Education Policy

Student Politics in Bangladesh: An Impact on Quality Assurance in Education and National Development

Student Politics in Bangladesh: An Impact on Quality Assurance in Education and National Development
Student Politics in Bangladesh: An Impact on Quality Assurance in Education and National Development
Gazi Mahbubul Alam
Written by Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Abstract: Student politics is one of ignored areas in international scholarly debate. In the late 1960’s to early 70’s, some authors made some contributions in the context of South America and Africa. In 1968, Altabach also made a very little contribution on Indian student politics. The Institutions of HE (Higher Education) in southern Asia is experiencing a high volume of student politics and teacher politics. People often make link between teacher politics and students while they talk informally. As Academics of HE in Southern Asia who are mainly conduct research are also rigorously involve with politics, therefore, they often ignore this area (Alam, 2003). The paper explores the impact of students’ involvement in ‘party politics’ on quality of higher education and national development in Bangladesh answering some specific research questions through the data gained from an empirical research work.


What is politics? Most introductory textbooks for students of politics begin with this question. There is, however, considerable disagreement regarding how it be answered (Burns 2000, p93).

One view is that politics has to do solely and uniquely with the activities of the state (Crick, 1971, Laski, 1931, Pickles, 1964, Miller, 1962, Heywood, 1997). There are, however, those who challenge this view because they consider it to be too narrow. They have in their different ways sought to broaden our understanding of the nature of politics. For example, one account is that politics has to do with the resolution, or at least the regulation, of conflict between individuals or groups. A related view is that politics has to do with the preservation of order within a particular society or group (Crick, 1971). There is also the view that politics involves processes of collective decision-making in societies and or groups (Hague et al., 1992, 1982). A fourth view is that politics has to do with the exercise of power (Duverger, 1974, Leftwich, 1984, Lukes, 1981, 1974). As such politics is an integral aspect of all social life. This is the understanding of politics that one finds in much of the current literature produced by post structuralist writers such as, for example, Chantal Mouffe (Mouffe, 1993). Heywood has claimed recently that this last view is both the broadest and the most radical definition of politics available in the current literature (Heywood, 1997).

Student Politics

In this research we focus on students’ involvement in ‘party politics.’ To clarify the concept, it is important to distinguish different levels of student politics. As we mentioned earlier, politics is an activity that requires at least two people; therefore, student politics also requires at least two students. Consequently, just two students’ united activities in pursuance of certain aims can be identified as student politics.  Then again, there are different types of student politics and it must be borne in mind that the types identified by different authors are based on time/region/country/culture (Altbach, 1974, Fields, 1970, Larkin, 1968). Below, we will distinguish three types of student politics.

Student unity: It is probable that student unity is one of the oldest structures of student politics (Altbach, 1974). When a number of students, whether just some students or the whole student body of a school, country or region, form themselves into a unity for executing a certain aim or a number of aims, or campaign in favour of their rights or agitate to receive their entitlement, they can be characterised by the term student unity (Altbach, 1974, 1993, Ottaway, 1968).

Students union: In some countries, the student forum/club is also known as union (Altbach, 1974, Williams, 1968). When a group of students who have religion, region, or any other interest in common form an organization under certain conditions within a school, country or even an international context, this is known as a students union (Altbach, 1974). So every different group of students having one or more interests or aspects in common can form a different student union within a school, country or international context. Each student union will campaign in favour of its own outlook or agitate to receive its entitlement. Therefore, sometimes student unions can be in competition with each other.

Students’ involvement in party politics: Every country has different national political parties except the countries where martial law or dictatorships exist (Heywood, 1997). These national political parties usually have their associated or affiliated organizations for different professional groups. To discuss this situation, I will use examples from the Bangladeshi context. In Bangladesh, there are four major national political parties, namely Bangladesh Aowami League (BAL), Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Bangladesh Jatio Party (BJP) and Jamayati Islami Bangladeshi (JIB). Each of them has an affiliated political organization for students. For example, Bangladesh Chartro league (BCL) is an affiliated or associated student organization of BAL.

The above-mentioned three types are not exclusive. For example, if some students form a unity based on a particular issue, thereafter they can be divided into different groups for their further different interests or purposes. And then different groups can form various student unions. In underdeveloped counties, students unions are always biased by national politics because of their socio-economical and overall social conditions (Altbach, 1974, 1993 and 1968, Glazer, 1968, Hamilton, 1968). In the case of Bangladesh, Hannan (2000) believes that student politics ought to be associated with national politics.

But authors such as Altbach, Ross, David, Glazer, Hamilton, Marr, Emmerson, Myhr and Ottaway believe that students’ involvement in ‘party politics’ has created a political atmosphere in HE institutes in most countries and that has an impact on the educational atmosphere. In this context Hamilton (1968, p 355) states: The extensive involvement of the student movement with partisan politics in Venezuela makes it exceedingly difficult to draw a boundary line between indigenous and outside elements in the movement or between a “trained communist agitator” and ordinary student leaders. Most students would not object strongly even to the presence on campus of a politician with no pretensions of student status, for the simple reason that student leaders are expected to be in contact with the machinery and authorities of the party they represent.

