• Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Private Universities

A struggle for going forward and TIB's Report

Nurul Islam Nahid, MP

Iwelcome TIB's efforts to criticise, find errors and comment on our activities. But these should be based on true, substantive, informative and real evidence. Otherwise, it will create confusion among the general people, teachers, students and all others concerned. I never protest any criticism which has really good intention even if it is wrong. Rather I ponder over the issue and try to understand it. I always try to be careful so that my positive attempts are not misunderstood by anyone.

On June 30, 2014, TIB came up with a 'research report' on private universities. The report was prepared and subsequently reported in mass media in a manner that unjustifiably criticises, attacks and undermines the Ministry of Education (MoE), the UGC and private universities.

The report explicitly says that approval of a new university, appointment of a VC, Pro-VC or treasurer, and execution of any work involved with the UGC are subject to bribery -- amounting to maximum Tk. 3 crore. Interestingly, although the amount paid at different levels is mentioned in the report there is no data about who takes bribe, where bribing takes place and when it happens. I do not have any grievance against TIB. On several occasions, I have openly expressed my admiration for many of their officials.

It has been said that TIB researched for two years to prepare the report. Surprisingly, they did not feel it necessary to communicate or exchange views or verify the information with MoE and the UGC who are their main targets. Even no indication is given as to whether they had discussed things with the authorities of the private universities. On July 3, one of the researchers of the TIB research team participated in a talk show and I got the opportunity to talk to him over phone. In the three-minute long conversation, I started with appreciation for TIB's comment and criticism about our activities and said that the opinions or criticisms should be true, meaningful and informative. In that talk show the researcher, in reply to a question by Golam Rahman a professor and a research scholar of Dhaka University, claimed that they had sent a copy of the report to MoE on the very day of its publication. But this is totally false. In fact, someone dropped the copy of the report at the secretariat gate on July 7 at around 12.45 pm and it reached us through the reception section of the ministry. How can we consider the report to be true when the researcher can openly lie about a simple matter of sending the report to MoE? In that very talk show, Mr. Golam Rahman proved that the TIB report was totally unacceptable as a research work.

On July 6, in a meeting held at MoE where VCs and chairmen of Trustee Boards of all the universities were present. Chairman of the Trustee Boards Professor Dr. Emajuddin Ahmed, former VC of Dhaka University said: "The TIB report is a product of inexperienced and unskilled researchers. It cannot be termed as research report." All speakers including Dr. Farashuddin Ahmed said that the report was “prepared with a predetermined intention of degrading MoE, UGC and private universities.”

When an entrepreneur plans to establish a new university, he has to submit an application fulfilling all the necessary terms and conditions of the Private University Act 2010. The UGC then investigates the application and prepares a feasibility report on it. Based on the report, MoE sends it to the prime minister for approval. The Trustee Board proposes three names against each of the posts for the VC, Pro-VC and treasurer. The MoE, as an attached department of the Chancellor, prepares a summary of the proposal and sends it to the honourable president for approval via honourable prime minister. Then we send the letter of approval with final decisions given by the chancellor to the university concerned.

It is obvious that the TIB 'research' group, being ignorant of the fact, has submitted a groundless and fabricated report on the basis of some newspaper documents. It was prepared without following any methodology. It is written in the report that they collected information from "some sources." They did not even mention identities of those so-called sources. The report mentioned that there are 93 private universities in Dhaka city. This is a clear distortion of the reality.

There was a time when about 2.5 lakh students of our country would go to neighbouring countries for higher studies due to lack of adequate seats in public universities. But now they do not need to go abroad because similar opportunities of higher education have been developed in our country at a comparatively lower cost. It is not only widening scope for higher studies but also saving a huge amount of foreign currency. In addition, students from nearby countries including Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India, Turkey and so on are coming to Bangladesh for higher studies.

According to the statistics of 2012, the number of students in private universities was 3,14,640, among whom 1,642 were foreign nationals. The numbers of foreign students admitted in private universities are 122, 63, 72 and 17 in the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. Regrettably, TIB's unsubstantiated report will naturally create an image in the outside world that Bangladesh has not yet been able to set up a world class university. As a result, foreign students will lose interest in pursuing higher studies in our country. On the other hand, our local students will be compelled again to go to foreign countries for higher studies expending valuable foreign currency.

