As of 1991, the number of private universities in the country now stands at 108, with 3.5 lakh students and about 15,000 teachers. Some universities like North-South University, Brac University, Bangladesh Independent University, Bangladesh Liberal Arts University and others have achieved academic success and secured positions in global rankings. The commercial standard spoke to Professor Imran RahmanVice-Chancellor of the Liberal Arts University of Bangladesh, on the current situation of higher education in the country, especially in private universities.
What is the role of private universities in the expansion of higher education in the country?
Private universities have been providing education in the country for more than three decades. The time frame, however, is short compared to public universities. But leadership has already shifted to the private side. The number of students in private universities is higher than in public universities, except for the National University.
Many private universities have achieved national and international recognition. While most teachers and senior managers in public universities have become irresponsible in their duties, teachers and managers in private universities are performing their duties well. They even do better quality research than teachers at public universities.
In India, the cost of higher education in private universities is high. But the cost in private universities in Bangladesh is reasonable. Thus, a good number of students can study in private universities.
What are the challenges of operating private universities?
We (reputable private universities) are facing huge problems due to the immature decision of the government. The government has approved so many private universities which are not capable of running academic activities. The image of reputable private universities is tarnished due to these substandard institutions.
The best private universities, in terms of academic and research activities, are deprived of government support. The government does not provide performance-based facilities. Our question is why the government approved these mediocre universities before evaluating them properly.
Students and teachers receive scholarships and other research funds in the United States and even in India. They get tax subsidies and other reasonable facilities. They obtain land from the government to develop their academic activities. But in Bangladesh, we have to pay income tax to the government and buy land at high prices.
Thus, the government should provide research funds and scholarships to teachers and students of private universities.
Bangladesh University of Liberal Arts, North South University, Brac University, Independent University of Bangladesh, United International University, American International University of Bangladesh and some other universities provide education of world level and do good research. But unfortunately, the Ministry of Education has not authorized these universities to conduct masters and doctoral programs.
Private universities all over the world, even in India, are allowed to run masters and doctoral programs. I suggest that the University Grants Commission (UGC) make a policy with certain conditions and allow private universities to conduct doctoral programs.
We are facing a severe shortage of quality teachers and cannot open new departments for this. Even, the process of hiring foreign teachers is very complex. Foreign students also show their reluctance to study in private universities due to these complexities.
How do you rate the academic quality of university students?
Almost all students in Bangladesh who have passed the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams want admission to universities thinking it is their right.
But higher education should not be for everyone and should not be considered a right. Only the deserving whose target is to be teachers or researchers must enroll in universities. The others should follow technical apprenticeships and join the labor market.
Unfortunately, the level of education of students who have passed the HSC is not up to par. They don’t speak languages, even Bengali. They cannot think critically and openly.
Poor quality teachers, curricula and pedagogy are the root of these substandard students. The government must improve the quality of teachers so that they can train a better educated generation. Otherwise, it will also be difficult to ensure quality higher education.
Do you think private university VCs should have the freedom to run academic activities?
Yes, Vice Chancellors (VCs) must have the freedom to conduct academic and administrative activities to ensure the success of institutions. Fortunately, I have all the freedom and I can operate without any barriers. ULAB can be a model in this regard. It is also unexpected that the board members of many universities create obstacles in the management of universities.
How does ULAB do research?
ULAB is a university with a strong research base. We are one of the countries that spend the most on research among private universities. We have six well-functioning research centers that we started entirely with our own funding.
Research centers successfully bid for and win international grants, which fund an increasing proportion of our research expenditures. I am happy that ULAB is carrying out several projects in collaboration with international universities and institutions.
We also encourage our faculties to publish in indexed journals of international quality. Private universities should be allowed to offer doctoral programs so that the production of research and publications can increase exponentially.
What is your initiative on extracurricular activities?
A significant portion of my time is devoted to networking activities with various stakeholders. I am a strong believer in building strong collaborations with industry and leadership development organizations.
I am the vice-president of the Foundation for Learning, Teaching and Research whose aim is to advance the teaching and research capacities of university teachers.
I am a director of Valor of Bangladesh, a leadership development platform supported by some of the best professionals from various industries.
I am the Chairman of the Board of Teach for Bangladesh, an amazing youth leadership institution that is also changing the lives of young learners in underserved schools.
Music provides a pleasant distraction from professional work. I have been a member of the musical group Renaissance since 1997, as a singer and guitarist.
Are you optimistic about the quality of higher education in Bangladesh?
I am very optimistic about the future of higher education in the country. Look at the expansion of higher education over the past three decades. More and more young learners wish to enter university.
The challenge is to improve the quality of higher education and bring Bangladeshi universities closer to international standards. I’m sure it will happen soon.