Writer : Prof. Dr. Abu Yusuf Md. Abdullah
Higher education is the main driving force of a nation. There is no alternative to ensuring quality education for all for holistic development a country. Where there is lack of opportunities for higher education, there can be little hope for the desired growth. Therefore, it is the cardinal responsibility of the state to ensure congenial environment for obtaining higher education for any citizen expressing desire for such opportunity. The state or the government of the day will create the opportunities so that each and every person can become good citizen and skilled human resource. To meet this goal what is required is high standard university. Only a university can ensure quality higher education.
This needs to be said here that among all the good human initiatives the most lauded one is to set up a university. When a government faces limitations despite all the resources at its disposal in setting up the required number of universities, the private sector comes forward to set up and run private universities. That is why, whether public or private, in greater sense any university is a national wealth. It becomes the responsibility of the state to nurture a university and ensure proper environment for education there. The manner in which the government extends support to public universities for their development, similar support should be given to private universities for their growth and development.
Public Private Partnership (PPP) is a popular and much discussed concept at the moment in Bangladesh. Many of the country’s educationists, bureaucrats, businessmen, journalists and civil society members believe that the concept can bring good results for the country. I don’t propose that like public universities the government will have to provide private universities with land, salary of teachers and construction of buildings etc. The government as a partner may have lenient rules and regulations, offer government land for lease or sell at government rate, offer bank loan at lower rate, offer grants and stipends for students and teachers. PPP is a bilateral contract. Its success and failure rest equally on both the partners. If a private university becomes successful then both the university and the government will be able to claim credit for it. On the contrary, if it fails then the responsibility will rest on both. But regrettably, instead of extending full support to the private universities, the government is imposing various types of taxes on them. Though the government often speaks about the importance of private universities in the interest of higher education, it at the same time makes it difficult for the institutes to run smoothly. It shows there is wide gap between the lip and the cup as far as their preaching and practicing is concerned.
It gives the impression that most of those who are in the leadership position, such as, politicians, bureaucrats, policy planners and technocrats still possess a colonial mindset. They cannot think beyond the box, whereas the modern world is progressing fast following the free market economy model. Either they cannot understand the importance of the change or they do not want to understand. The resources and manpower of the state is not sufficient enough to ensure higher education for all. This limitation has motivated some renowned academics and patriotic and conscious citizens to come forward to fill in the gap that exists in demand and supply. In my eyes, they are definitely the glorious sons of the soil. Therefore, it is expected that those who give their talent, time and money to establish universities to educate the people of the country so that they can become skilled and good citizens will be given due recognition and offered a helping hand by the government. The government may even consider encouraging them by offering state awards such as Independence Award in the category of initiative in education etc. The restrictive and controlling mentality of the government towards private universities is not expected. A father helps his little child to walk on its feet. But I have no idea whether the government has undertaken any programme to assist the private universities in similar fashion so that they may grow and flourish.
I do not consider it wise to call a university “Private”. There are two streams of universities in the world. Renowned universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Yale etc., are run under private management. But they are not treated as private. Unfortunately, in our country, a negative attitude prevails towards private universities and often they become targets of step-son like treatment by the people in the government sector. At the moment nearly 200,000 students are studying in 60 universities being run by private funding and management. These universities are contributing immensely to creating professionalism and human resource for the country. As a result, only because these universities are run under individual or Trust management they should not be labeled and discriminated as Private. I am not emphasizing that all private universities have been able to reach the desired standard through maintaining quality of education. However, if the government takes on the role of a guardian then many universities will be able to overcome their problems and march forward. A university is supposed to continue for many centuries therefore 10/20 years is no significant time for its evaluation. The development and construction works of the University of Dhaka are still going on, which means development of a university is a continued process. If the government plays the role of a facilitator instead of a controller, these universities will reach the expected level of excellence. Here I don’t mean all private universities are giving the same level of effort for growth and progress. There may be lacking in some of them but these can be addressed if the government comes forward with required guidance and assistance. Private universities are basically non-profit organizations, but their contributions are profitable. What I mean by this is private universities will run with their own funds to attain a highly profitable goal. The profitable activities will be essential for the very existence of the universities. A university will not be hundred percent profit-oriented neither will it be a charitable organization. A university will utilize its excess funds to accommodate new talents, buy new educational materials, increase stipends, increase education grants for obtaining higher degrees for its teachers and students and allocate required funds for undertaking research in pure science and other disciplines by its students. It will also publish research works of teachers and students.