On the other hand, some students involved in ‘party politics’ would agree with the views expressed by Jaime: Jaime rejected the view that student organizations should be concerned only with “student issues”, such as financial aid and housing, and denied the charge that student political groups were merely party tools. He also disagreed with those who believed students could never be politically relevant (Glazer, 1968, P290).

The above two quotes contrast different views on students’ involvement in ‘party politics’, one negative, the other positive.

Background information on and present situation of Bangladeshi student politics  

The findings and discussion section of this project will mainly illuminate the Bangladeshi student political context focusing on some special aspects. However, a brief discussion will help to understand the discussion of the leading sections.

Virtually no academic research has been conducted on Bangladeshi student politics (Daily Star). Apart from the newspaper articles, two authors (Hannan and Ullah) based in Bangladesh have made some contributions on Bangladeshi student politics.  However, their work only focuses on student campaigning. They themselves claim to be student leaders (Ullah, 2001 and Hannan, 2000), so the contents of their publications are not wholly neutral.

‘Unofficially recognized Bengal student politics’ is older than Bangladesh (Hannan 2000, Ullah, 2001 and Shmastantrik Chartro Front –SCF, 2001). Student politics in the Bengal region was established while it was under British rule (Hannan, 2000 and Ullah, 2001). After the ‘British chastisement’, it came under Pakistani governance and was named East Pakistan. As an independent nation since 1971 it has been being administered by both the elected government and martial law. Consequently, student politics has always been associated with campaigning for social change because of the ‘demand of the times’ (Hannan, 1993, 1994 and Ullah, 2001). Different types of student politics have existed at different periods (Hannan, 2000).

Both Hannan and Ullah point out that the ‘British chastisement’ enforced laws for all aspects of Bengal which were not generally appropriate (Ullah, 2001 and Hannan, 2000). Particularly the educational policies imposed by the British administration on Bengal were different from the internal policies which existed within the UK and this was a cause of concern to Bengali students (Hannan, 2000 and 1994). Again, Pakistani rules also force the students to campaign in favour of their rights (Hannan, 2000 and Ullah, 2001). Moreover, Hannan (2000) and Ullah (2001) note that under martial law students continued the revolutionary tradition of student politics.

Certain situations created by British rule, Pakistani governance and martial law forced students to campaign in favour of their and their country’s rights. However, the recent upsurge of student politics is different: national political parties have established affiliated student political parties to use the students as their political tools.

The available literature shows that up to 1930, there were no student unions  in Bangladesh (Hannan, 1993 SCF, 2001). However, in this period students were collectively facing challenges from different student movements (Ullah, 2001 SCF, 2001, Hannan, 2000). In 1941, students were divided into two main groups, namely ‘leftist’ and ‘rightist’. Rightist students did not engage in much political activity within the campus (Ullah, 2001, SCF, 2001 and Hannan, 2000). Bangladesh Islami Chartro Shibir (BICS) was the only student organization which was rightist. On the other hand, there were two leftist student unions, namely Chartro union and Chartro League, and they principally dominated and controlled the campus politics (Hannan 1993, 2000 and Ullah 2001). In 1952, both leftist and rightist political groups unitedly played a vital role in achieving the victory for Mother Tongue Revolution (Ullah, 2001). In early 1960 Chartro league was divided into different groups and each group was headed by different Chartro league leaders (Hannan, 2000, 1993 and Ullah, 2001). In 1971, leftist political students played a vital role in achieving victory for Independence Revaluation. ‘Rightist students’ were inactive on this occasion.

After independence, Bangladesh Aowami League (BAL) formed the government and campus politics were controlled by their associated organization, named Bangladesh Chartro League (BCL) (Hannan, 2000 and Ullah, 2001). In 1975, the president of the country was assassinated by military officials and after a few days martial law was established. In the meantime the ‘chief of the army’ formed a new political party named Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and also established an associated political party for students named Jatiotabadi Chartro Dall (JCD) as a rival party to BCL (Hannan, 2000). The country president who was himself BNP president was also killed by military officials and after a certain period martial law was once again established. The new chief of the military government also established another political party named Bangladesh Jatiyo Party (BJP). The BJP were committed not to establish an associated student political party. But in 1988, students engaged in a big revolution against the ‘so-called elected BJP government’. Since the party had no affiliated student political party the president along with his advisers thought to establish one in order to compete against the other student political parties involved in the student revolution. BJP’s affiliated political student party is called Bangladesh National Chartro Shamash (BNCS) (Hannan 2000). However, after toppling the military government in 1990,  every successor has been elected by election conducted by the ‘caretaker government1’.

Considering the present circumstances, it can be concluded that at present Bangladeshi student politics is an activity which is guided by and guided for the national political parties’ competition, interests and outlook. Therefore, to examine these issues, we conducted further investigation in order to find the answers of the following research questions using the following research methods.

