Losing its shine

Senior teachers and former vice chancellors of the University of Dhaka tell Mohiuddin Alamgir about the various reasons for which the quality of education at the prestigious institution is declining

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Thousands of admission seekers are currently taking entrance exams to enroll themselves to the University of Dhaka, considered to be the best seat of learning for higher education in the country based on its history, diversity of academic fields, democratic and cultural eloquence as well as social acceptance.

Yet some of the finest minds from our public sphere have issued alarm that the institution, which has recently celebrated its 96th founding anniversary on July 1, has been facing a decline in academic excellence over the past few years.

Issues like politicization, nepotism and irregularities in appointing teachers, low-quality research work and publications, poor library and laboratory facilities, ineffective students union with little cultural activities and other co-curricular activities, has sent DU, once known as the ‘Oxford of the East,’ to a point of no return.

Former Dhaka University vice chancellors and senior professors of the university rang the alarm bell seeking immediate steps for improvement of education in the institution while urging a stop in partisan appointment and increasing educational facilities.

‘We have reached such critical position that one or two wrong decisions can call on a complete destruction of the reputation of the university,’ said SMA Faiz, a former vice-chancellor of the university.

 

‘Other universities of the world are progressing while DU is failing to keep up with their pace,’ said AK Azad Chowdhury, another former DU VC as well as chairman of the University Grants Commission.

Most of the teachers in the university are busy with consultancies, making project proposals for different organisations and teaching at other institutes and are hardly available when needed by the students of DU students or to ensure quality improvement, said university history supernumerary professor Syed Anwar Husain.

The view of the educationalists is mirrored in the University’s decline in the Quacquarelli Symonds rankings of universities around the world where DU has fallen from 365th best university in 2005 to between 550 and 600 in 2010, and further to 701 to 750 as of September 2017.

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According to June 2017 edition of the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, which looks at the number of electronic publications related with a university on the internet, Dhaka University ranked 2,275 amongst universities worldwide.

Questionable teacher appointment

Teachers blamed partisan teacher appointment as well as personal benefits from the appointment for this drastic decline.

About 750 or 38 per cent of Dhaka University teachers were appointed by the immediate past VC AAMS Arefin Siddique, amid widespread allegation of politicisation, nepotism and irregularities.

Since January 2009 when ruling Awami League-backed blue panel teacher leader Arefin Siddique assumed office, in most cases, teachers were appointed without advertisement, more than the positions advertised and without post-graduate degrees, senior teachers and syndicate members alleged.

Most of the appointments were made considering political links, regionalism and lobbying instead of quality, they added.

They said that the main reason for mass recruitments was to consolidate power and ‘appoint voters’ to ensure victory of AL supporters, especially those close to the vice-chancellor, in elections to teachers’ association, deans, senate and special senate for picking three-member panel for vice-chancellor appointment.

Teachers alleged that during the past eight years and a half, the university appointed 70 teachers while compromising educational qualifications, three without post-graduation degree and about 40 in addition to the positions advertised.

Syed Anwar Husain and Institute of Social Welfare and Research professor Muhammad Samad and sociology professor Sadeka Halim alleged that those in charge cared little about the university’s rules and regulations in the procedure for the appointment of over 900 teachers as they ‘appointed voters.’

Muhammad Samad said that no other vice-chancellor in the history of DU has appointed so many teachers.

Sadeka Halim said that about 100-150 teachers were appointed at the university every year despite budget crunch and these irregularities were unacceptable.

However, Siddique said that 749 teachers were appointed during his tenure and all the appointments were made following university’s rules and regulations.

Teacher appointment is regular phenomenon, he said, adding that 300-350 teachers had retired and 300-350 others went abroad for a long time for higher studies forcing the university to appoint teachers.

The Dhaka University had about 1,200 teachers in January 2009, when Siddique assumed the office and the number now stands at 1,992.

‘Appointment of teachers without advertisement is unprecedented,’ said SMA Faiz, adding, ‘I heard from many that politicisation was one of the reasons for large scale appointments.’

‘Teachers were appointed on political consideration in the past and such practice does not exist now,’ AAMS ArefinSiddique said.

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‘Unnecessary’ departments

Since January 2009, the university opened 18 new departments, about 22 per cent of its 83 departments, most of which were deemed ‘unnecessary’ by senior teachers. They alleged that some departments were opened ‘without infrastructure’ and only to recruit teachers to concentrate his strength.

The newly opened departments include television, film and photography studies; printing and publication studies; Japanese studies; criminology; communication disorder; dance; applied mathematics; theoretical and computational chemistry; organisation strategy and leadership; educational and counselling psychology; public health; pharmacy; oceanography; disaster science and management; meteorology; nuclear engineering; robotics and mechatronics engineering and history of arts.

Pharmacy department was revived in 2014 following a High Court order after its closure in 2003.

