Why would anyone commit fraud to study at DU?
Sazed-ul-Kabir's crime is a peculiar one. After failing to get admitted to the University of Dhaka (DU) through admission tests in 2018-19, he still attended classes. For over three years, he studied at the Department of Political Science, and was finally apprehended on Wednesday, August 24.
As a final year student of DU myself, this story made a bit of an impression on me. I've been here for almost five years now (thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic), and much of that time has been spent in frustration and disappointment caused by a variety of shortcomings on the part of DU.
My friends and I spend hours every week complaining about all the ways our undergraduate experience could have been better, hours we could afford to waste due to the alarmingly common occurrence of cancelled classes. We discuss and debate the backdated nature of our curriculum, lament the lack of an open credit system, express our bewilderment at the fact that many departments don't accommodate undergraduate-level research. There are no on-campus employment opportunities (at least none with good pay), no on-campus restaurants that serve healthy, affordable food, the buses meant for students are barely fit for the road – the list of complaints go on and on. There are many who regret the decision to attend this supposed "Oxford of the East", a title that causes more laughter than reverence these days.
Yet, for Sazed-ul-Kabir, not going to DU was an option he wasn't willing to entertain.
This brings me to an observation, or rather a reminder, of what DU means to many in our country, and what it meant to me when I was a doe-eyed high school graduate. The esteem and the renown that attracted me towards Shahbagh only evaporated once I got here. But for those who don't have my privilege, the allure never goes away.
Does that mean DU deserves this level of prestige, this adoration among young students? The answer to this question is being debated everyday. Every time an international ranking places DU far back in the queue, every time dirty politics takes precedence over the pursuit of knowledge by either students or teachers, every time research is plagiarised on this campus, DU's status is debated.
The obsession with DU that people like Sazed-ul-Kabir harbour is not an argument against the criticisms this university faces. I think this is a good moment to take a step back and really look at DU as a whole, and at its abundance of problems. First of all, why is it that many students who don't get the chance to study in DU think of it as a huge setback in life, whereas many who get the chance think the same as well? And secondly, how can a modern university be so terribly administered that a person can attend its classes for over three years without being enrolled?
The answer to the second question is known to every student who goes to DU. Many of the analogue mechanisms that have been in use since the inception of this university have never been discarded for modern alternatives. Until the pandemic, students still had to physically go to their departments, then to their residential halls, and then to the registrar's building to enrol themselves for their academic year. The first two parts of this process had to be repeated before every semester final. Even after the pandemic started, the online services took months to be deployed. And now, every time the system faces a non-standard case, students have to appear physically at the university to get their work done.
According to students of the Department of Political Science, Sazed-ul-Kabir took advantage of one such backdated administrative practice. The sheets that were provided by the university's registrar's office at the start of every semester included the names of all the students who got admitted in 2019, including students who had left the university since.
Sazed impersonated one such student, who had left before becoming familiar with any of their classmates. The fact that this former student's information was still held and circulated by the university's (badly maintained) database is alarming by itself, but it also made it easy for Sazed to claim his roll number.
It should be noted that Sazed did not change his name for this purpose, nor did he employ any sophisticated methods to dupe the authorities. He simply showed up regularly for three years, used a roll number that was available, and got away with it.
The University of Dhaka has a lot of soul-searching to do, given what has been going on for years now and what has happened recently. It's a university running on the fumes of reputation, being chased by embarrassment day after day. For a university that is struggling as much as it is, students who are this desperate to get an education there should have been a blessing. No one knows why Sazed wanted to go to DU so badly, but it's regrettable that when he failed the admission test in 2018, his willingness did not influence the evaluation process. Students trying to get admitted to DU don't have to submit essays, or a statement of purpose to make their case. Maybe if that had been the case, Sazed's fate would have been different.
In September 2019, Prothom Alo reported that 34 students had been admitted to an evening Master's programme under the Faculty of Business Studies of DU without an admission test. These were hastily made admissions processed right after the schedule for Dhaka University Central Students' Union (DUCSU) elections was announced. Eight of these 34 students ended up getting elected to various posts in that election, and they were all members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League.
Other than being emblematic of systemic mismanagement, the reason for bringing up this years-old incident is to remind everyone of the price DU places on its studentship, and the fact that this price is heavily skewed depending on different circumstances.
What Sazed-ul-Kabir did is clearly fraudulent, and I'm sure he will be subjected to a full quota of wrath from the authorities involved. But what Sazed-ul-Kabir did is also important in opening the eyes of those concerned for DU, and the direction that our country's "premier" educational institute has taken over the years.
Azmin Azran is sub-editor at SHOUT, and a student of Computer Science and Engineering at DU.