Academics the world over look forward around this time every year to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University Ranking to know about the status of the highest seats of learning. That the first post-pandemic ranking will make them along with others interested in the matter extra curious is quite obvious. It is because the impact of the Covid-19 on education, including higher education, has been deep and wide ranging for some and not equally so for others. However, a cursory glance at the list has revealed that a few universities in a select few countries suffering the worst possible incidence of caseloads and deaths have defied the negative influences to score higher in QS ranking.
India, for example, has made a giant leap so far as QS varsity ranking for the year 2023 is concerned. The Indian Institute of Science based in Bangalore has led the pack of six such higher seats of learning among the world's top 300 at 155th slot. What is particularly celebrating for the country is that the IIS, Bangalore has earned the distinction of scoring 100 out of 100 in research along with the world's eight top ranked universities this year. Among the South Asian countries, India has more reasons to celebrate its campaign for advancing the cause of higher education by pushing up three more of its universities on the list of 500of such educational institutions. Pakistan also has three varsities among the world's top 500.
Yet compared to the Asian universities' achievements with a total of 26 highest seats of learning securing their places in the 100 leading institutions with Singapore and China boasting the highly ranked and the majority of entries, the Indian gains, let alone South Asian, leave much to be desired. Singapore was one of the earliest victims of the Covid-19 but it did not deter one of its universities from taking the top position among its Asian counterparts at 11th position -- just one short of the super achievers of 10.To their credit Singapore and China have two entries each in the top 20 list at the 11th and 19th position for the former and 12th and 14th for the latter. The island nation and the world's most populous country are fast catching up with the best in the world.
It is exactly here a sense of anachronism assails any person in Bangladesh concerned about the future of the country's education, higher education in particular. Not a single university of Bangladesh could make it even to the list of top 800 out of about 1,500 -- the highest number ever -- assessed this year. Both the University of Dhaka (DU) and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) have found their places in the 801-1,000 bracket -- third last tier. This does in no way correspond to the last year's progress both these public universities made in the QS World University Rankings by subject. The BUET was ranked 185th under the engineering and technology category and the DU made it to the 201st position in social sciences and management. But the overall ranking has been same for the last five years since 2019. The downgrading started in 2012 when DU slipped to the 601+ bracket and in 2014 to the 701+ bracket until it dropped to the 801+ category. The Brac and the North South University, two private universities, have been placed in the bracket of 1,001-1,200. Their positions have also not changed in the overall rankings.
Although the positions of the universities are not specifically marked after 500top institutions and bracketed in QS ranking, it can be assumed that the two premier universities in their respective fields have done nothing special to make them proud. Now what does make these and a few universities in the public sector charging high tuition and different fees lag behind their Indian and Asian counterparts? This is the most important question begging an answer in no uncertain terms.
The QS rankings determine global university position on the basis of six indicators such as academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty/student ratio, international research network and employment outcomes. Both the top Bangladesh universities have miserably failed to score any points worth mentioning in citations per faculty, international faculty/student ratios and international research network. In terms of academic reputation both have received modest rating but there is a long way to go before they close the gap even with the Asia's best, let alone the global best. So far as employer reputation is concerned, the BUET has advanced its cause by digitising the process of recruitment.
Citations per faculty remains poor for reasons understandable. Allocation for research is paltry and it was reported perhaps a couple of years ago that even the paltry amount of fund could not be used for any worthwhile research at the DU and therefore had to be returned. In this age of information explosion, international research collaboration is a sine qua non for elevating the status of any university and on this depends a healthy buildup of reputation and international faculty/ student ratio. Without addressing such crucial issues requiring healthy outlay of funds, universities cannot set benchmarks for themselves and contribute to advancement of knowledge and innovation to the benefit of people and society. In this effort collaboration between businesses/industries and universities can prove highly paying for both. So, higher institutions must get their priorities right before they take them on a higher trajectory.