Recently, our ambassador to a foreign country, whose students are pursuing education in Bangladesh, informed me that guardians of 21 students of that country expressed their deep concern over the findings of TIB report. They are wondering whether their children should continue education in Bangladesh. This is the outcome of the TIB report and it goes against our national interest. Who will take responsibility for this? It is a matter of regret that some people being apathetic to the uninterrupted success and progress of the country amid all sorts of impediments try to portray a terrible image of the country by presenting their so-called 'research.' They are trying to push the country towards destruction. We and our countrymen expect them to refrain from this type of activity.

In a meeting at the MoE on July 6, authorities of 79 private universities gave an open declaration in writing that they did not pay any money at any phase. After all these, it is incomprehensible why Mr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB, relies on the baseless and prejudiced report of the 'researcher.' 

We expect him to reconsider the matter and take an objective position. The UGC works transparently in accordance with the given rules. I declared on the very first day of joining the education ministry that we had to wage a struggle for building a transparent, efficient, dynamic and corruption-free education administration that will ensure good governance in the education sector. The struggle is going on and will continue in the future.

MoE has been fighting for five and half years to reduce corruption to zero level. The situation has improved a lot but not to our full satisfaction. MoE is not an island. It is naturally prone to existing social diseases. But doesn't our relentless struggle have any meaning? We have mounted pressure on private universities along with all the institutions, officers, staffs, teacher and other concerned persons to prevent corruption and irregularities. Many people have faced punishment for corruption and irregularities. Multiple initiatives are being undertaken to provide regular training to increase awareness, and enhance skills and sense of responsibility.

In Bangladesh, private university started its journey in 1992 in line with a law. This law was amended in 1998. Before 2009, there were 56 private universities operating in Bangladesh. Though there was a provision of fulfilling certain conditions, including building own campus within five years, only 3 universities implemented such provisions in 15 years. The rest continued their business in rented flats, shopping centres and garment factories, let alone establishing their own campus. Basically, they were profiteering from selling certificates in the capital. They also operated outer campuses in different parts of the country.

After we came to power in 2009, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, we insisted that private universities should abide by government provisions. We organised at least 20 meetings with them and managed to formulate the Private University Act 2010, which was approved by the parliament in 2010. Despite initial reluctance shown by some universities we managed to bring all the private universities on board to implement the Act. Still, 15 private universities kept indulging in irregularities like opening unauthorised branches, profiteering, corruption, internal conflicts and violating conditions of the Act. The MoE and UGC reached joint decisions and took measures against them. But they are still functioning by the means of 'Stay Order' issued from the High Court. As their cases are under trial we cannot take punitive measures against them. However, in consultation with the attorney general, we are trying to resolve these cases.

We have a mixed bag of successes and lapses. Despite limited resources, shortage of skilled manpower and various impediments, we are moving forward. We expect cooperation and suggestion from all. We will cordially entertain any criticism that would improve our work.

Some 28 universities among 79 have now started to operate on purchased land. Four universities have started limited activities on their own lands with partial construction works. Some 12 universities are building campuses on their lands, and 11 more are likely to establish campuses on acquired lands. We congratulate those who have already fulfilled those conditions and also thank those who have completed partial or preliminary works.

When we compare the present status of private universities with that of 2009, we find a sharp difference. It is obviously due to our continuous efforts for the last five and half years and the cooperation received from the university authorities. Private universities have now come out of chaos and anomalies and become a prospective sector of higher education. More support is needed to develop it and ensure quality education. We still have many challenges before us like, irregularities, failures, narrow interest and profiteering attitude of some institutions. We are also facing the challenges of ensuring quality education, maintaining global standard and achieving progress in all the areas of education. In this struggle, we are moving ahead judiciously.

We have already prepared the draft law to strengthen the UGC further and submitted it to the ministerial meeting for consideration. We have also finalised a draft policy to establish the Accreditation Council that will monitor, fix rating and ensure overall development of private universities. We do not want to discriminate between public and private universities.

Now, there are twice as many private universities as public universities. They account for 61% of university students. We request their authorities to abide by the laws, rules and regulations, and to sincerely consider the reality of Bangladesh and find ways so that children from ordinary families can get more opportunities through less tuition and admission fees.

We want to build our new generation as skilled manpower who will be capable of competing globally and meeting the challenges of modern times. In this great endeavour, we seek support from all quarters. If we make mistakes, remind us of the correct way forward. This is our humble appeal to our countrymen.

The writer is Minister, Ministry of Education.

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

Last modified: 10:20 pm Saturday, August 16, 2014

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