The Financial Express

UGC, absentee academics and our universities

UGC, absentee academics and our universities

The move by the University Grants Commission on ensuring that teachers of public universities, once they have completed their higher studies abroad, return to their institutions is welcome. The expectation is that the UGC and through it the public universities will be able to stand by the decision and so restore confidence in our teaching community, in its ability to educate our future generations.

In brief, the UGC has decided that henceforth teachers who plan to proceed abroad, financed for their studies with public money, will be required to hand in resignation letters in advance to their institutions as a guarantee that they will come back home once their assignments are over. But if they do not return by the dates they are expected to be back in their classrooms in Bangladesh, those resignation letters will be deemed to have taken effect when they fail to turn up.

It is a good decision for the good reason that many have been the public university teachers who have conveniently failed to come back home after finishing their academic programmes at universities abroad. The figures related to the teachers who have not come back home in the last many years is disturbing. In the first place, they reveal a mindset which is indicative of narrow selfishness.

In the second, they speak of fugitive teachers treating their students with disdain by not imparting the necessary education to them. In the third place, when teachers go silent or missing once they have done their doctoral and post-doctoral work abroad, it is crass insolence they demonstrate toward their mother institutions back home. Finally, when such teachers fall prey to temptations of staying abroad rather than take flights back home, it is their patriotism that comes into question.

There have been some comparatively clever ones among such teachers in the not-so-distant past. They have gone back home, briefly rejoined their workplaces, collected their accumulated salaries and then taken the earliest flights back overseas. That was and is outrageous behavior. Little or no action could be taken against them by their universities because they simply went beyond the reach of the universities. These teachers, through tricky methods of work, have felt absolutely little shame in indulging in such deplorable acts.

It is in light of such atrocious behavior by academics in the past that the UGC move of including advance resignation letters in the Teaching Load Calculation Policy in Public Universities-2022 offers a way out for public universities to ensure that absconding teachers suffer the consequences of their acts. Observe the facts. As we speak, six teachers of Comilla University, despite finishing their courses abroad, have not come back to the university.

Of the 1,685 teachers at 36 public universities who went on leave in 2021, as many as 272 did not return. Altogether 125 of these absentee academics have been removed from their jobs. In 2020, 3,511 teachers from public universities took leave and went overseas. Of this number, 2,088 left the country on educational leave. The number of those continuing to stay abroad, despite the end of their academic programmes, stands at 43.

While one commends the UGC on the step it has taken against recalcitrant teachers, there are a few other issues it will be required to take into consideration. A major source of worry for public universities in the country has been the tendency on the part of many teachers to obtain leave from these universities and take up assignments, which of course entail better financial facilities, at private universities.

The casualty of such lateral moves by such academics has predictably been their students at the public universities. It has been observed that once their assignments, stretching over quite a few years, are over, these teachers return to their natural habitats. But by then the damage has been done. Their pupils at the private universities may have gained from their wisdom, but the young people they were supposed to teach at the public universities were left abandoned by them.

The UGC will be fulfilling a serious educational need by formulating rules preventing a poaching of academics from public universities by private universities. If any teacher at a public university is desirous of teaching the young at a private university, he should be required to submit his resignation at his university before moving on. Such a move will create the scope for a new teacher to be appointed at the public university and for students to be reassured that continuity will be part of the curriculum they follow.

The UGC needs to be assertive in formulating its policies and seeing to their implementation. At the same time, the UGC should see to it that private universities appoint and expand their own teaching structure in accordance with rules guaranteeing a full measure of classroom satisfaction for students at the private university level.

Such measures need to be made mandatory. There will be little point in complaining of declining standards at the nation's universities when these basic issues are not handled to the satisfaction of the country.

An improvement in standards depends, among other factors, on research by teachers at the universities; on the journals departments are able to produce, quality and quantity-wise, throughout the academic year; on the grave need to be on the lookout for plagiarism by academics in their research papers or dissertations.

In these last few years, revelations relating to information theft by academics at public universities have left us red in the face. A foolproof mechanism must be in place to inform people that plagiarism --- and not just among teachers but students as well --- is on the radar, that those guilty of it will be swiftly exposed.

At the end of the day, it is the reputation of the country which matters. When universities abroad do not seriously take the qualifications obtained by students at our public universities into account, we know how high and steep the mountain that we must climb happens to be.

Our objective must be one and unwavering: at our universities we must enable our young men and women, through the wisdom and foresight and diligence of their teachers, to come by the means of drawing level with the rest of the world in academic excellence.

It is a calling dependent on academics promoting scholarship in their classroom teaching, on teachers who go abroad but do not turn their backs on their students and who come back home to impart their new-found wisdom to the young and to the larger nation out there.


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