1.Why are students involved in politics?
2.What are the disadvantages for students involved in politics?
3.What are the advantages for students involved in politics?
4.How can students be encouraged not to join in ‘nefarious party politics’?

Research techniques

The methods of data collection are qualitative. We chose methods that would allow the respondents to express their views in a free and personal way, giving as much prominence as possible to their thematic associations. Hence, we chose to use semi-structured telephone interviews and email questionnaires. Another method of data collection we adopted was document review. The interviews and other methods of data collection were conducted from abroad while we were in study leave. Only few days for field work, taken leave from universities was mainly concentrated on observation. The observation was conducted through checklist and non-checklist method. In some extent, the observation was very challenging and risky thus we have to stay with the ‘cadres’.

Interview Samples

As mentioned earlier, there are four major student organizations in Bangladesh, namely BCL, JCD, BJCS and BICS. It is proven that to receive proper and reliable data, triangulation of samples is an important issue (Cohen et al., 2002). We selected our respondents from the four main major student organizations mentioned. We intended to interview two students who were involved with the ‘Chartro union’ but unfortunately we failed to find anybody prepared to be an interviewee. We selected two people from each organization: one person holding a more responsible position such as committee member or coordinator/secretary, and the other with a less responsible position. In addition, we chose two students who were not involved in politics (see next section).  Moreover, we chose one college principal and one lecturer as our respondents. We also contacted national political leaders but they were not interested to talk on this topic.

Robson (2000) makes the point that sometimes guaranteeing confidentiality helps the researcher to elicit valid data. When selecting respondents involved in politics, we chose students studying at Dhaka college, Dhaka university and some other institutes which are currently experiencing a high volume of student politics. We selected those respondents not involved in student politics from private HE institutes where no student politics exists. he college principal and lecturer selected had teaching experience at both types of institutes. In consideration of confidentiality, we labelled the respondents (Cohen and Manion, 1997 and Hammersley, 1996). So in the findings and discussion section of this paper the 12 respondents will be referred to as R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, R8, R9, R10, R11 and R12. R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, and R8 are involved with BCL, BNSP, BICS and BJCS. R9 and R10 are the students who are not involved with politics. R11 and R12 are respectively the lecturer and principal.  The further information about the respondents is as follows. R1 is studying a short language course in a university after completion of his masters degree. He is also an established businessman. He is now almost 37 years old and has already spent 22 years in HE by taking various courses. He started student politics at 15 years old when he was a student at HSC level. R2 is about 41 years old and started politics when he was a student at HSC level. His HE period spans almost 25 years at various courses and he is currently studying in a College. R3 is 31 years old, recently passed her masters degree and is now pursuing a short course. Her experience in HE and student politics is 14 years. R4 completed his masters degree almost 10 years ago. In the meantime he has taken a number of short courses and has 16 years of experience in student politics.  R5 is now completing the final year of his undergraduate course and his experience in politics is about 2.5 years. R6 is a student of the masters programme and his age is almost 29 years, his experience in politics is about 7 years. R7 is a 36 year old student studying a short course in the law department after five years at a law college. His experience in student politics is about 12 years. R8 is a student who is now an established businessperson at present enrolled as a student of a short course and involved with student politics since 1981. It was difficult for us to make contact with the students who recently joined in politics because

1. traditionally, they usually need to seek permission from their senior leaders but their seniors like to be the respondents 2. to make the initial contact with the respondents we usually phoned their ‘party office’ where the officials are senior students rather than junior. However, some of the senior leaders allowed juniors to talk us upon our request.

R9 and R10 are studying respectively a masters and an HSC programme at the ages of 26 and 15.

Findings and discussion  

This section is devoted to the project’s outcomes. We attempt to answer our research questions by considering and comparing my interviewees’ responses, and the results of the document review (DR) and the email questionnaires (EQ). The answers to the research questions are dealt with in turn.

How are students motivated towards ‘party politics’ in Bangladesh?

R1, R4, R5, R3, R8 and R11 placed heavy emphasis on the ‘diplomatic’ advertising methods practised by the different political student organizations. Most of the student organizations distribute their publicity leaflets to the examinees when they take part in the ‘admission test’ for enrolment in HE. In addition, the institute’s student leaders usually meet with the examinees at the ‘test centre’ of the college or university to inform them of facilities provided for students once they are members of their ‘party’. R5 points out that it is very hard to get accommodation at college/university halls of residences. Each ‘hall’ is controlled and occupied by one political party. For example, Mujib Hall at Dhaka University is controlled by BCL, while on the other hand Zia Hall at the DU is controlled by JCD. Therefore, student leaders often offer newcomers accommodation on condition they join their political party. In addition R5 also mentions that a party offers ‘preparatory coaching for the admission test’ and that the instructors also put pressure on new students to join their party. A few student organizations also provide free clothes, books and stationery for newcomers (R1, R7 R3 and R8).

