While Education Minister Dipu Moni has stressed for the country's university admission tests to be based on the shortened syllabus, vice chancellors and experts say the syllabus is yet to be decided.
Dipu Moni has said the tests should be taken on the shortened syllabus as students were assessed for the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) and its equivalent examinations in 2021 on only three elective subjects and performance in previous public exams.
Amid growing calls for more focus on university admission tests as a tool to evaluate students, Dipu Moni said, "The ministry took the examinations and evaluated the Higher Secondary Certificate students on a short syllabus as the students could not complete the full course due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So, it will be logical to hold the admission tests on a short syllabus."
But vice-chancellors and education experts say universities admit students based on their merit and the syllabus has to be decided by the committees concerned.
Professor Md Akhtaruzzman, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, told The Business Standard that the university's deans committee decides the questions and subjects of admission tests.
"Questions are set considering students' previous academic syllabus. We try our best to ensure quality higher education in the country," he said.
Professor Dr Satya Prasad Majumder, vice-chancellor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), told TBS, "Our academic council will decide how the admission test will be held this year. But my personal opinion is that the test should be competitive and not scrape any topics or stick to the shortened syllabus. Chemistry, maths, biology and English should be included," he said.
Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission says it will request universities to take some extra fundamental classes to recover the students' previous learning losses.
Its member Professor Biswajit Chanda told TBS that the universities can take extra classes after admission if they find students' weakness in any subjects.
"No doubt that the students got promoted with learning losses due to closure of educational institutions that disrupted academic activities. But the universities must identify students' weaknesses and take necessary action to equip them for higher education," he said.
But the importance of admission tests is not lost on any of the experts.
Professor Munaz Ahmed Noor, vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Digital University and convener of the technical committee of the uniform admission tests, said universities always try to get the best students and that is why they use many techniques to ensure the best are selected.
The admission test is one of the basic techniques for ensuring quality new enrollment. Usually, each university decides their own strategy each year.
"It will not be wise to define the syllabus of the admission test. For instance, general knowledge is not an HSC subject [but is included]," he said.
When contacted, Professor Dr AHM Enayet Hossain, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told TBS that they are yet to decide on the admission test for medical and dental colleges.
Prospective students outnumbering available spots
There are 13 lakh seats at public, private and vocational higher education institutions across the country, according to the University Grants Commission (UGC) report of 2020.
Over 13 lakh students passed the HSC examinations with 1.9 lakh securing a GPA-5, a new record for Bangladesh.
Although this makes it seem like there is no seat crisis for higher education, only 1.2 lakh spots are available in public and private universities combined.
The remaining seats are at national and technical institutions.
Traditionally, most students opt for public universities first, for which there are about 60,000 spots. The second choice for a good number of students is the costly private universities.
The last option is the colleges under national universities, where the quality of education is questionable.
The colleges are already unable to provide quality education as they do not have adequate manpower.
For instance, the teacher-student ratio at institutions under the National University is 1:30, for public universities it is 1:19 and it is 1:22 for private universities.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus at Brac University, told TBS that the ratio should ideally be 1:15 for higher educational institutions.
He said ensuring quality education would not be possible if the ratio was higher than that.
"Students in the rest of the institutions can become frustrated after getting their bachelor's and master's certificates if they do not get quality education," he added.
The professor also said that the ministry's evaluation of HSC results was partial and it will be tough to identify real talents for the universities.
Now, the higher educational institutions, especially the reputed ones, should put more emphasis on admission tests and viva voce to enrol new students, he added.