Shining a light an the reality concerning job security, or rather lack of it, in our private universities.
Today I would like to shed light on a less-talked-about issue which should be addressed seriously and immediately by the university authorities, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Education. I reckon the title says it all that is hardly discussed by our policy makers, academics and private university entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. Formulating a uniform service manual to be prepared and approved by the UGC (preferably Higher Education Commission when constituted in future) could be a panacea for all the job-related problems that teachers face at private universities!
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC University and BRAC, gave a keynote speech on “Assembly on Higher Education in Bangladesh” (sponsored by Freidrich-Ebert-Stiftung, or FES, a German think-tank) on 11th March 2018 at Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban, University of Dhaka. According to his speech, the current ratio of teacher-student and the lack of qualified teachers are the two main reasons behind the low quality of higher education in our country. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2017, in the top 800 universities an average teacher-student ratio is 1:16.5 whereas in Bangladesh, the ratio in public universities is 1:26 and in private universities 1:22 which is far from achieving the international standard.
Besides these two challenges, he addressed the following problems faced by the higher education institutions at present:
a) Lack of required skills of the graduates who are failing to meet the market demands
b) Lack of professional development of university teachers (development is limited to obtaining an advanced degree in the respective field) who are seldom trained to acquire pedagogical skills and engage students in an active learning process
c) Lowest investment in education
d) Lack of fund for worthwhile research
e) Mal-politics or inappropriate student politics leading to many kinds of crimes and political violence on campuses
However, one important point missing in his speech - though he made some effective recommendations like turning the UGC into the Higher Education Commission, severing ties of student wings with mainstream political parties of Bangladesh and reviewing “Private University Act 2010” - - is the lack of job security for teachers at private universities. This insecurity demoralizes the teachers who want to build career in academia. Since private university teachers do not have any collective platform like teachers’ association/union (as public university teachers do have) they keep mum and cannot voice their concern against any injustice done to them.
Currently the number of private universities stands at 101. We know that most of the private universities don’t have any service rules. Authorities of many universities seem very reluctant to make a well-documented service rule which defines clearly how the teachers are recruited, promoted and dismissed. Some universities recruit fresh graduates for entry level positions like lecturers on a contractual basis for a year. Their job is subject to renewal though the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the teachers are not well-defined and well-circulated. Now questions remain - why do these universities offer a contractual job to a fresh graduate? Why do the authorities want to recruit bright students, having outstanding results, for teaching positions since they are not ready to offer them a secure career with an attractive compensation package? Why do not they want to see the teachers succeed in their career? Why are they (most private university authorities) reluctant to offer full packages/benefits -- contributory PF, gratuity, health insurance, earned leave encashment and fund for research & scholarship, etc. -- to the teachers who want to build a secure career in academia? Why do they not want to be self-sufficient in terms of resources and physical facilities? Why are they not interested about practising good governance at universities?
In many private universities full-time permanent teachers are also deprived of their career growth because authorities of these universities hire professors (mostly retired professors) from public universities and renew their contracts annually. Those professors hold the top positions for an indefinite period, but the full-time teachers opting for teaching as a career do not get the responsible positions. Moreover, the authorities of many universities are not interested about spending money on “faculty development” and “need-based research”. There are very few private universities where teachers’ voice is heard when it comes to making decisions.
Since the inception of the private university, 26 long years have gone by. But many of these universities are not well-organized and well-structured in higher education sector. If the universities fail to establish a congenial academic environment - - by providing the teachers with adequate facilities, ensuring job security, and offering them lucrative compensation packages - - our efforts to enhance quality in higher education will go abortive! n
Sheikh Nahid Neazy is Associate Professor at the Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.