R4 says “Since I was not involved with any party, I was informed that I would have to join their political party otherwise I would lose my room in the hall. And the threat was very real. My family background didn’t allow me to afford private accommodation; therefore I had no alternative but to join their party”. In addition R7 also mentions that “my family didn’t provide me with sufficient money even though my father was solvent, so I joined in politics to earn extra money”. (But what R7 means by the term extra money is unclear). On the other hand, R9 and R10 mention that they manage themselves on the money provided by their families. They also note that sometimes it is hard to manage on the amount of money received from the family, but not impossible. They hold the view that “parents are under no obligation to send the money which is needed to buy ‘addiction goods’ such as drugs, or to enjoy a luxurious life, are they?”

We feel that investigation of the issues raised above requires quantitative research because this will reveal the attitudes of a wide range of students, and the role family background plays in student involvement in politics.

R10, R11 and R12 give heavy emphasis to the existing educational system. R12 mentions that if an HE institute allows ‘such students’ (who are not academically brilliant) to ‘take’ the course, they usually join in politics. Even though the ‘admission test’ exists, students can be enrolled in HE without sitting the test by joining the ‘powerful political group’ (R10). Moreover, R11 says that if lecturers and institutional support staff are involved in politics, they also ‘push’ the students to join in politics. Sometimes, they also involved in ‘irregular activities’ to help political students to enrol in HE or to stay within the system. The points made by R10 and R11 indicate the reasons for the enrolment of non-brilliant students into the HE system. R12 also points out that HE institutes which receive funds from the government experience a high volume of student politics because often the active government and their political leaders put pressure on the  institute’s authorities to introduce student politics. R12’s responses raise the issue of autonomy and corruption in HE institutes. With the exception of the universities, the management of HE institutes in Bangladesh is not autonomous and is politically corrupt. However, as previously mentioned, the universities’ management is ostensibly autonomous.

Active student leaders are usually also national parliamentarians. Moreover, traditionally, student leaders would be national politicians. In this regard R11 and R12 point out that to establish a national political platform for themselves, students enter politics at HE level. The above points raise a few questions. If students are national parliamentarians, how can they concentrate on their studies while they are busily engaged in political and social activities? It must be borne in mind that the Prime Minister is the chancellor of the universities in Bangladesh. Senators are elected politically. VCs and college heads are selected politically. Therefore, how do the faculty members legislate, and then enforce the laws on the ‘so-called parliamentarian students’ and how can they guide them. Of course, faculty members cannot guide them, on the contrary they must be guided by parliamentarian students. As a result university and college halls of residences are often occupied by the ‘bhahiraghata’ armed cadres, not by the students (R9, R10, R11 R12 and EQ). So students have no alternative but to become followers of a political group.

Email Questionnaires (EQ) also generated two vital points with regard to the course contents and facilitates provided. In PE and SE textbooks, the articles are biased in favour of particular political leaders. F12 also mentioned that with every change of government the content of PE and SE textbooks is changed with a view to ‘brain washing’ the students to join their political philosophy once they become ‘adult’. Let us give an example. From 1991 to 1995 PE and SE books contained articles in favour of BNP leaders, with special focus on their party founder General Zia. Their successor, BAL, changed the contents of the PE and SE books in 1996. The new contents mostly focused on their leader Sheikh Mujib. Having said that, R2 added that he was motivated to enter politics by gathering knowledge about Mujib from books, newspapers and family.

EQ also revealed that Bangladeshi HE is not able to put enough pressure on students to concentrate on their studies. Students do not need to write any assignments, or to undertake research work or any practical activities. Moreover, Bangladeshi HE does not usually offer many technical, professional or job-oriented programmes, so the students’ future employability is under threat. In addition, the facilities provided by HE, such as libraries, Internet access, sport and recreation, are very poor. Consequently, students experience many difficulties in getting through their HE courses, and they become motivated towards politics.

Since most of the teachers at primary, secondary and HE level lack the competence to ‘foster’ their students’ humanity, the result is that students do not have a strong sense of their duties and responsibilities as students of HE  (R6, R3 R11, R10 R12 and EQ). In addition, R11 and R12 said that once students enrol for an HSC programme, their parents’ influence on them is weakened. Most of the colleges are urban, so rural students in particular live away from their parents. Therefore, they lack proper direction, and instead follow the guidance received from student leaders. R1, R2, R5 and R6 also mentioned that family political background influences students to join in politics. But adolescents need good guidance from their seniors.

These accounts show that inadequate or inappropriate education system, family background and age also play a role in influencing students to join in politics.

Major advantages and disadvantages created by student politics in Bangladesh


It was only the student unity which ‘campaigned and fought’ for 1952’s Mother Tongue Revolution, because Bangladesh was not an independent nation at the time.  Therefore no established national political parties existed in Bengal in 1952 (R1 to R12 and EQ). In addition all respondents mentioned that even though in 1971 a few political parties had become established, their activities were not well organized and united. They also mentioned that these political parties were not established enough to lead the Independence Revolution. The student unity, in contrast, was well organized and established. Some of the student leaders were very intellectual and well known and they travelled around Bengal trying to raise awareness in people, especially adolescents, about ‘our’ rights and the concepts of independence and national development. The student leaders acted on that occasion very cautiously and ‘technically’ (R11 and R12). These circumstances created a unity of the Bengal population. In consequence, the collective ‘awareness and fighting’ role of the Bengal people helped to attain the Independence (R1 to R12 and EQ).

