Regulating higher education

Abu Ahmed | Published: February 15, 2017 19:25:21 | Updated: October 23, 2017 07:56:08

The Darul Ihsan University, one of the early starters among the private universities in the country, now has been ordered to be closed by the highest judicial court of the country. The university was found to be involved in flouting regulatory rules and selling cheap academic degrees to the students without teaching them properly. The complaint about the university was not new. 
In fact, the deplorable situation started in the university within a few years after the death of its founder Prof. Syed Ali Ashraf, who was a renowned scholar. The members of the trustee board fell foul with each other and they divided the university among themselves. We saw many signboards of the university in every part of the capital telling that there is a campus of the Darul Ihsan where all the popular courses, including the BBA and Computer Science, are taught. The students flocked to such campuses of the university just to get academic degrees at hand at the cheapest cost and without regularly attending the classes. The university was virtually involved in selling academic certificates without teaching. 
As we heard, the Darul Ihsan University did not have any Vice-Chancellor (VC). If it had any, it had more than one VC. Finally, when the government wanted to intervene in the matter, the so-called owners of the university went to the court where they lost their case. The closure of the Dharul Ihsan will remain as an eye-opener before everyone that if founders or members of a trustee board do not run a university properly, they are to pay a price. 
But in the case of the Darul Ihsan, the step to close it down by the regulator, here the Ministry of Education, came late. An early step for closure of such an institution would have saved many students from receiving fake or counterfeit academic certificates. 
A private university is supposed to be as good, if not the better, as the public university, but unfortunately a number of these universities have turned to be what people call jokingly either 'coaching centres' or 'academic degree-selling houses'.
When we supported the opening of private universities in the early 90s, we thought that the  involvement of the private sector would help our higher education spread and more and more students would have opportunities to pursue higher education. But we did not think that the government would be so liberal in granting the permission for opening of so many universities and now to our disbelief, the number of such universities in the country is more than 90. A dozen more is waiting to have the go from the government. 
The Darul Ihsan is not alone in going wrong; the same business of selling academic degrees is being done by some other universities also. The Ministry of Education and the regulatory authority, the  University Grants Commission (UGC), know which universities are errant, but no concrete measure is being taken to stop them from going off the track. Taking weakness of the regulatory authorities, some of the private universities are flouting laws at will. They are doing this in connivance with some vested quarters. 
The private universities, according to the relevant laws and regulations, are supposed to be non-profit academic institutions. But the vested quarters run many of these institutions like commercial enterprises to make profit. In most of such universities, the whole apparatus was set up to make money by selling cheap academic degrees to the students. Had there been no such power of granting academic degrees by these universities themselves, hardly any of such universities would have been there to teach students at the higher level. 
The power of conferring degrees has turned out to be a tool in the hands of the so-called founders of such universities to mint money. Does anyone really believe that so many founders of private universities are coming forward just to promote the cause of higher education? 
Already, the employment market has started refusing to accept the passed-out graduates from such universities. These graduates cannot also qualify to go abroad for higher education. The government has to accept the blame for the mess that exists in Bangladesh's privately-managed higher education. It is very liberal in granting permission to private universities, but too soft in controlling and regulating them. 
Almost all the private universities are only  teaching universities; no research and no creative activities are there. Many of these universities are still housed in the hired premises in marketplaces. 
Also, there seems to be a dual regulatory system in the case of administration of private universities. One is the University Grants Commission and the other is the Ministry of Education. The errant private universities are taking advantages of weakness of the system of dual regulation. We suggest, all the regulatory functions be vested with the UGC which needs to be told to be tough with private universities if they go astray.
The writer is Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka. 


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