Establishing good governance and ensuring quality higher education are the main challenge.
“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
It’s been a positive move made by the government to upgrade the UGC (University Grants Commission of Bangladesh), which was established in 1972, to an autonomous HEC (Higher Education Commission) which will be working independently in establishing good governance and ensuring quality education at higher education institutions at large. The Ministry of Education has already submitted a draft law styled “Higher Education Commission Act 2018” for approval to a joint committee of secretaries which had a meeting - presided by the cabinet secretary - on 26 August 2018.
According to the draft law, the honourable president of the state will appoint the chairman of HEC comprising five full-time members and a part-time member. In consultation with the chancellor, this commission will also include other distinguished members such as three vice-chancellors from public universities, three from private universities and three Deans from public universities. The secretary to the Ministry of Education, a member of Planning Division and the secretary of Finance Division have been included as members of HEC. As soon as the law is passed, UGC will cease to function and HEC will come into existence. (Source: The Daily Samakal on 26 August 2018)
However, today I would like to focus on the most significant directives given by the honourable chancellor of the universities and president of Bangladesh, Mr Abdul Hamid, in an important meeting - - with the vice-chancellors of all private universities - - held on 6 February 2018 in his office. Showing his concern over the way private universities are run currently, the president placed a 16-point guideline before them. The most important ones are given below:
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) Besarkari Bishwabiddalay Ayin 2010 (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 to the UGC as well. For the appraisal of the honourable chancellor, a copy of the report should be sent to the president office.
f) The Ministry of Education and the UGC have to make sure the universities relocate to their permanent campuses and run both academic and administrative activities within the shortest possible time.
The government is also serious about forming a national accreditation council so as to ensure the quality of education at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). It’s been more than a year since the Bangladesh Accreditation Council Bill 2017 was passed in the parliament. According to 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. As part of the formation of the council, the government appointed the former vice-chancellor of Jagannath University Professor Mesbah Uddin Ahmed as the first the chairman of the autonomous body on 8 August 2018.
The ongoing HEQEP (Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project) – which started with 13 universities in 2015 -- will end on 31 December 2018. Its successor project named HEAT (Higher Education Acceleration and Transformation) – supported and financed by the World Bank in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the UGC (as the implementing agency) – would be launched hopefully next year. Now it’s time to comply with the recommendations given by the EPRs (External Peer Reviewers) at almost all the programs of the universities. And IQACs of all universities should take care of this with sincerity and seriousness.
We know that most of the private universities lack good governance and financial transparency. But unfortunately we seem to be ignoring the exigency of establishing good governance and ensuring financial accountability at these universities. Simultaneously, we tend to confuse the idea of quality education with the relocation of the universities to permanent campus - - 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 and listen to their roadmap and give them extended time for implementing the 4-year improvement plans, submitted to the UGC, which will ultimately help them move to their permanent campuses.
Unequivocally, establishing good governance and ensuring financial transparency at private universities should be the top priorities. And to make it happen Besarkari Bishwabiddyalay Ayin 2010 (Private University Act 2010) needs to be amended positively and immediately. Otherwise, only moving to the permanent campuses will not benefit the students as well as the academic staff in future. Last but not the least, the private university authorities should take into consideration the following list of characteristics (according to Philip G. Altbach, an 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
Sheikh Nahid Neazy, Associate Professor Department of English Stamford University Bangladesh