“The new University of Excellence is a corporation driven by market forces, and, as such, is more interested in profit margins than in thought.” - Professor Bill Readings (Source: The University in Ruins)
An important meeting - presided by the honourable president and chancellor, Mr Abdul Hamid – with the vice chancellors of all private universities was held on 6 February 2018 in president’s office. The president of the state gave a 16-point guideline and showed his concern over the way private universities are run currently. Here I would like to focus on the most significant directions given by the honourable chancellor of the universities in that meeting. They are as follows:
a) To ensure quality education a modern and need-based curriculum has to be designed by the universities. Accreditation council should be formed and start functioning very soon.
b) Standard has to be maintained in terms of recruiting teachers, and the recruitment process mentioning clearly the required educational qualifications with other relevant skills for teaching positions has to be transparent.
c) At some universities the key positions - - vice chancellor, pro-vice chancellor and treasurer - - have been lying vacant for quite a long time. The Ministry of Education and the UGC need to take necessary steps in this regard.
d) Private University Act 2010 has to be followed properly. The Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission (UGC) have to take care of this.
e) Regular audit accounts of the universities need to be examined in order to ensure financial discipline/transparency. The annual audit reports (most of the universities don’t submit the audit report regularly) have to be submitted to the Ministry of Education and the UGC. For the appraisal of the honourable chancellor, a copy of the report could be sent to the president office.
f) The Ministry of Education and the UGC have to make sure that universities relocate to their permanent campuses and run both academic and administrative activities within the shortest possible time.
However it’s been a worthwhile initiative on part of the chancellor when the government sounds serious about forming a national accreditation council and ensuring the quality of education at higher education institutions (HEIs). Since the Bangladesh Accreditation Council Bill 2017 was passed in the parliament it’s been more than a year. But the council is yet to be formed. As per the bill this council would be an autonomous statutory body headed by a chairman -- who would be a senior university professor having 25 years of teaching experience and knowledge about quality assurance and accreditation -- with four full-time and eight part-time members. The council will be responsible for evaluating the programs and certifying the institution level qualities of both public and private universities. But till today we don’t know anything about progress of the formation of the council. Even we haven’t heard any name (distinguished professor) who could be the chairman of the council.
According to the UGC Bulletin (Vol. 17; No 2; April-June 2017), some 69 universities - 31 public and 38 private - have come under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) being implemented by the UGC and jointly financed by the World Bank (contributing 88% of the total cost) and the Government of Bangladesh (contributing 12% of the total cost). As part of this project, the Quality Assurance Unit (QAU) of UGC has already set up 69 Institutional Quality Assurance Cells (IQACs) under which the Self-Assessment Committees (SACs) of 812 program offering entities in 69 universities have been conducting Self Assessment (SA) process (one year) at present. And many of the SACs have completed their SA reports which have been evaluated by the External Peer Reviewers (EPRs) comprising one foreign expert and two local experts (subject and quality assurance respectively). These program self-assessment reports have been made on the basis of the feedback given by five stakeholders - -faculty members, current students, alumni, non-academic staff and prospective employers - - and later on submitted to the IQACs. The aspects - - governance; curriculum design; physical facilities; admission progress and achievements; teaching & learning, assessment of students’ performance; student support services; staff & facilities and research and extension - - assessed by the SACs have also been reviewed and judged (on a rating scale: excellent, very good, good, poor and unsatisfactory) by the panel of EPRs. Now the programs/departments are looking forward to preparing their improvement plan which would be implemented in next 4 years. This is how the self-assessment process will complete a five-year cycle.
Despite the programme level self-assessment conducted by the SACs/entities, there is a plethora of constraints - - such as adequate physical facilities, modern library resources, well-equipped labs, efficient academic leaders, sufficient budget, adequate research fund, active link with the industry, practice of good governance, and etc. - - still facing a good many universities. But the university authorities seem to be serious about addressing the problems and implementing their improvement plan as per the recommendations made by the EPRs because the university authorities know that they would not be able to sustain on the market if their programs fail to be certified and accredited by the Accreditation Council in future. But it’s a matter of grave concern that the government has been putting pressure on the university authorities so that they shift to their permanent campuses immediately. My question remains - is permanent campus a panacea for all the problems? If so, how about our public universities? Are all the public universities running well despite having large campuses with adequate physical facilities? Don’t we see any irregularities in recruiting teachers, political violence between two student groups, feud between two groups of teachers, and alleged corruption committed by the vice chancellors in some public universities? Our universities lack good governance and financial transparency. But unfortunately we seem to be ignoring the exigency of establishing good governance and financial accountability at universities and confusing the idea of quality education with the government’s hasty decision of pushing the universities into permanent campuses - be it convenient with the students or not. By my reckoning, the UGC and the Ministry of Education should sit with the vice chancellors of all the private universities (also with the private university association, if needed) and listen to their roadmap and give them time for implementing the 4-year improvement plan which will ultimately help the universities relocate to their permanent campuses.
Last but not least, the private university authorities should take into consideration the following list of characteristics (according to Philip G. Altbach - American professor, author and researcher on international higher education) which are used to define excellence in higher education:
• Excellence in research
• Top quality professors
• Favourable working conditions
• Job security and good salary and benefits
• Adequate facilities
• Adequate funding, including predictability year-to-year
• Academic freedom and an atmosphere of intellectual excitement
• Faculty self-governance
The university authorities should try their best to narrow the gap between the Trustee Board and the UGC/the Ministry of Education in order to ensure the quality of education at all private universities of Bangladesh. The UGC should also make sure the accreditation process does not turn out to be a tool to straitjacket the effective growth of the universities (those functioning well) striving for imparting quality education to the students. In fact, to establish quality culture at universities - both public and private - the government should turn UGC into a Higher Education Commission which will act independently and effectively.
Sheikh Nahid Neazy, Associate Professor, Department of English & Head of Self-Assessment Committee (SAC) under IQAC; Stamford University Bangladesh.