Since its emergence in 1990, Bangladeshi students unitedly played a vital role in addressing the autocratic government (R1, R3, R4, R6 R5 and R12). However, R7 and R8 challenged this view. They argued that the government was elected and was directing the country very smoothly. So there were no opportunities for BNP and BAL to come into ‘power’ by election. Therefore, they ‘used their parties’ students as the political tools’ to campaign and to promulgate calumnies against the government. R9, R10, R11, R12 and EQ maintained that student politics have not contributed any advantages to the nation apart from the three occasions mentioned. But these respondents stated very clearly that the type of student politics which played an influential role on the occasions mentioned was ‘student unity’. On the other hand R1, R2, R3 R5, R7 and R8 mentioned that sometimes they were involved in organizing other kinds of social and political activities, and this provided them with opportunities to learn the skills of ‘public communication’, coordinating people, participatory approaches and leadership. R4 and R1 mentioned another advantage: that by maintaining ‘good and diplomatic’ liaison with privileged people, they could promote their business. In addition R2 mentioned that his party work helped to secure students’ rights. He noted that faculty members in government universities and colleges offer private coaching to students or they can also work with private institutes to earn more money. As a result the quality of education provided by government HE institutes is deteriorating.  Therefore, BCL campaigns to address these issues.


The disadvantages of present Bangladeshi student politics are manifold (R9, R10 and R12). The prime concern is that a constraint placed by the unrest and other inevitable circumstances which is resulted by the student politics deteriorates the quality of education (see Figure 3).   R1, R10, R11 and R12 said that DU is the apex of the country’s HE institutes. Therefore the student politics of DU control student politics for the whole country. But emergencies created by DU’s student politics resulted in the establishment of a ‘police camp’ within the campus (EQ, R3, R1, R11, R10 and R11). Moreover, the present situation of unrest created by student politics forced the authorities to move Dhanmondi police station closer to the university campuses. It should be mentioned that Ramana and Lalbagh police stations are already located closer to the campuses. DU, BUET and DMC are all located adjacently. If a situation requires stationing police within the campuses, how can HE institutes perform their regular activities (R1 R10 R11 R12 and EQ)?

Student organizations often fight each other to establish their parties’ authority within the campus and surroundings (R3, R9, R12 and EQ). It is now common for HE institutes to be closed by the strikes caused by student politics.

R12 also mentioned that in an academic year, a minimum of 20 days is usually lost due to student political unrest. In addition, he says that in a year more than 30 days are lost as a result of Hartal called by different national political parties. Student organizations’ affiliation with the national political parties also forces HE institutes to close during these Hartal periods (R9, R10, R11, R4, and EQ) (see below figure 7). R10 and R12 also mentioned that at Hartal students involved with student politics work as the ‘picketers’. But R1, R5, R6, R7 and R8 link student unrest with the country’s overall situation. They point to the country’s overall ‘miserable degrading situation’ as the main causal factor of student unrest. R1 stated that “student unrest is not a separate issue, it is a part of the country’s present unrest”. R10, 12, R11, R5 and R1 made the point that campus political unrest sometimes leads to accidental death.

Figure 1: Numbers of ‘Hartal’ days, Weekend & National holidays and Total school working days by year

YearNumbers of ‘Hartal’ daysWeekend & National holidaysTotal school working days
200063104 + 120[{365-(120+104+63)} =78] (78)
199976104 + 120[{365-(120+104+76)} =78] (65)
199863104 + 120[{365-(120+104+63)} =78] (78)
199764104 + 120[{365-(120+104+64)} =78] (77)
19969152 + 120[{365-(120+52+91)} =102] (102)
199517152 + 120[365-(120+52+171)=22

*In 1997, weekend holidays increased from one to two, other national holidays include Ramadan, Christmas, summer vacation
Source: Data compiled from DR of different newspapers

If circumstances force an HE institute to close for more than 50 days in an academic year, how will the institute provide appropriate HE? Obviously, it cannot do so. To illustrate this problem, we use the data of HSC examination results of different years of three colleges, namely Dhaka College, Notre Dame College and Dhaka City College. It should be noted that Dhaka College’s students are involved in party politics, while the students of Notre Dame College and Dhaka City College are not involved in party politics. However their students can be members of different educational clubs i.e. Science Club, Arts and Social Science Club, and Debating Club organized and directed by the faculty members and students. We also provide the data on SSC results because students enrol in an HSC programme after completion of SSC.

