Dark clouds over higher education in Bangladesh

Massive irregularities and corruption in top public and private universities are holding students back
Dark clouds over higher education in Bangladesh

Teachers and students attend a rally to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week at Dhaka University on Feb. 1, 2016. Students and educationists says a flawed system is damaging higher education in Bangladesh. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)  

Without warning, Fatema Tuz Zinia was suspended from one of Bangladesh's premier universities — Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University.

The part-time journalist and law student was a known crusader against corruption and irregularities in the state-funded university, named after the country's founding leader and father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The university said it suspended her for "tarnishing" its image through a social media post in early September. The post had criticized corruption in the university headed by vice-chancellor Khondoker Mohammad Nasiruddin.

For years, Nasiruddin has been facing allegations of misuse of power, nepotism, embezzlement of funds and abusive treatment of students.

Zinia's suspension triggered massive student protests for 12 consecutive days, which ended on Sept. 30 after Nasiruddin resigned.  He quit after a probe found him guilty of several irregularities.

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As protests in Zinia's university fade away, students in another state-funded institution — Jahangirnagar University near Dhaka — are on the streets. They want their vice-chancellor Farzana Islam removed.

Islam has been facing allegations of financial irregularities, including paying hefty "Eid tips" to the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League party.

In another case in April, the government granted 46 days of leave to S.M. Imamul Huq, vice-chancellor of Barishal University in southern Bangladesh, until the end of his tenure on May 26.

The extended leave was a government tactic to end long-standing protests that demanded Haq's removal following allegations of corruption and abusive behavior.

Local media continue to report massive irregularities and corruption in the top public and private universities of Bangladesh as the quality of higher education continues to slide.

Over the past decade, none of 100 universities in the country could make it on to the list of the 1,000 top universities in the world.

A flawed system

Students and educationists say the dark clouds over higher education are the result of a flawed system and the negative influence of politics in education. 

“In our country, teachers are highly regarded by students and seen as their models. The recent developments are not just disappointing but also painful for all,” said Jyoti F. Gomes, secretary of the Bangladesh Catholic Education Board of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh.

“More than any individual teacher or an institution, a faulty system should be blamed for the mess,” Gomes told ucanews.com.

In most cases, top jobs in state-funded universities are not based on qualifications and experiences but “political affiliations.” Private-funded universities private universities focus more on profit than education, he said.

Gomes, a former college teacher, said evaluation in higher education is far below acceptable standards.

“Our students do very well in education institutions abroad, which means there is no problem in their merit. The problem is our evaluation system based on examination and certificates, which cannot offer comprehensive and quality education,” he said.

Gomes said Bangladesh recently introduced a “creative questionnaire” in exams “but things remain the same as the system is unchanged.”

Sujon Tripura, an ethnic Tripura Catholic and a student at Dhaka University, the country’s top public university, echoed similar concerns.

“Education in universities is bookish and students mostly aim for good grades in exams. There is little scope for research and qualitative improvements. We live in a country where grades in exams define students’ quality,” the 21-year-old told ucanews.com.

Besides, he said, political influence on management decisions threatens the academic life of students.

“Political interests get priority in the top universities. Politically affiliated student groups flex muscles and fight for control in the campus, which endangers the academic life of students,” Tripura added. 

Several officials from the Education Ministry declined to comment on the issue. However, a senior official from the University Grand Commission (UGC), the top government body coordinating universities, agreed that Bangladesh’s higher education faces several problems.

“Political appointments in universities are an open secret. A certificate-based evaluation system adds to the woes. But more than that, our teachers have become self-centered,” he told ucanews.com on condition of anonymity.

“Corruption in the education system breeds corruption in other spheres of society.”

He regretted that the UGC wants changes but has no authority to change the existing systems.

“We do research and recommend corrective and qualitative measures for improvement of quality of education. However, decisions on appointments and revision of the evaluation system depend much on the policymakers,” he said.

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