Opportunities at our private universities

S. M. Rayhanul Islam | Published: October 12, 2017 21:19:11 | Updated: November 11, 2017 12:40:47

Within the education system of a country, higher education plays the crucial role as an incubator and bank of knowledge with untold potential. It also acts as an agent of social changes as well as a powerful driving force for sustainable human resource development. Higher education that is offered in our country through public universities, private universities and colleges under National University has been assuming increasing importance and recognition in recent times. This is evident, particularly, from the remarkable surge in the growth of private universities in the country over the last two and a half decades. The emergence of private universities was prompted by several factors, of which two are most important: (1) The demand for higher education increased much faster than the public university system could cope with; and (2) scarcity of public funds and other resources i.e. the government could not mobilise the required infrastructure, and financial and human resources to meet the rapidly increasing demand. With continuous widening of the gap between the supply of and demand for higher education, the private entrepreneurs, philanthropists and social leaders found new opportunities to serve society by establishing private universities.

The private universities of Bangladesh have started their journey in the early nineties since the Private Universities Act was adopted in 1992. At present, 92 (and there are already few more in the pipeline) private universities are offering multi-disciplinary courses for higher education. The phenomenal growth of private universities indicates the increasingly important role they play in imparting higher education in Bangladesh. However, their contribution has been continuously reviewed and criticised by many academics. Most of these universities are market-driven and tuition-driven. By implication, the private universities offer only those degree programmes which they can sell in the market at high prices. As the tuition fees and other educational expenses are beyond the reach of our general people, many are of the opinion that most of the private universities are money-making ventures.  Although a good number of universities in the private sector earned confidence of students and guardians by offering satisfactory level of education, most of these universities' quality of education is questionable. No in-depth study on the performance of private universities in Bangladesh has been done so far. In this regard, Professor Hafiz G. A. Siddiqi's book `Private Universities in Bangladesh: The Dynamics of Higher Education' is a pioneering study of the country's private education sector. Keeping in mind the critical role of education in national development, the author highlights the importance of quality in all tiers of schooling - pre-primary, primary and secondary - required to produce an excellent tertiary level education.

The book contains five chapters. The first chapter presents a review of pre-primary, primary and secondary education, including the 'madrasah' sector, in Bangladesh. The author draws our attention towards the crucial role that the pre-primary and primary education play in the success of students at secondary and tertiary levels, leading to the conclusion that higher quality pre-primary education tends to influence the quality of university education. On this basis, Dr. Siddiqi argues that pre-primary education should receive appropriate government support. The next chapter assesses both public and private universities and the progress made so far in tertiary education. It is important to realise that the three tiers of our education system - primary, secondary and tertiary - are interdependent. The author firmly believes that quality higher education cannot be ensured without simultaneous efforts to improve the quality of the two preceding tiers. Dr. Siddiqi argues that an increase in financial allocations to all three tiers of the education system alone will not result in an improvement in the quality of education as well as the generation of well-prepared graduates. Attention must be given to the proper utilisation of the other relevant resources and to the reduction in the existing massive corruption in the education system.

The following chapters focus on some important issues related to private universities in the Bangladeshi context: quality of higher education, university culture and its reputation, need for meritocracy, and tools for good governance. Dr. Siddiqi attempts to present a detailed and clear exposition of the 'value added' privately financed higher education, both for students as individuals and for the nation's development as a whole. Finally, the author reflects on the present and future of higher education in Bangladesh. Through a review of available statistics, the author shows that the nation may expect more than 3 million students in the next 25 years. He then compares the possible future of our private universities with that of their high-ranking counterparts in the developed countries. A quick check reveals that most of the best universities in the world are research universities; because a research university typically attracts the best researchers, most research funds and has the best reputation. Therefore, the author argues, in order to attract the most qualified students and promising researchers, it is in the best interest of the universities that they should start focusing more on research.  A few private universities hold great promise in this regard, but given the level of endowment and research expenditure involved in producing a world-class institution, this is somewhat a tough task. However, Dr. Siddiqi believes, if the university leaders have the vision, ambition and ability to take appropriate and timely initiatives, private universities can establish themselves as research universities, which will eventually produce world-class graduates.

Dr. Hafiz G. A. Siddiqi is an internationally reputed academician and scholar with more than fifty years of teaching and research experiences at the universities in Bangladesh and the United States. A former director and professor at Dhaka University's Institute of Business Administration (IBA), he is widely recognised for his pioneering contributions to the field of private university education in Bangladesh. Dr. Siddiqi has served as the Vice Chancellor for more than 19 years at North South University, the first private university of Bangladesh, where he contributed immensely to establishing world-class standards in the quality of the curriculum, faculty and degrees conferred. The author deserves appreciation for producing this in-depth work on higher education, with special emphasis on private universities, in the present Bangladesh.

The writer is an independent researcher.


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