Only a few days back, on July 01 this year, Dhaka University celebrated its 96th anniversary with the theme of "Higher Education for Innovation and Development". With this theme in mind, and the fact that the University is coming closer to the golden centurial number, it's important to reflect on our commitment to the development of the university in terms of advancement in ideas, knowledge, innovation and technology for creating an atmosphere of world class education for the development of the country.
The country, which is now striving to attain middle-income status by 2020, achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and become a developed country by 2041 needs more well-groomed people as the nation-builders in the future. In line with these targets, the Vice Chancellor of DU has rightly emphasised the role of the university teachers and students in the development of the country as it always did in the past, by preparing themselves adequately so that they can lead the nation in the coming days.
It is fact that in the last few years, many infrastructural developments took place at Dhaka University including construction of a few new buildings and renovation of some older ones, all of which have been equipped with modern facilities. Apart from this physical expansion and improvement, progress has been made in the form of increasing number of MoUs (memorandum of understanding) with various internationally reputed educational institutes. Various research institutes/centres have also been set up along with newly introduced departments.
Despite these and many other initiatives, the university has struggled to uplift its position in the global context. The university appears to have grown horizontally rather than vertically, in the sense that we've grown in size and monetary worth but in terms of international accreditation there is very little move forward. So, what is hindering our growth in this respect?
Considering the criteria of recruiting faculties as well as the tough admission process, the University of Dhaka has reasons to take pride in the quality of its teachers and students. In spite of the merit, the university is often alleged to be failing in providing the students with quality education. We get complaints from different sections of people that many of our teachers do not study regularly, do not publish articles regularly in reputed journals, and do not participate in as many international conferences and seminars as they should be doing. Their complaints also include that many of the senior faculty members have not been publishing any research articles for many years. Some people complain that the method of teachers' promotion in this university is very much outdated. Publishing an article in one SSCI (Social Science Citation Index) journal or any Impact Factors journals and an article in any other local journal is viewed in the same manner and given equal credit, thereby discouraging young teachers to write for reputed international journals.
Our young faculty members have been going abroad to complete their higher education and research, and returning with innovative ideas to implement here, thereby keeping the university at pace with the global standard of education. These teachers, who have global exposure, have a greater capacity to contribute and rebuild the image of the university. However, in the long run, unfortunately, many of these teachers get frustrated.
During my time at a University in Australia, I remember once attending a planning committee meeting, where the university authorities asked all department heads to report how many international conferences they had organised, the number of international conferences their faculty members and post-graduate students had attended and presented papers at, how many research grants they had received, etc. The best performing students, teachers and departments were selected for special funding from the university, while the poor-performing departments were asked to free some office spaces, cut down teachers and staffs and were asked to attract more research funding to support their students with scholarships. This indicates that the university had given importance to both teaching and research. A few days ago, the Executive Director of one of the leading research organisations was saying that they frequently look for mid-level researchers from the university but hardly get any response. They believe most of the university teachers are engaged not in research, but in teaching in evening programmes or in different private universities from where they can earn more money. Some people opine that the evening programmes of various departments have raised funds for infrastructural developments but added little to improving the quality of education.
Before going for celebrating the centenary anniversary of the Dhaka University, we need to examine our methods and figure out how we can take our university to a certain height in quality teaching and research. How are we going to live up to the challenge of branding the university, which was once called the 'Oxford of the East', and meet the standards set by the development of science, technology and the liberal arts in the 21st century? The Alumni of Dhaka University can come forward to raise sufficient funds for research and provide scholarships to the students to go to the best universities for higher education. Large endowment funds raised by many of the American top ranking universities including Harvard (up to $37.6 Billion), Yale ($25.5 Billion), Princeton ($22.29 Billion), Stanford ($22.4 Billion), MIT ($13 Billion), Pennsylvania ($10.13 Billion), Michigan ($9.8 Billion), Texas ($9.75 Billion), Columbia ($ 9.6 Billion), Chicago ($7 Billion), Cornell ($6.1 Billion), and others are the major source of their research and scholarship funding. Like many other top-ranking universities, best performing teachers should be rewarded, given funds and other opportunities so that they feel more inspired in their works.
I strongly believe it is not the lone responsibility of the Vice- Chancellor or his administration to do all that is required. It is the responsibility of all the conscious faculties of the university to put their hands together to build a strong sense of belonging to this university. To make it one of the finest seats of learning regionally as well as globally, we need to prepare a 25-year perspective plan with some immediate, mid and long-term targets.
Saifur Rashid (PhD) is Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka.
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