Figure 2: results of HSC examination of Dhaka College, Notre Dame College and Dhaka City College

Name of the CollegeYearNumber of students having first division at SSC to enrol in HSC programmeNumber of students passed HSC securing first divisionPercentage of HSC first division holders
Dhaka College2002
Notre Dame College 2002
Dhaka city College2001

Source: personal communication R9 and R10’s points are important to note before analysing the table. Students studying at a college where student politics are available can unusually do ‘nakal’ in the examination which helps them to secure ‘duinumbari’ (better performance) rather than their actual performance. They sometimes sit in a different room where ‘open book’ examinations are available (R10, R9 and R12).  The percentages of HSC first division holders are higher at NDC and DCC than at DC.  R12 said that before liberation the performances of DC students were better than NDC and DCC students. Therefore, it can be concluded that present student political involvement not only encroaches on their study time but also brings an inappropriate educational atmosphere.

Figure 3: Achievement of public university graduates from primary to tertiary level

PrimarySSC2HSC3Bachelor (Hons)

Source: Compiled data

The above figure also supplements the earlier figure and the concept established analysing the earlier figure. The trend shows that the result of the university graduates is a declining feature in Bangladeshi education system. The differences between primary to junior secondary is not very higher. A slight higher differences starts from secondary level. From higher secondary, the declining feature of the result is comparatively higher than secondary level. In the university level, this trend is in utmost position therefore it can be testify that quality of the education in university level is not in a level of expectation. A number of factors can be blamed, however, student politics is one of the prime factors which also influence the difference since Bangladeshi education system experience the student politics from higher secondary level and this is extreme in the tertiary education provision. By analysing the trend of some countries (i.e., Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore), the increasing features is found in the tertiary education provision since these systems are more conception based. Therefore securing the good score is possible in tertiary level if someone can precisely grasps, manipulate and disseminate the concept in a precise way. Example can be cited from Western education system where CGPA or distinction/merit system has been introduced as students’ are receiving more than 80%.

Moreover, student leaders sometimes engage in corruption or criminal actions. For instance, communications received from the ‘New Market Businessman Association’ and ‘Elephant Road Shop Owner Association’ indicated that they could reduce the prices of their goods by 15% if they did not have to provide ‘chada’ (subscriptions) to student leaders, especially at DC and DU. Students involved in politics not only create a miserable degrading atmosphere in HE institutes, but also their abominable practices cause social decadence. R3, R5, R7, R9, R11 and R12 related that a student leader at Jahangirnagar University had ‘scored a century’ of rapes. But R1 and R2 claimed that BCL had expelled him from ‘our party’. The question that should be asked, however, is how was the student allowed to achieve such a shameful record? It is important to ask why the party did not take necessary action after the first rape and how was this student allowed to pursue his education abroad (DR). Certainly, it is proven that he had received illegal support from his political party. In addition, a student leader of JCD killed a BUET student in June 2002, but he has still not been arrested (R1, R2, R5, R6, R9, R12). R11 and R12 also mentioned that students involved in politics have no respect for their teachers and elderly people. They have also been known to kill their teachers if the teachers try to prevent them from committing abominable practices. However, R1 to R8 said that only a few student leaders are involved in abominable activities and that it is the people, police and journalists who have generalized these exceptions as a characteristic aspect of student politics. R1 also said that “I was arrested in 1988 and 1994 but the police didn’t try to understand that I am a constructive student leader. And they punished and injured me seriously”. Students involved in politics are continuing HE for a longer period by enrolling in different programmes because to be a ‘high level of student leader, it takes a longer period’ (R1, R5, R6, R3 R10, R11 and R12). R2 stated that he has waited almost 20 years to be the president of BCL of Dhaka region.

Involvement in party politics forces students to work as the ‘party tools’ (R5, R6, R3 R9, R10, R11 and R12). They are commanded by their leaders to campaign in favour of their party, especially during the election period. Students involved in politics are also known as the hijackers of the ‘ballot paper’. They also force people to contribute their vote to their party. Moreover they oppress the people of minority groups and non-privileged classes at the direction of their leaders.

EQ, R9, R10, R11 and R12 held the view that students involved in politics force teachers to provide them with a list of key questions prior to the examinations. Moreover, R10, R11 and R12 also mentioned that they are doing ‘nakal’ in the examination but the authorities cannot take effective action due to their connection with the political leaders. R11 said that “I was furiously threatened by a national politician that if I take any action against any of his party students, I will be sacked from my job”. Brilliant students are threatened with the ‘competition of the job market’ since it is the student leaders who get the jobs because of their association with the national politicians.

Students’ involvement in party politics and impact on quality assurance in HE and development

Discussions of previous sections have already illuminated the impact of student involvement in ‘party politics’ on ND. Nevertheless a brief discussion in this section will help to explain some specific points. Student politics is not self-directed. It is now working in collaboration with the national politics. Therefore the impact of national politics and student politics in ND are interrelated. We will not discuss the issue of national politics, but a simple view of Clinton (2003) and WB (2002) is that the Bangladeshi people’s greatest enemy is the political instability of their country. Political leaders do not bother about the country’s development. They are only concerned with their own development and most of the political leaders have shady backgrounds as holders of ‘black money’. Honest and competent people are not interested in entering politics because of the present ‘polluted situation’. In addition, R10, R11, R12 and EQ believe that political leaders have enough money to send their children to pursue their education in developed countries; so political leaders have no worries about the miserable degrading atmosphere of the country’s HE institutes.

