dr Akhtaruzzaman, told The Business Standard that a Tk2-crore increase for research was good news. But whether it was adequate for good research remained to be seen.
The UGC budget allocated over Tk5,454 crore in for operational costs and Tk3,031 crore for development of universities. Dhaka University gets Tk830 crore, the highest fund receiver as a single university.
UGC Chairman Professor Kazi Shahidullah presided over the 158th meeting. UGC members Professor Dil Afroza Begum and Professor Dr Md Sazzad Hossain, Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University Professor Harun-or-Rashid Askari, Vice-Chancellor of Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University Professor Goutom Buddha Das, among others, were present.
The UGC also decided to submit an application to the government for a special allocation for online classes to be continued amid the Covid-19 pandemic.