Reckless recruitment racks up RU budget
In the last 10 years, Rajshahi University's annual expenditures has risen by Tk 278.67 crore.
The steep spike, largely caused by university authorities' fondness for big-scale recruitment drives without following due process, has put stress on the national exchequer.
The university's annual budget in 2011-12 was Tk 154.30 crore. In the current fiscal year, the budget stands at Tk 432.97 crore, according to official documents and university sources.
Tk 28 crore of this budget will come from the university's own income from various sources such as fees from students, night courses, agricultural projects on the RU premises, estate rent, transportation fees and medical services.
National exchequer supplies the rest Tk 404.97 crore granted by University Grants Commission, a statutory body for the country's higher educational institutes, RU officials said.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
Rajshahi University Act of 1973 which governs the university, powers its authorities an autonomy only on academic decisions and development of education and research, law professors of RU explained.
But the law limits the university's powers regarding academic and administrative decisions that require government funds.
For decisions like recruitment, which involves public money, the law made it mandatory for the authorities to seek prior approval from UGC, they said.
But the university authorities have been recruiting staff at their will since 2001, RU teachers and officials said.
At least 364 teachers and 595 staffers have been recruited in the last ten years, bringing the total number of university employees to 3,389. Salaries and allowances for this large workforce amounts to Tk 277.57 crore, RU officials say.
Most of this recruitment occurred without prior approval from UGC, during the tenure of Vice-Chancellor Abdus Sobhan. He had two terms as VC -- 2009-13 and 2017-21.
Prof Sobhan on his last day in office on May 6 recruited an additional 137 staffers including nine teachers defying an order of suspension that the Ministry of Education had issued in December 2020.
However, the ministry termed the recruitment "illegal" on that very day of signing appointments and the university authorities suspended the process two days later.
A ministerial committee is investigating this incident.
HOW 'ILLEGAL' RECRUITMENT WORKS
Most of the "illegally" recruited staffers are usually regularised by showing their recruitment against vacant posts later, said RU Registrar Prof Abdus Salam.
"When the authority manages to approve the recruitment by the university's syndicate and finance committee chaired by the VC, they continue to mount pressure on UGC for regularising those. Thus, the regularisation happens," he said.
Although recruitment is done regardless of any actual demand for additional staff, the departments and offices concerned usually cannot dismiss the joining of recruited people, RU teachers said.
Usually the recruits join with political muscles behind them, the teachers said, adding that a department chair once had to resign as he denied to accept someone's recruitment.
"Illegal recruitment has been happening since the BNP-Jamaat era, none could stop it," said Prof Md Elias Hossain of Department of Economics. "Most horrifying thing is that the recruits' quality of work and qualifications are lower than the standard."
He said majority of the recruitment drives are unnecessary, and these only put pressure on the university's budget.
Many of the recruited teachers sit idle in their offices, or share a course of study with several other teachers in some departments. Meanwhile, in many other departments, one teacher is taking multiple courses, said Prof Elias, pointing out the lack of planning that goes into these recruitment drives.
"There are many recruits that are not qualified. For example, a recruited computer operator was discovered to have never touched a computer before his joining," said the professor.
"Ad-hoc appointments would fall under emergency recruitment, but still it requires demand from departments concerned," said Prof Abu Naser Md Wahid of Department of Law.
Appointments in unapproved posts create pressure on budget and the authority uses funds from internal sources for this purpose, obstructing other developments, he said.
The authority transfers funds unlawfully among various sectors, delays payments, and withdraws fixed deposits in banks to fill the budget gaps, said RU teachers and officials.
The annual increase in the university's budget was limited within Tk 31 crore till 2013-14 year, said Md Afsar Ali, acting director of accounts in RU.
But it soared to a highest of Tk 71 crore in 2015-16 and Tk 62 crore the next year, following the announcement of the 8th national pay scale, he said. "The opening of new departments is also responsible for the rising costs," said Md Afsar.
This year, the UGC is curtailing Tk 30 crore from the annual budget for cost reduction on electricity, transport, and other expenditures due to the coronavirus pandemic, said the accounts director.
"The curtailing of funds will worsen the situation as the lion's share of annual expenditures are spent on salaries and allowances," Afsar Ali said.
The university needs more teachers to reach the UGC recommended ratio of one teacher for 22 students for general universities, said Associate Prof Ajijur Rahman, administrator of RU Public Relations Office.
The ratio in RU is now one teacher for 34 students, he said. The university has 1,120 teachers for 33,300 students in 59 departments under 12 faculties.
The university has a total of 3,357 staffers including 757 officers and 1480 employees. Retirement and deaths of staff sometimes balances the number of total staff members, he said.
However, the UGC provided the current fiscal year's budget for a total of 3,389 staffers -- 1,097 teachers, 812 officers, and 1,480 employees.
Prof Abdus Sobhan, who could not be reached for his comments recently, has argued in support of his deeds earlier.
"No rules were flouted. I did what the laws empowered me to do and what made sense to me," said the former VC.