It was our expectation that student politics would bring a prosperous life for Bangali and accordingly that it was contributing to ND. But the present activities of student politics are very disappointing (R1 to R12 and EQ).

Student politics hinders not only social freedom but also economic development. Before elaborating on this, it is important to note that education itself can play a significant role for ND, so any threat to education is a threat to ND. Rashid (2001) notes that large numbers of students have been killed as a result of student politics since 1971. It is very simple to understand that if students are frequently killed in situations of unrest caused by student politics, the unrest does not remain confined to HE campuses but spreads throughout the country. When a daughter reaches adulthood, parents are afraid to send their daughter to school and away from home because of their fear of student leaders (R10, R9, R3, R12 and EQ). R9 also said that “my parents are not only worried for my sister but also for me. Nobody knows when and where the fighting will be started”. Such circumstances hinder not only the development of HE but also of the overall social freedom.

In addition, in their haste to become affluent overnight, student leaders employ corrupt practices (terrorism, ‘jamidakhal’ ‘baridakhal’ ‘Chadabasi’) and deny poor people their right to access basic goods (R5, R7, R10, R12 and EQ).

The impact on economic growth and the development of HE is serious. The honours bachelor degree is a four-year programme and the masters programme requires another year to complete (BANBEIS 2002). But students need at least 8 years to complete the masters degree due to the so-called ‘session jam’ created by student politics. Let us give an example to illustrate this: a student was due to complete his/her master degree in 1988 from DU’s economics department (assuming he/she passed the examination) but due to ‘session jam’ no examinations could be conducted before 1993 for the 1988 cohort. The problem is that the certificates of the students conceal this appalling situation, because the year inserted on the certificate is 1988. So how can the educational budgets possibly meet the demand of these additional HE periods? If every student has to spend an extra 3-7 years pursuing HE, how will he/she be funded? Who will support their old parents in maintaining their family? Who will bear the educational and accommodation expenses of their younger brothers and sisters? Another important point to note is that the enrolment age for candidates wishing to hold a government job is 30 years. (In Bangladesh, a government job is more prestigious and once secured there is virtually no chance of dismissal.)  To be a ‘first class’ government officer, a candidate has to have a masters degree with necessary experience, but if a student is over 30 by the time he/she passes his/her masters degree due to the so-called session jam, how can he/she apply for government jobs. Consequently most of the masters degree holders are jobless or in a job which is not relevant to his/her qualifications. R12 points out that “even though ‘session jam’ is comparatively reduced now, students have to sit the examinations without proper preparation because ‘we’ cannot provide them with enough seminars, and cannot allow them sufficient time for reading”. On the other hand, WB (2002) suggests that by utilizing manpower properly Bangladesh can gain a strong economy. But under the circumstances described it is sheer fantasy to think that WB’s suggestion could be implemented.

As a consequence of ‘contractors’ having to provide ‘chada’ to the local student leaders to execute the developmental works (i.e. construction/repairing of building and road etc.), the quality of the developmental works is deteriorating. Entrepreneurs not only have little incentive to establish new businesses but they are also unwilling to extend their existing business because student leaders often impose a larger amount of ‘taxes’ (illegal subscriptions) on them. The Daily Prothom-Alo, Daily Star and some other newspapers reported on 21st December 2002 that a few leading garments and leather industries were going to be closed because JCD leader and parliamentarian Pintu imposes a huge amount of ‘taxes’ on those industries. It should be noted that garments and leather sectors earn more foreign currency than others by exporting their manufactured products (see chart 1).

Students who are involved in politics tend to travel without paying their fare (R1, R5, R9 R7, R9, R11 and R12). They even like to impose ‘taxes’ on transport owners (R9 and R12). So, fighting between transport workers and students involved in politics is now a regular activity and it leads to transport strikes for uncertain periods (R11 and EQ). Hampering of communications also hinders the country’s usual activities.

Chart 1: Exports from Bangladesh during 1997-98

Source: BGMEA 2001


As we mentioned above, Bangladeshi student politics and corruption of the HE atmosphere are interrelated. Corrupt activities (i.e. illicit admission to and retention in the HE system of students involved in politics, illegal distribution of accommodation in halls of residence, pressure of illegitimate distribution of govt. budget, illicit changing of textbooks’ contents as described earlier perpetrated by faculty members, support staff, and political leaders provide incentives to students to join in ‘party politics’. So it is quite natural that a ‘student politics’ which was born and has grown up with corruption will continue to play a role in creating a corrupt educational atmosphere. As a result, students involved in politics are conducting a wide range of corrupt practices, i.e. nakal, baridhakal, jamidhkal, Chadabasi which bring pollution and corruption not only within HE but also in society in general. So how could such a corrupt HE atmosphere/management possibly provide quality education to the students and develop their capacity to be significant actors in promoting ND. Moreover, any corruption itself always hinders ND.

