The case for residential universities and JU

Shihab Sarkar | Published: January 17, 2019 20:58:25

The 48th founding anniversary of Jahangirnagar University, the country's only fully residential public university, was a great occasion for jubilation and festivity to both the present and former students. The auspicious day was last January 12. The celebrations comprised participants that included the teachers and officials. A number of the staff also joined the colourful processions and assemblies. While celebrating, many pointed out the approaching golden jubilee of the institution. That occasion would be no small achievement. With continued march with success in the last five decades, the university has been able to occupy a prestigious place among the country's state-run and, lately, the privately run universities.

This university is spectacularly distinct from the University of Dhaka. Apart from the site-related and atmospheric uniqueness, its curriculum doesn't resemble any other universities in the greater Dhaka. In terms of its location far from the hustle and bustle of an urban centre, it has similarities with Chittagong University (CU). The latter, established in 1966, stands on a 2110-acre hilly area. But that institution is not a residential one despite its location of 22 kilometres north of the city. Established in 1921, the University of  Dhaka (DU) is one of the oldest in the sub-continent. It, naturally, is older than both the CU and JU. The DU has an eventful history related to socio-political developments in the late 1920s in the British-ruled India. On the other hand, modelled on an ideal residential university, JU in its 47 years of existence remained focused on a highly time-befitting curriculum and academic system. In spite of its relatively close proximity in many respects with Dhaka University, the basic pattern and character of higher learning at JU is radically different from that of DU. In over four decades, Jahangirnagar University has produced dozens of renowned academics, researchers, socio-political theorists and creative personalities. Due to its distance from the capital, it could not produce a remarkable number of political figures like that at the University of Dhaka. But the general students passing from this institution cherish their days on that campus. Those times continue to influence their later careers. Studying at Jahangirnagar University is virtually an unparalleled experience in the Bangladesh context. Remotely similar to Tagore's Shantineketan and Visva-Bharati University, academic exercises here are conducted against a backdrop of sylvan peace. The academic buildings are located here with meadows and tree-laced roads between them. On-campus pedalled rickshaws ply leisurely between the buildings. Students awaken with the chirping of birds at their dormitories in the morning. Comprising marshes, trees and lush undergrowth, the area of the vast campus constitutes an idyllic ambience covering an area of 697.56 acres.  In short, the JU eventually gave birth to a new genre in the essence of higher educational institutions and their atmospheric individuality.

When the talk of the university began coming into wider focus among the policy makers concerned, many expressed doubt about its feasibility. They pointed out a number of inconveniences and hurdles to be faced by the students and teachers. However, a consensus was reached on the location at Savar, a vast rural tract, a little over 30 kilometres from Dhaka's city heart. When the area was proposed for the university, it gave the view of a semi-forestland, with patches of villages, croplands, pastures and water bodies. They dotted the whole expanse. In short, some people found it to be not suitable for a full-fledged university, which would have a large number of young women as residential students. However, a vast majority backed the project. They cited the cases of many universities across the world located far from the main city. From that point of view, the students of the new university felt assured of an atmosphere conducive to their higher studies and research works.

Jahangirnagar University started with only 150 students at 4 (four) departments on January 12 in 1971. At present, the vast institution has around 16 thousand students. With six faculties, 33 departments and three institutes, the university boasts of 16 residential halls. Of them 8 (eight) dormitories belong to female students. Of late, the government has approved a massive project for the overall development of the university. The university may have to struggle with accommodating ever-increasing numbers of students in the coming years. Signs have been there for the last one decade. With admission to the most preferred Dhaka University becoming tougher-a challenging venture to be precise, students in greater numbers now rush to JU. Ironically, enrolment on this university, too, has lately been turning out to be an arduous task. In terms of standard of education and academic activities, JU is now considered to be equal to DU. Despite the long distance between the university and the capital, serious students, especially those from the middle class background, keep it as the second best option. On the other hand, students from areas outside Dhaka, go straight for admission to the residential public university. In spite of the feared dearth of accommodations at JU in the future, students are found trying desperately to get admitted to it. To scores of students, it is a better option than being involved in the fierce struggle with other students for a small space to pass the night at DU. Eruption of violence and anarchic situations over the possession of seats has once been a periodic scene at the DU halls. The authorities of Jahangirnagar University have been leant to be aware of the problem of the dearth of enough residential seats, which may arise in the near future. A good number of residential halls for both male and female students are set to be built on its sprawling campus.

Seats of learning and scholarship with residential facilities have their roots in the Buddhist monasteries in ancient Bengal. Living in a pure academic atmosphere in the presence of teachers and under their guidance produces special types of students. The Paharpur Buddhist Monastery in greater Rajshahi in Bangladesh comprises a number of ruins of accommodations for young monks. The learners there would come out of the centre after taking gruelling tests and acquiring vast treasures of Buddhist teachings imparted to them by their revered teachers. In the later centuries, Muslim learning centres opened throughout Bengal and the northern India. Like almost all the monasteries, those institutions, too, used to have strict regimens of learning and lifestyle discipline in force. Besides these religion-based schools, different countries later saw military academies established to raise ideal soldiers and officials. These academies nowadays are found in the whole world. In line with this tradition, nations around the globe now have their exclusively planned cadet colleges. Bangladesh is no exception. The country has been carrying the legacy of cadet colleges since the pre-independence times. However, universities ought not to be included in the class of these institutions. For the quintessential motto of a university is openness and liberalism.

The need for setting up of more residential public universities is accepted unanimously. These higher-study centres offer a lot of advantages not available at traditional universities. Of all features, the one of formal and informal communication between the students and teachers here adds greatly to the enhancement of an atmosphere conducive to preparing oneself for future challenges in life. Most importantly, residential universities instil the vital lessons of self-reliance and mutuality into a student.   


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