Research and Our Universities

Research and out universities, Image source: Flickr
Research and out universities, Image source: Flickr
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Today’s universities is featured and marked by teachers’ negligible or not at all involved in research and more involvement in teacher politics. Involvement in politics gives the teachers more and quick benefit whereas research hardly gives them any benefit. So, teachers flock tighter to vie with each other for supporting a particular party. This active involvement in party politics seriously undermines the quality of teaching and encourages future teachers to get more attachment to politics than research.  A university teacher himself/herself is an institution. That very institution gradually flourishes with the research and deep study.

Teachers are now found either to grease the government or the opposition leaders. The present-day student politics vitiates the campus situation which has engulfed the whole nation and the adverse effect affects all of us. Student politics also takes breath and oxygen from teacher politics in universities. It is very shameful for the notion that students don’t enjoy impartial behaviour from the teachers seriously undermining the real objective of education. It makes the nation stand on the verge of ruin.

According to a report of the UGC 20 of the 51 private universities do not have any allocation for research-based activities, which would help set standards for the institutions. UGC chairman Prof. Nazrul Islam termed this a “Serious operational flaw “of these universities.  The research-oriented expenditure of the rest 31 universities is also quite insignificant. Pointing out that there is no alternative to research programs for making progress, the UGC Chairman said the Commission inserted a new provision in the private University Act 2010 making compulsory spending on research. Interestingly, a section of private university teachers does not think research is necessary for higher education.”

Higher education does not depend on research “says Royal University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Nurul Alam Khan. “Our students study their textbooks in line with the syllabus. Research is not much essential said the same VC who received his PhD in Mathematics from the Charles University of Republic. A 2009 survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics revealed that the private universities, colleges and English medium schools in the country made a profit of Tk 4.23 billion in a decade mainly from fees for tuition, admission, session, development and extra-curricular activities. The annual expenditure of private universities raised Tk 11.62 billion in 20009 from Tk 7.32 billion in 2008. The 31 private universities spent some Tk 0.19 billion in 2009 for research purpose ( daily sun 31 January 2011) which means each of the university spent an average of Tk 6 million.

Research process (Picture from Wikipedia)January last week I visited Sylhet to visit several secondary schools and participated in ‘ English Week’ which is an innovative approach of the BRAC Education Program (BEP) to remove the shyness of the students to learn and use English in their practical life situation. I could not resist my temptation to visit’ Shahjalal Science and Technology University where several of my friends work as teachers. I did not miss the opportunity to meet and see for myself Dr Kabir  Hossain who holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of Leading  University, Sylhet (Private University). He actually teaches Statistics at SUST. Meeting me after a long time he was beside himself with joy even though he was awfully busy. My other friend Dr Aktaruzzamn who is the General Manager of Bangladesh Bank early in the morning reminded me over cell phone not to miss the opportunity to meet Kabir (Our VC dost as he said) and see the Leading University how it actually works.

Dr Aktar happened to be the associate professor of Economics at Rajshahi University before joining Bangladesh Bank and so he stills shows interest in the activities of universities. Immediately I seized the opportunity. As I was busy all day long, I met my former colleague Dr Suresh Ranjan Basak who teaches English at Metropolitan University (another private university at Sylhet) at night. Both the VC of Leading University and Professor of English of Metropolitan University Dr Suresh Ranjan Basak took me to different faculties and classes which further gave me insight into the atmosphere of private universities. 

This is the strength of private university to hold classes at night to extend the facilities of higher education for the service holders and businessmen who usually remain busy in the day time. Classrooms are modern and modern equipment are installed in the classrooms. Interactions between the teachers and students seem to be closer than in public universities. Teachers have accountability to the authorities as well as to the students.  Students assess the performance of the teachers which matches the developed countries university system.  Our public universities in spite of having many opportunities don’t have these options.

Private universities are the realities of the time. It has not evolved automatically rather through some hard realistic facts. Private universities have widened the opportunities for higher education for those who could not qualify for enrolment in public universities but possess the means to look for alternatives. Private universities stick to an academic schedule and permit no ‘session jam.’ ‘Students will have to come out from air-conditioned classrooms of their universities to acquire practical knowledge to realize the lives of common people and know about their happiness and sorrow.”

President Zillur Rahman said in the 11the Convocation of AIUB. We appreciate this invitation but side by side we need to give attention to the fact that these students have some apathy towards state-run universities where pupils study are to pay a negligible amount of tuition fees and enjoy state-run dormitory facilities. But private university students are to buy their education at an exorbitant rate with almost no dormitory facilities. They are deprived of open space and open playground and big library facilities.

In public universities, a teacher in most of the cases teaches a particular topic year after year keeping him confined to a small area of knowledge dissemination which stands contrary to the purpose of higher educational institutions. One of my colleagues one day told me that the private universities don’t teach subjects like literature, history, economics, pure science which really registers a serious flaw of the private universities. Without learning these subjects, humanity can be learnt and a real taste of studying science stands far apart.

The editorial of the daily sun of its February 6, 2011 issues rightly says that only market-related subjects such as BBA, MBA, Management, Hotel Management etc. are taught in private universities.  The same editorial places a question like this, ‘Can proficiency in these subjects be called higher education and can an institution which teaches merely these subjects be called a university?” This question leaves enough room for the policymakers and educationists of the country to give a serious second thought in connection with the standard of private universities of the country. About two lakh pupils receive education in our private universities and half of the learner’s study under the faculty of business administration.

Of course, private universities must think of commercial aspects which foster the idea of producing BBA students. With the passage of time education problems is getting manifested in various forms which call for serious research and pupils also must be made research-orientated otherwise their analytical capabilities will hardly develop to serve the broader field of the nation after coming out of the university. Teachers’ involvement in politics cannot be discouraged but more involvement in research is needed as private universities are catering to the demand of a large population who were out of the reach of higher education or abandoned the hope to receive higher education. Moreover, some private universities are producing high-quality students with the necessary competencies. Allocating more funds for research and encouraging the teachers to conduct research will add new values to the private universities.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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