Dhaka Courier

The urgent need for meaningful reforms of the University of Dhaka

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​​​​​​​University of Dhaka: Making Unmaking Remaking, Edited by Imtiaz Ahmed & Iftekhar Iqbal, Published by Prothoma Prokashan in association with University of Dhaka and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Bangladesh Office, 2016, Pages: 336, ISBN: 978-984-91762-1-3

The University of Dhaka, the oldest and largest University in contemporary Bangladesh, started its journey on the first day of July, 1921. Its role in nation formation and the emergence of independent Bangladesh is a widely discussed issue. Dhaka University is the only university in the world where the students raised the flag of the country on 2 March, 1971 and handed it over to the national leaders. The birth of Bangladesh cannot be imagined without taking into consideration the glorious role and the painful sacrifice of Dhaka University. Since its inception the University has also a distinct character of producing distinguished scholars who have enriched the global pool of knowledge by making notable contributions in the diverse fields of education and research. However, once gained a reputation as the ‘Oxford of the East’, the premier university of the country has over the decades lost much of its past glory that has serious negative implication for the state and society. What could be the reason for this dismal condition? Is there any way out to overcome this situation? In the book “University of Dhaka: Making Unmaking Remaking”, the authors attempt to respond to these vital questions, in various areas ranging from student politics and youth mobilization to teacher politics and higher education, pedagogy and curriculum, governance, sanitation, housing, security, cultural practices and many more.

Contributed by both young and experienced academics and scholars, the book identifies the fundamental challenges that the premier university of Bangladesh has been facing and the ways to overcome them in order to regain its academic standing nationally as well as globally. This volume, containing fourteen chapters, is indeed a combined product of the Department of History and the Department of International Relations of Dhaka University. The book begins with Professor Abdul Momin Chowdhury’s self reflection which depicts a broad picture of downward shifts that have taken place during his teaching career in the fundamental academic areas of the University, such as the residential system, tutorial practice, recruitment of students and teachers, governance, language of instruction, research and so on. For Chowdhury, the deterioration in today’s Dhaka University stems from the teaching staff’s declining interpersonal relationship with students, negligence of English as the medium of instruction, unmanageable number of students, misdirected student politics as well as an absence of moral anchorage and lack of true feeling as an academic community. The eminent historian concludes his personal reflection by uttering a word of caution: “If we do not ensure ‘merit’ as the only criteria for recruitment, promotion and all sort of progress in the university and say good bye to ‘affiliation’ (obviously political), the consequences will not bode well for education.”

The next three chapters (2, 3 & 4) of the book focus on the issue of student politics and youth mobilization. All the chapters provide an outline of the historical evolution of student politics, but take different yet complementary perspectives on the subject. Professor Syed Munir Khasru and Md. Tahmid Zami’s chapter summarizes the history of student politics in Bangladesh. In the chapter “Student Politics in Post-1971 Bangladesh”, Professor Anu Muhammad investigates the dynamics of student politics since independence. He identifies the problem of student politics within the broader political economic shifts and points out that the ruling parties, to keep neo-liberal strategies alive, use the students as political tools – a process he terms ‘Ruling Party Student Organization (RPSO)’ phenomenon. Professor Fakrul Alam’s paper on ‘Student-Teacher Politics and Tertiary Education’ provides an insight not just to student politics, but teacher politics too. Dr. Alam emphasizes that the best way to restore healthy student as well as teacher politics would be by reviving the existing representative institutional structure under the umbrella of the DUCSU.

Curriculum and pedagogical issues are discussed in the chapters 5, 6, 7 & 8. In the paper “Problems and Prospects of Higher Education”, Atonu Rabbani emphasizes the need for appropriately trained teachers, advanced research and capacity building in order to quickly take Bangladesh’s still unique advantage of “demographic dividend” to “exploit the productive capacity of the new workforce”. Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan and Mohammad Abul Kawsar examine liberal arts, humanities and social sciences curriculum. Drawing from the examples of Dhaka University’s Departments of Political Science, International Relations and Sociology, Tanzimuddin Khan discovers that the relative autonomy of the department within the University governance framework has been abused to the extent that “personal interest, consultancy preference, vested group interest of the faculty members” have informed the curricula and content of the course. In the paper “University of Dhaka in the Age of Internet”, Mohammad Atique Rahman investigates the changing nature of University education in the Internet and digital age and evaluates Dhaka University’s performance to this regard. He recommends that the University take necessary initiatives to regulate the E-environment in such a way that would maximally promote and sustain university teaching-learning activities.

The next three chapters deal with the issues related to the social life of the Dhaka University campus. In his paper “Political Cleavages, Patronage System and Campus Insecurity”, A. S. M. Ali Ashraf delves deeper into an analysis of the politicization of the University of Dhaka in the polarizing politics of the two major political parties in the country. He notes the dominance of what he calls “party-demics” in the place of academics who influence all of campus life in favour of their clan and party interest. Md. Rezwanul Haque Masud and Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan draws our attention towards a set of pressing issues affecting campus life; i.e. the state of infrastructure, accommodation and food, academic environment, extracurricular activities, the role of Provosts and House Tutors and the state of student politics within the Halls. Lailufar Yasmin starts her paper with conceptual issues of culture and examines the controversies of so-called tension between the Bengali and Muslim identity as reflected in the dresses that the students, especially females, wear. The author, however, finds that “being both a Muslim and a Bengali are no longer mutually exclusive categories.”

The last three chapters (12, 13 & 14) of the volume focus on the historical and contemporary issues of governance of higher education in the country and Dhaka University in particular. Muhammad Yeahia Akhter sheds clear light on various kinds of corruption in the tertiary education sector, including in the admission process of students, and the recruitment of faculty and administrative staff of universities, including the Vice Chancellors. In the paper “The Making of a ‘Political’ University”, Professor Amena Mohsin examines the process through which Dhaka University has been politicized. Starting off with a reference to the politics of elitist knowledge in colonial times, she argues that Bangladesh’s major political parties use academic institutions to carry out their parochial party agendas in a game of power politics. The book concludes with the chapter “A History of the Future” contributed by Dr. Iftekhar Iqbal. The author recalls the solid start of Dhaka University as an institution of higher learning and advanced research, making its existence felt not only in South Asia, but globally as well. Rather than comparing the University of Dhaka with other universities, Dr Iqbal compares it with its own historical self and suggests that the key to meaningful reforms of the university can be found within the institution itself.

Needless to mention that Dhaka University has a glorious past and it holds endless possibilities. We must not forget that the future of Bangladesh still lies with this institution. It is high time the University community, the Government of Bangladesh and other stakeholders worked together for transforming the university into a centre of academic excellence as the nation is awaiting for the centenary celebrations of the University of Dhaka in 2021.

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail: smrayhanulislam@hotmail.com

  • The urgent need for meaningful reforms of the University of Dhaka
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 26
  • S. M. Rayhanul Islam
  • DhakaCourier

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