A lot of money is required to offer good salary and other benefits to talented teachers so that they may give their best to the profession. It needs no emphasizing that worldwide higher education is an expensive affair. A university has to fix tuition fee keeping in view teaching standard, ambience, teaching materials, lab facilities, books and other necessary logistics. Already private universities are facing strong competition from one another. Many of the old universities are not getting required number of students having good academic record. There is shortage of teaching materials, infrastructure problems and highly skilled teachers. There is also shortage of skilled administrative staff. I feel that in order to make the private university sector more dynamic and strong, it is essential to create a group of devoted teachers and administrators. Because of various shortcomings, the desired level of professionalism has not developed in this sector, which could help run the universities efficiently. I strongly believe that almost all private universities are facing this problem and suffering on a day to day basis. In this situation, if the government continues to put pressure in the name of laws and regulations this sector will not be able to stand on its own feet. This will have a long term negative effect on the higher education sector and make the future generation students face uncertainty. This will also contribute to social unrest. When the reality is quite grim, numerous rules and regulations are dissuading the forward march of the private universities of the country.
It is universal truth that no university can reach the pinnacle of success overnight. It happens gradually over a period of time. Therefore, 10/12 years is not a very long period for the development of a university. Not only constraints of funds, administrative and logistical support are also important factors here. If we look carefully we shall see that the great names in the list of universities didn’t come to today’s position within a short period of time. They had to perform consistently well for a long period of time to reach here. MIT is 151 years old. Cambridge has 803 years behind it. Harvard is 376 years old. Even University of Dhaka took 91 years to come where it is standing at present.
Let us look at the newly established public universities in the country. Could the government provide all the infrastructure and academic facilities there all at a time? The government with large budget at its disposal cannot give the required training to teachers and administrative staff, supply teaching materials and infrastructure support etc to the new public universities. How can a university established at a cost of 6-7 crore taka build its permanent campus fulfilling the government regulation in 8 to 10 years? In this regard, the education ministry and UGC can play an important role to provide government land at reasonable rate.
As a teacher of Dhaka University I have had the opportunity of visiting many foreign universities in both east and west and study their models. If we compare the way those universities are progressing then we can say that the position of our private universities is not that good. Besides, it is not possible for UGC with its strength and staff to monitor all the universities in the country. As such, UGC should be elevated to the position of “Higher Education Commission” at the earliest so that it is empowered to take decisions on its own. The Board of Directors may include highly qualified and eminent academics, qualified and skilled bureaucrats, education sponsors and teachers having excellent track record. The Board will work without allowing any political influence.
There is no other institution other than universities to create enlightened and skilled human resource in this country of a burgeoning population. This human asset will help turn Bangladesh into a progressive and happy country. I therefore believe that the government should come forward to nurture the universities in a manner so that they may flourish with their full potential. No university can operate outside the ambit of our economic, political, social and cultural context. These elements exert their presence directly or indirectly. As a result, even if university authorities want it sincerely they cannot operate totally independently for their holistic development. At present, there is a member of Deputy Secretary status and one from the UGC in the syndicate of every private university. We have to realize the fact that the problems of the private universities are varied and many-faceted and there is no short-cut solution. Therefore, everyone such as the government, trustee board members, stakeholders, teachers, students, staff members, guardians, alumni members, researchers et al will have to work together to reach the desired goal. It will not be possible for the trustee board members alone to solve all problems. Therefore, besides the trustee board, the government will have to come forward for the qualitative development of the private universities – the institutions for higher education.