The education ministry, University Grants Commission and private universities yesterday rejected a research report of Transparency International Bangladesh, which cited their engagement in corruption in the operation of private universities.
At a meeting, they unanimously termed the report baseless and said TIB had prepared the report to harm the "evolving" higher education sector in the country.
Entrepreneurs, chairmen and members of boards of trustees, and vice-chancellors of different private universities attended the meeting convened by the ministry in the wake of the TIB report launched on June 30.
"We all have come up with an opinion that the report is condemnable and unacceptable,” Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told reporters after the meeting at his ministry's conference room.
According to the TIB report titled "Private universities: challenges of good governance and way out", a section of officials of the education ministry, UGC, and private universities are involved in illegal money transactions at different stages -- from getting approval to set up the universities and appoint vice chancellors, pro-vice chancellors and treasurers to awarding certificates to students.
Soon after the launch of the report, the education ministry and UGC sent letters to all the private universities last week, asking them to come up with their responses to the allegations.
The authorities of the private universities at the meeting denied being involved in any sort of corruption or bribery.
Some of the ministry officials, however, said they believed none would agree to disclose corruption in this way.
The ministry had not invited representatives of TIB to the meeting though the anti-graft body had assured Nahid of its fullest cooperation to help him better understand the report with all facts, data and analysis.
Nahid said the ministry had communicated with all the 79 private universities of the country and only one among them accused a UGC official of taking bribes. But the university later withdrew its claim.
"So we think that the report is not right.”
The minister, however, claimed that the registration of 15 universities had been cancelled on different allegations. But they continued to operate through receiving stay orders on the registration cancellation from the High Court, he added.
"The report was not prepared following the correct method. It was incomplete," Nahid said, quoting the entrepreneurs.
Receiving responses from the universities, the ministry now wants to know on what basis TIB prepared the report, he said, adding the anti-graft organisation would have to offer an apology and withdraw the report if it failed to prove the graft allegations.
Some of the university entrepreneurs also criticised the media.
Durgadas Bhattacharya, vice-chancellor of Isha Kha International University in Kishoreganj, said some media outlets were causing more harm to private universities than TIB.
The media should not have published TIB's sweeping report with so much importance, he added.
The progress of the private universities would not have been possible without the cooperation of the ministry and UGC, said BNP leader Abdullah Al Noman, chairman of East Delta University in Chittagong.
There are many private universities of high standards in the country, but at the same time there are some sub-standard private universities, which the education minister cannot deny, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman told BBC Bangla Service last night.
Those, who consider this sector as a source of "business capital", if asked whether they were doing irregularities, would always say no, he said.
"If the ministry wants to do something, it should conduct another research and tell us [based on its findings] that TIB's report is flawed. We will accept that and will have no objection then.”