In conversation with Professor Imran Rahman

Vice-Chancellor of University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB)
Portrait of Professor Imran Rahman, Vice-Chancellor of University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB)
Photo: Courtesy

ULAB was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards Asia 2023 for Outstanding Contribution to regional development. What has the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB) been doing that has led to this? 

 Professor Imran Rahman: Times Higher Education is one of the leading university-ranking agencies in the world. When I saw the opportunity to submit a story from ULAB, I sent the notice to all our department heads. Professor Sumon Rahman, the director of ULAB's Centre for Qualitative Studies, sent in a story about an interesting initiative he's leading called "FactWatch". FactWatch is the only university-based fact-checking centre in Bangladesh, it has been doing well, and it's been listed with Meta as well. It's run by our students, and this initiative was shortlisted by THE for contribution to the regional development category.

ULAB is now offering a minor in South Asian Studies. What will be included in the curriculum? How will that impact in shaping the world views of students? 

Professor Imran Rahman: South Asian studies is a subset of international relations, which is an important subject in a globalised world. While we don't have a department of international relations, the beauty of a liberal arts system is that even though we don't have a degree program, we will find a way to teach one or two core topics. The reason we are offering this minor is because we have a brilliant director behind this, Sudeep Chakravarti. He is an internationally famed nonfiction writer who has written books on South Asia. The courses under this minor will be available to students across all departments and disciplines. This will give students an additional skillset that might provide an edge for certain jobs. 

ULAB's Department of Bangla Language and Literature has formulated a "creative thinking-based professional curriculum". Can you tell us more about it?

 Professor Imran Rahman: National Professor Rafiqul Islam, who had been with ULAB since the beginning, pushed to start a Bangla department at this university. At first, there was a bit of apprehension. But in a country with 170 million Bangla speakers where the language is a central part of our history, it seemed like the right decision to have a Bangla department. Other private universities offer degrees in Bangla, but we felt that we need to offer it just like we offer it in English. Those who study English won't spend their entire lives writing. They study English for their love of it, they study it to develop their thinking and their writing skills. English students are versatile, and they have to think a lot and write a lot and they are skilled in critical thinking. Similarly, we thought we could have a Bangla department where they can pick up skills they will need for their working lives. The learning takes place in a way where the students are involved in the teaching process, we call it "Active Learning". Fifty percent of the assessment will be done through written exams, and the other fifty percent will be through interaction. This encapsulates the creative thinking part.

The professional curriculum refers to the non-credit "Essential Skills" course that every undergraduate student has to take. They have to attend these courses that include behaviour, etiquette, online conduct, empathy, tolerance, etc. And on top of that, they also have to learn English. 

Dhaka is a difficult place to live, especially for young students. What does ULAB do to make lives easier for its students in this regard?

Professor Imran Rahman: Many students at ULAB come from outside Dhaka, and I'm proud of the effort they're making to get an education. They leave their families to live by themselves, do their chores, travel alone, and have to deal with loneliness. We try to keep an eye on them from the first term because students based in Dhaka have the luxury to fall back on their families for support.

We are starting a separate program for students from outside Dhaka so they can adjust to life in Dhaka quickly. We will focus on assisting them with accommodation, transportation, and help in general. 

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked private universities to shift to a two-semester system from 2023. How do you view this proposed change?

Professor Imran Rahman: Most private universities in Bangladesh have been using the trimester system without any hassle. There is a proverb in English: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". We believe that this decision should be left to the universities. In Bangladesh, we don't have anything close to the diversity of systems that a place like the USA has. They have semesters, trimesters, and even quarter systems. The universities get to decide what works for them. I hope UGC comes around and lets universities make this decision for themselves.

Late last year, there was a push to start wings of national-level student politics bodies in private universities. Is the university ready to face the complications that come with the presence of politics on campus?

Professor Imran Rahman: Most private universities, from day one, did not want wings of political parties on their campuses, because our history with them has been poor. There was a time when those who participated in student politics were the brightest students. That is no longer the case. Our alumni, teachers, students, and their parents, – everyone agrees that this is not a good idea. This does not mean our students won't be politically aware. They will be future voters and have views. Good students and strong individuals should get into politics themselves. But we don't think wings of political parties in private universities will add anything.  

Private universities are increasingly going toe to toe with public universities. Do you think this is part of a bigger trend in Bangladesh's education sector? And is that good for the country as a whole?

Professor Imran Rahman: I do think this is part of a trend in the education sector. I base my answer on my 22 years of experience working with a public university (Institution of Business Administration, Dhaka University) and then 16 years working with a private university. In my view, most of the development achieved in the higher education sector has been led by private universities. This is because of the lack of freedom that public universities often have to operate under. 

Overall, yes, I do believe the education sector is moving in the right direction but we have a lot of work left to do. Students enter university after 12-13 years of schooling but often lack basic skills, so the quality of education has to be looked at. 

The challenge now is to increase the quality of our education, making sure graduates have the right kind of skills to achieve whatever it is they want to do and to make sure they have international parity, where they can compete with students from any country in the world.

What does ULAB do to be more inclusive for students of all economic and social strata?

Professor Imran Rahman: We provide assistance to students to the extent that we can. Our only source of funds is tuition fees so we are limited by that, but we want to assist students. The government should also think about helping our students with scholarships. During the pandemic, we provided financial assistance and we had a committee to look at cases individually. Moving forward, we will do as much as we can as well. We can waive some small fees, extend deadlines, waive late fees, and we can do more for meritorious students.

Azmin Azran is the editor of SHOUT.


৬ ঘণ্টা আগে|শিক্ষা

‘চলমান মেগা প্রকল্পগুলো শেষ হলে, শিক্ষাখাতে মেগাপ্রকল্প শুরু করা যাবে’

শিক্ষামন্ত্রী দীপু মনি বলেছেন, 'আমাদের যে মেগা প্রকল্পগুলো চলছে, সেগুলোর কাজ শেষ হলে আমি বিশ্বাস করি শিক্ষাখাতে মেগা প্রকল্পের কাজ শুরু করা যাবে। শিক্ষাই হবে আমাদের মেগাপ্রজেক্ট।'