Experts and students are seriously concerned about the quality of education at the Bangladesh Marine Academy in Chattogram after the academy took on much more than its capacity of 200 students for the 2020-21 academic year.
The marine academy has seats for 180 students, but 380 students are presently attending classes there. These extra students belong to four other marine academies, namely the ones in Rangpur, Barishal, Sylhet and Pabna.
Each of those marine academies admitted 50 students in the current academic year even though they do not have the necessary infrastructure, teachers and staff to cater to the students. Because of the uncertainty of providing education, these institutions sent their students to the Bangladesh Marine Academy in Chattogram.
The marine academy in Chattogram is now under severe pressure because of the sheer number of students attending classes there, said sources on condition of anonymity.
In response to a query, Bangladesh Marine Academy's commandant, Engineer Sajid Hossain said, "These students are attending classes here because infrastructure development and appointment of manpower is yet to be completed in the four other marine academies.
"The Ministry of Shipping has informed me that these students will study here for one semester, and then leave in September."
Engineer Sajid Hossain refused to comment when asked whether the Bangladesh Marine Academy has the capacity to teach students of four other academies as well.
Meanwhile, the Barishal Marine Academy's Commandant (acting) Captain ABM Shamim said, "Several teachers have been appointed temporarily in the Bangladesh Marine Academy to teach our students. Similar arrangements have been made for other academies as well.
"The Bangladesh Marine Academy's teachers are also teaching our students. The infrastructure of the Barishal Marine Academy and that of the other three is almost complete, and the ministry concerned will handle the appointment of manpower. We are optimistic about returning to our own academy soon."
A nautical engineering student of Barishal Marine Academy, on condition of anonymity said, "I got admitted to the academy in Barishal and I was supposed to study there. But I had to come and stay in Chattogram to study. It is too crowded here and we are facing classroom shortages."
Echoing the same opinion, another student of the same academy said, "We attend classes in shifts because of the shortage of classrooms. Classes have also become irregular due to a shortage of training equipment."
Furthermore, the Bangladesh Marine Academy has promoted four senior instructors to deputy commandants for appointment to the four institutions in the four districts. But they are yet to leave Chattogram to join their respective institutions.
Experts question the quality of education at the Bangladesh Marine Academy because the institution is teaching a large number of students with a limited number of faculty members.
They warn that if these students fail to meet the standard set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), it will severely impact the reputation of Bangladeshi professionals in this sector.
According to the Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers' Association, around 10,000 Bangladeshi professionals work in the maritime sector. Among them, at least 5,000-6,000 are working in foreign and local ships at any given moment.
These professionals earn around Tk34,000 crore in foreign currency annually. The demand for Bangladeshi professionals is steadily increasing because most of them do not have a drug problem.
Captain Anam Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers' Association, said, "Around 60-70 percent of the infrastructure has been completed in the four marine academies. However, they should not have admitted students at this time."
"There are concerns that sending the students of four marine academies to one institution in Chattogram to attend classes in a crowded setting might violate the IMO standard," he added.
He further said, "Those institutions should have completed building their infrastructure before admitting students. Training maritime students in this manner could have a negative impact on this sector."
"People in Bangladesh are interested in the marine sector because of the potential of a larger income. But the training must adhere to international standards."
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council approved the construction of four marine academies, one each in Rangpur, Barishal, Sylhet and Pabna, on September 4, 2012.
The construction of the infrastructure for those institutions began shortly thereafter, but they are yet to be completed. The four academies also lack adequate manpower, but they started admitting students anyway. These academies are currently offering two courses.