The University of Dhaka has landed on its 100th founding anniversary amidst the global pandemic. Though celebrations and rankings are on hold, its achievements are always talked about.
In the beginning, this university emerged as the beacon of hope in the subcontinent for its educational excellence and distinctive non-affiliating residential features resembling Oxford University (England).
In the first convocation of the then ‘University of Dacca’on February 22, 1923, then governor of Bengal and chancellor Lord Lytton, in his speech, had said, “…this University is Dacca’s greatest possession, and will further increase and spread the fame of Dacca beyond the limits of Bengal or even of India itself.”
The promises that the university made were somewhat fulfilled.
Embarking on an arduous yet portentous journey with only three faculties, 12 departments, three dormitories, 60 teachers and 877 students, the University of Dhaka has completed one hundred years of journey. The university now houses 13 faculties, 83 departments, 12 institutes, 20 residential halls, 3 hostels and more than 56 research centres. The current students and teachers’ number has increased to approximately 37,018 and 1,992 sequentially.
The numbers are impressive based on how the university is adding newer disciplines and departments, but what remains unchecked is ensuring qualitative effects and facilities in comparison to international standards. The distortion created between its growing in the number of students and departments and still not advancing according to international educational qualities is clearly noticeable.
Being the oldest establishment of the campus, the reddish brick walls of Curzon Halls might have lost the shine a little, but still tells a story of one hundred years. The Curzon Hall area consists mostly of the departments under the Faculty of Science, Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Faculty of Pharmacy and Faculty of Biological Sciences, which-- in 1921-- housed only the Physics department.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the university has endured a mass expansion both gradually and rapidly of departments and institutions in its hundred years journey. Beginning with the core disciplines, the departments have been divided into sub-departments and institutions but maintaining the quality of education has been difficult as the number of students is increasing every day.
People now question Dhaka University’s legacy: If the institution is still relevant. But there can be no denying the fact that there must be a balance between the learning process and infrastructure (both academic and residential) that ensures quality education and proposes strategies to achieve so. The imbalance has prevailed for a long time and the prime reason could be the new disciplines growing every year like mushrooms.
Many aspects have been pointing to the sloth-like progress of the University of Dhaka. Poor University Rankings, lack of manpower and resources in research centres, accommodation crisis, jeopardised learning environment, weak infrastructure, disinterest from foreign teachers and students, falling behind in adding minimum citations or publications are to name a few.
The standing of universities is determined by how they are ranked for their faculty prowess, as measured by their knowledge-based evaluation (both qualitative and quantitative). According to the QuacquarelliSymond (QS) global rankings, DU was ranked 365th in 2005, and the graph has ever been declining. It was ranked between 550th and 600th in 2011, 601+ in 2012, 701+ in 2014, and now between 800th-1000th. According to Webometrics, DU has, however, advanced to be 1634th position globally in world web content ranking.
In the Scimago Institution Rankings (SIR), three indicators are used to rank HEIs (Higher Education Institutions): research performance, innovation outputs and societal impact. In these rankings, 199 HEIs in India and Pakistan were ahead of DU in 2013-2017. By the year 2013, DU had produced 13 journals in global academia. On the other hand, DU has published only 180 books in the past 99 years, according to the bureau. Only 1.09 per cent (1.32 per cent) of Dhaka University’s budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal years was allocated for research purposes, which is lower than ever.
The university has been losing foreign students’ preference over the years. University authorities attribute this decrease in overseas student enrolment to lengthy admission procedures, lack of foreigner-friendly atmosphere, inadequate accommodation facilities, and stronger competition from private institutions promising better facilities and so on.
According to a UNB report, Dhaka University has around 5,160 overseas students studying in different departments, institutions with most of them in affiliated institutions, mainly in the medical discipline. Thirty eight residential students of a total of only 117 by 2020 are current DU students with the rest studying in affiliated medical institutions.
The ‘Oxford of East’ has lost the namesake that it earned in the debuting years for its ‘unique’ residential facilities. The residential halls are inadequate to house the current students. The university cannot provide seats to the residential students, let alone all attached students, though it once promised to.
Dhaka University has lost much of its glittering glory. It was indeed a lighthouse to education for people in this subcontinent, producing leaders, scientists, artists, scholars of all aspects in its glorious past.
But progress can simply not be measured only by the number of students, teachers and departments or study disciplines. A well-balanced university, serving the purpose of quality education to its students and thus a nation, is crucial for the resurrection of its illustrious heritage.
Tahseen Nower is a student of Dhaka University.