The university also established four of its 12 institutes – Institute of Energy, Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, Institute of Leather Engineering and Technology and Confucius Institute – during the same period.

‘Unfortunately, the target of opening new department and institutes was not to spread education, rather it was done for political gain,’ said Syed Anwar Husain.

‘Many of these new departments are unnecessary,’ said Samad. ‘I do not know what use will come from the printings and publication studies, or having an institute and another department on disaster management,’ he added.

Teachers said that department of communication disorders did have their own classroom and teachers’ room.Television, film and photography department has a small lab and office at the garage in Social Science faculty building. But the students need to look for classrooms to take classes.

Students said that departments like oceanography, disaster science and management, meteorology, nuclear engineering, robotics and mechatronics engineering do not have well equipped laboratories.

Arefin Siddique, however, said that national and international technological advancements have raised continuous demands for skilled and proficient graduates in these streams leading the authorities to introduce relevant new departments.

Cash cow evening courses

DU authorities were also attentive at introducing evening postgraduate, certificate, diploma and other professional courses at the university even though these are ‘hampering education of regular students’, according to former vice chancellors and senior teachers.

Students and teachers of the university pointed out that although the courses were introduced to spread higher education among professionals to enrich their knowledge and skill, this has now become a cash cow for teachers and officials of many departments.

The academic council first approved evening master’s courses of business faculty in October 2001. Now at least 34 departments and institutes have evening courses and 15 of them introduced such courses after January 2009.

Evening courses at public universities, including the Dhaka University, is producing low-quality graduates, Dhaka University treasurer Kamal Uddin said at a senate meeting on June 18.

Branding them as ‘shop-keepers’, Kamal Uddin said that they were introducing evening courses and enrolling students without holding admission tests on paper, only with a motive of ‘more students more money.’

Arefin Siddique said, ‘There may be some criticisms about all courses and evening courses are no different.’

‘Making profit is never the target of any evening course,’ he continued. ‘Rather we have increased evening courses on different subjects so that professionals can take academic education that will help their profession,’ he added.

Siddique denied all allegations of profiteering of teachers through evening courses.

Acting chiefs and officials

Against the tradition, eleven important Dhaka University offices are being run by acting chiefs. Some of them have carried on for years.

It has been found that the university has acting registrars for about 10 years, acting proctor for six years, acting planning and development director for six years, acting director of accounts for six years, acting librarian and librarian (planning and development) for five years, acting chief engineer for six years and acting director public relations for more than five years.

Besides, acting inspector of colleges and acting director and acting secretary of Dhaka University Prokashana Sangstha are also running their concerned offices.

Accommodation and transport shortage

The academic life of Dhaka University students is seriously hampered for acute shortage of accommodation and transport and the increasing cost of education. The educational expense of DU students has almost doubled in a decade. Additional fees have also been imposed and the prices of educational materials have also soared.

Due to an acute residential crisis at DU, many students are being forced to sleep on the floors of the halls, in guest rooms, in the mosque and prayer rooms, canteens, TV rooms and even the verandas of the halls.

Although the number of students at DU is increasing every year, the authorities are grappling to provide students with accommodation in halls.

The number of students in the university almost doubled to 37,500 in two decades but only four halls of residence were built during the period, increasing the number of seats to just 3,000.

The engineering office of the university said that they had the capacity to accommodate only 16,800 students in the halls and the hostels.

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Sorry state of extracurricular facilities

Most of the seats of Dhaka University central library and hall libraries remain occupied by job seekers. Also, grounds and hall fields are in no condition for games.

As far as student rights issues in the university is concerned, there has been no Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) elections for more than 27 years. Most senior teachers pointed out that this is preventing university students from exercising their democratic rights to elect leaders to represent their interest and from organising extracurricular activities important for their development.

It has, in particular, meant that five seats, reserved for students at the university’s decision-making body, the senate, to be able to press their demands have remained vacant.

The lack of the university’s involvement in certain sporting activities, cultural activities is also blamed on the lack of DUCSU elections.

The university has not participated in any national sports event in three years, according to an official of the Physical Education Centre of the university.

The DU cricket team participated in the national cricket championship last in the 2006–07 session. Also, swimmers have not taken part in the national swimming competition since the 2007–08 session.

The university had previously played a central role in all national movements, leading to the war of independence in 1971.

During the war of independence, an unaccounted number of students, 14 teachers, an officer and 26 employees of the university lost their lives at the hands of Pakistani army and their collaborators.

After the independence, the government promulgated the University of Dhaka Order 1973, which resulted in democratic norms and autonomy becoming integral features of the institution.

The University of Dhaka also played an important role in expediting the downfall of autocratic regime in 1990.

In the absence of cultural and sports activities, many students were taking part in anti-social activities such as stalking, theft and drug abuse, claimed senior teachers.

AAMS Arefin Siddique said that a reduction in sporting and cultural activities was not due to lack of DUCSU elections but the introduction of the semester system which has resulted in more academic pressure on students.