How can students play a constructive role in building an appropriate educational atmosphere?

There is no doubt that the present HE atmosphere in the country is not good enough to provide quality education (R1 to R12 and EQ). But it is related to the overall situation of political unrest in the country (R1, R2, R3, R5, and R7). To create a better educational atmosphere in HE institutes, R1, R5, R2, R6 and R9 suggest that brilliant students need to join in the politics so that the ‘so-called’ students would not have a place in student politics. They also mention that their involvement in student politics would ensure that the country has good political leaders in the future. But to me as an observer, the issue appears to be beset with problems. Involvement of brilliant students in politics not only would encroach upon their study time but also they would have to challenge the rival group due to the existing circumstances of student politics. As an example, two brilliant students named Avi and Niru joined in student politics and they became known as the most ‘dangerous’ student leaders who love ‘killing and raping’. And now Avi is a parliamentarian of notorious reputation.

On the other hand, R9, R10, R11 R12 and EQ’s views are that ‘banning student politics is a must’ to solve the problems and to reinstate the appropriate educational atmosphere (BRAC 2002). We believe that banning student politics is not a solution for the following reasons. Student politics on campus are not officially recognized. So if government wished to ban that, it would first have to accord that official recognition. Once government officially recognizes student politics, the chances of banning them would be almost zero because the student leaders would have a legal issue to campaign against that. Therefore, if a government tried to impose a ban, their rivals would incite their students to create situations of unrest. Moreover, “anybody who has voting power can be involved in politics” (Rashid 2001). So 18 year old students have the right to be involved in politics. However, in Bangladesh, most students start politics at the age of fifteen.

Students’ basic responsibility is to study. 80% of their time should be used for study or study related matters, leaving only 20% to be used for other activities (R1 to R12, and EQ). As mature citizens, students may have an interest in politics just as they are interested in sports, music, films etc. But that does not mean that they have to be engaged with them as a full time professional (R9, R7, R10 R12, R11 and EQ). If HE institutes insisted that all of their students should spend 80% of their time in study, this would create the conditions for fostering an appropriate HE atmosphere. And this would also result in HE campuses free from national politics. We do not need to deprive students of their rights but we could create so-called politics-free campuses – just as we can create smoking-free campuses – by keeping students busy in study and other social activities.

HE institutions could keep their students busy with study and other social activities by implementing the following suggestions:

  • Teachers need to put in more time monitoring their students’ performance, with regular use of ‘tests’ and assignments. They should also strive to foster their students’ humanity. They should also act as the ‘mentor’ of their students (Altbach, 1974, Rose, 1969)
  • HE institutes need to ensure sufficient educational facilities. They should establish a number of different clubs for science, arts, social science, debate, sport and culture (e.g. football, cricket, music clubs). Every student should be a member of at least one club in accordance with his/her particular interest(s). These clubs should be led jointly by teachers and students. The leading positions in these clubs would be occupied by competent and interested people on a roster basis. There would be no permanent leader positions in the clubs (Altbach 1974 and Glazer 1968).
  • For students not making satisfactory progress extra support would be provided.
  • HE institutes need to introduce knock-out rules, so that students who were not sincere, committed or able would not be permitted to stay in HE institutes without achieving satisfactory progress (R12 and Altbach 1974, 1968).
  • HE institutes need to introduce not only examinations to judge students’ academic performance but also competitive occasions to judge their performance in terms of social activities (i.e. sports, music, debate) and general knowledge. These measures would foster social identity in students and as a result they would not turn to politics to find a social identity (Altbach, 1974, 1968, 1973 and Ross, 1969).


The final comment is that to address the existing problems, Bangladesh urgently needs a united strong political commitment, otherwise there is no hope of achieving an appropriate HE atmosphere. We have to remember that the students who died as a result of the fighting caused by student politics are our own sons/daughters or brothers/sisters. And they are our assets. Therefore, every professional member of society should be committed to help build the best prospects for our students.   Moreover, everybody needs to bear in mind that self-development cannot be authentic development until Bangladesh is no longer a developing, but a developed country. Furthermore, a situation of unrest knows no laws, so student unrest is a threat to anybody’s life, even that of the political leaders or their children (Ross, 1969).


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1 The caretaker government is formed after every five years by neutral enlightened people of the society for a period of three months with special authority to conduct the national parliament election

2 Secondary School Certificate

3 Higher Secondary Certificate

Authors: Gazi Mahbubul Alam, PhD: Programme Officer, ILO, Dhaka Office, Bangladesh.

Mirja Mohammad Shahjamal, MPhill: Research Associate, Research and Evaluation Division, BRAC, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Email:

About the author

Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Dr. Gazi mahbubul Alam is a faculty member of the Department of Educational Management, Planning & Policy, Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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