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The Financial Express

Questions DU faces after 100 years

| Updated: January 29, 2021 22:54:49


Questions DU faces after 100 years

Social debates ahead of the centennial have exposed two extreme views of Dhaka University - the authorities' complacency and the criticism, calling it irrelevant. Both are the unforeseen outcome of the same inaction: long absence of objective assessment of the university.

The nation got what were commonly expected of this public institution. Its students contributed to liberation of Bangladesh, apart from leading movements for Bangla language in 1948 and 1952 and for democracy until 1990. However, the purpose of the country's premier university founded in 1921 was to ensure 'education and research', as reiterated in the Dhaka University Order 1973.

It did offer its services to a number of generations who have shaped Bangladesh society and culture. The DU alumni dominated the power structure. There was its obsession in society; hardly anyone dared raise any question about the quality of education there.

Political parties of almost all streams had used the 'vibrant' campus in the heart of the city and the 'innocent' residents as pawns to pursue their goals, often giving birth to violence. Dictatorial rule has always tried to suppress free thinking on the campus.

The likes of Sir Salimullah and Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury, who made pioneering contributions to its establishment, are, conspicuously, less revered than those who opposed the university project in the British East Bengal after 1905.

The authorities and faculties alike took advantage of the immunity from criticism about the university. Intervention by outside forces - be it political parties, government or terrorists - was assigned as a powerful excuse for not helping junior scholars to study their world in-depth.

Some members of the DU teaching staff have instead boasted their freedom of not taking classes, if they wish, and of their protection that the vice chancellor has no authority to terminate him/her based on any complaint save a vague provision of "moral turpitude".

While students are used for political maneuvering, a major section of the faculties volunteer to join partisan politics in the form of teachers' panels. The shield they enjoy has resulted in a campus culture similar to autocracy, which deprives a generation or more of opportunities to be explored.

In the name of autonomy provided by the 1973 order, the opportunist groups managed to stop hiring foreign professors and researchers who could have enriched the academic atmosphere. Research and publications got defocused.

As the university has failed to find itself among globally acclaimed institutions, an angry national attention has now been drawn to it.

The decline has reached such a level that learners are reminded of public financing as 'charity' of rulers, and of low-cost snacks at the Teachers-Students Centre (TSC) as a matter of pride.

The global ranking might not have mattered much, should there be genuine confidence that the university is on the right track.

Has it delivered education of distinct quality, the way the university strived to do in the first few decades? And when many faculties go abroad for obtaining degrees such as PhD, do most of them return to the university?

This university still assembles some of the best talents who proved their merit in their career and while studying and working abroad.

Unfortunately, the University of Dhaka completes its 100 years the moment it has lost popular attention for its pupils and can no longer bring epoch-making changes. That is though not their business, this university generated public expectations that its students would lead the courses of historic events.

The critics, who generalise that the university has been reduced to irrelevance, fail to appreciate the potential of present and future students, not to mention the opportunity of affordable higher education. The well-wishers, who piously want restoration of its image, ignore the issue of quality of overall education, especially at secondary level and in rural Bangladesh. It's still not impossible to turn any Bangladeshi university into a world-class institution if fresh blood is injected for a new beginning in learning, teaching and research.

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