The University of Dhaka (DU) authorities have taken an initiative to reduce the number of total seats available to first-year honours students. The decision was apparently taken in order to improve the quality of education and create adequate skilled human resources, after considering the institution's capacity and national and international needs.
A special meeting of the Deans Committee was held in this regard at Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban with vice-chancellor Md Akhtaruzzaman in the chair on Wednesday. It is expected that the decision will be effective from the 2021-2022 academic session.
Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission (UGC) suggested in its 41st annual report that the direct enrollment of honours students to master's programmes at public universities should be eliminated, once again, to reduce the number of students in higher education.
This is still at the proposal stage, but what impact will it have on the students and unemployed graduates if both decisions are implemented?
Professor Nazrul Islam, former chairman of the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh, has shared his thoughts with The Business Standard on these two announcements and their possible impact.
The Business Standard: Dhaka University authorities have taken the initiative to reduce the number of available seats from at least 7,000 to 6,000 for the 2021-22 academic year. Do you think this decision will harm the prospects of Bangladesh's meritorious but underprivileged students?
Professor Nazrul Islam: Reducing the number of seats could be a way to upgrade the quality of education. Whatever the University of Dhaka has decided must have been well-thought-out, I believe. Because it is important to balance the teacher to student ratio in order to provide good quality education. We have gradually come to this realisation over the last few years, and I am glad that this timely decision has been taken.
We should also think about other strategies that can help us attain our goal. Surely, this decision has raised a concern, but providing quality education is also mandatory. Hence, for a few years, we might have to compromise. As a solution to this concern, we must ensure that our underprivileged students get a chance in other public universities because this decision should not affect their lives.
The decision may have also been influenced by the fact that we have other serious issues like accommodation problems, which also affects the quality of education. When such problems are solved, we may again increase the number of seats in the near future.
I don't think this approach will improve our quality of education permanently.
For example, in the last few years, BUET has not increased its seats to maintain its quality. But sadly, it could not keep its students in the country either. If this happens, then it will be a costly plan for DU. Hence, we must ensure that students are also interested in pursuing careers related to their field of study.
TBS: UGC's 41st annual report has suggested decreasing the number of master's students by way of removing the direct enrollment of honours graduates to master's programmes. Do you think this is a wise decision?
Professor Nazrul Islam: In our country, every other person has a master's degree, whereas it is not mandatory for everyone, since it is a specialised degree. A master's degree is compulsory to pursue when someone is involved in either research or teaching.
Also, other than science-based master's programmes in our country, we do not have any research-based master's programmes. So, having a master's degree is not mandatory for everyone. When a four-year graduate programme was introduced instead of a three-year programme, it was automatically assumed that the students would have a firm grasp of their subject matter even without the master's degree.
After completing this degree, one does not need to pursue a master's degree until demand for it arises. And graduation should be the highest degree required for any entry-level job.
Master's degree is not for everybody, and the earlier we understand this, the better. Because then teachers will be able to focus on students who have a genuine interest in research. For most office jobs, I believe a four-year graduate degree is enough and we should familiarise people with this concept. In that case, I welcome the idea of decreasing the number of master's students in Bangladesh.
If this continues, one day we will see PhD holders doing regular jobs. The situation is still not that acute in Bangladesh, but if things continue as they are, that day is not very far away.
TBS: Do you think these two decisions may contribute to unemployment in Bangladesh?
Professor Nazrul Islam: I do not think any of these decisions will contribute to unemployment in Bangladesh. Instead of coming up with all these unnecessary and unrealistic predictions, we should conduct some extensive research to figure out how much unemployed manpower we have in each sector, the sectors where we need more manpower and where we can use our existing manpower.
I think we do not have any proper manpower planning, but somebody should take the initiative and do extensive research on this. Until we have this study, we will not understand in which sector we should work to upskill more manpower and why.
We should encourage our students to take vocational and technical training as per their profession's need, instead of completing graduation in a mainstream subject. Our students must understand that higher education is not mandatory for everybody. We may offer professional degrees later as per their career demands.