Recently, the US-based company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) has published a ranking of all universities in the world. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been named the world's best university in the 2021 rankings, followed by Stanford University.
The organisation ranks universities around the world based on six specific criteria. They are academic peer review (40%), teacher-student ratio (20%), research (20%), graduate reputation or efficiency (10%), international student ratio (5%) and international teacher or performance ratio (5%).
Universities are measured by these criteria and then the final ranking is published. Sadly, no Bangladeshi university has ranked among the top 1,000 universities in the world, except for one. In the 2021 ranking, the position of the University of Dhaka is between 800 and 1,000. But is that really satisfactory? I do not think it is satisfactory at all.
The QS authorities rank the universities in Asia separately. This year, a total of 11 universities from Bangladesh have got a place in the Asia-based ranking. Of them, three are public universities and the remaining eight are private universities.
The University of Dhaka is in the best position among the public and private universities in Bangladesh. But the question is: though there are so many public and private universities in Bangladesh, why is none in the top 100? In fact, the universities in our country are unable to meet the criteria that the QS authorities consider for ranking.
If we take a look at those criteria, the issue will become very clear. For Asian universities, the organisation ranks based on 11 criteria. The first is academic reputation (30%). It basically indicates which university has the best reputation in the eyes of the world's great academics.
As soon as you open a newspapers, you see that in almost every public university in Bangladesh, the issues that need to be taken care of to achieve academic reputation are the most neglected ones. Occasionally, university teachers make headlines by committing plagiarism. Even, there are many teachers whose PhD degrees are fake.
Besides, I always see news of various types of corruption in the academic and administrative works of universities. This way, the academic reputation of a university is tarnished in the eyes of international academics.
The second criterion is the degree of reputation graduates can gain in the workplace (20%). Looking at this criterion makes one feel helpless, as most of the graduates that the universities of our country are producing, are unemployed. They are not getting jobs according to their academic qualifications because they did not acquire proper communication skills and information technology skills while obtaining degrees.
There are also many universities where there is no opportunity for skill development. In most universities, theoretical education is given more importance than life-oriented one. So, graduates are not able to do well in the workplace. That is why the universities of our country lag behind the most in this criterion.
The third criterion is teacher-student ratio (10%). In our country, a university does not even have the required number of teachers in proportion to the number of students. There are also departments where the whole department is run by only one teacher.
The fourth is international research network (10%). This indicator shows how many foreign universities have research collaboration with our local universities. In Bangladesh, many old universities have some collaborations, but the teacher-student and research exchange activities are very rare, and new universities do not even have such an opportunity.
In most cases, even after signing a memorandum of understanding, these issues are no longer given importance or explored. The biggest reason for this is the changes in the big administrative posts of universities. After such changes take place, those issues are forgotten and lost in the abyss of time. So, if you want to evaluate universities based on this criterion, you can give them very few marks.
The fifth indicator is the number of citations per research paper (10%) and the number of research papers per teacher (5%). It's not as if there is no research in the universities of our country, but whatever is done is being done only to protect the rules. The articles of those who are doing research are rarely published in quality journals.
There are some exceptions. However, the university authorities do not have an account of how many papers come out in an academic year and how many citations they receive. If you visit the websites of our universities, you see that there is inadequate information.
Almost all public university websites (except a few) still look very old. Profiles of the teachers containing detailed information, their research interests, research fields, number of published papers and their links, and Research Gate profile links are not available on the websites. Even the details of the indispensable information about universities and students are not updated on the web.
Yes, it is true that allocation for research in our country is much less than that in other countries. But the question is: is the allocation even used properly?
The next indicator is the number of staff having a PhD degree (5%). The status of this indicator is worst in our country. Bangladesh is a country where it is possible to get an entry-level job with a bachelor's or master's degree only. The number of staff with a PhD degree is very low because many big positions can be obtained here without a PhD. The situation is even worse in new universities.
The remaining indicators are international student-teacher ratio (5%) and student exchange rate at home and abroad (5%). The situation of Bangladeshi universities is fragile in these indicators. Although some public universities have a small number of foreign students, the rate is declining day by day. Needless to point out, there are almost no international teachers in universities.
However, private universities are well ahead in this regard. A few months ago, a private university appointed a foreign professor as its vice-chancellor. Moreover, some private universities are working on regular exchange programmes with foreign universities and emphasising co-educational activities.
This is reflected in this year's ranking. It is understood that in the Asia-based ranking, there are 11 universities from Bangladesh and eight of them are private. Thus, it is visible that private universities are moving forward.
I want to end this piece by sharing a real event. I had the opportunity to talk to a Somali student at my university about the overall situation of our campus. He said, "I like everything here, but I just feel very bad about campus-based political instability and corruption".
Yes, indeed so. These two things are the main obstacles to the development of our universities. As long as the universities are affected by these irregularities and corruption, their rankings will not improve.
If we ensure transparency, accountability, and proper leadership in our universities, it is expected that they will be able to meet the criteria set by the QS. I hope that the appropriate authorities will work to improve the overall quality of universities considering the above issues.
The author, a columnist and feature writer, is an applied nutrition and food technology student at Islamic University Bangladesh. He can be reached at [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.