A sit-in demonstration staged by students of the city's seven colleges affiliated with the University of Dhaka caused an intractable vehicular gridlock in the capital on Sunday last. With the blockade enforced at the Nilkhet intersection, the entire western part of Dhaka city took the heaviest toll but other areas also suffered its ripple effects. Commuters were the worst sufferers in months on the day as negotiating a distance of an hour took them three to four hours.
There is no reason for the general public to be well disposed towards the agitating students because it was them who caused the former to suffer. But are the students to blame? A close look will exonerate them from the apparent wrong they committed by blocking a busy crossing of the city.
Why in the first place should students of the DU-affiliated colleges feel the compulsion to demonstrate so frequently for announcement of examination schedules and publication of results considered routine academic functions? Sunday's was not the first agitation programme students of those colleges brought out. In July last they pressed for announcement of exam schedules. Although an exam schedule was published but this was postponed later on. Their frustration can only be imagined. Then in September last, the students of 2011-12 academic session of the seven colleges even had to go on a hunger strike, demanding publication of their Honours final year examination.
It is a queer situation. Students are ready to sit for examinations but the authorities are indifferent to the need for holding timely examinations. The July demonstration left a student blind and about a dozen injured. As many as 1200 students have cases instituted against them. In fact students are paying for the fault of people in responsible positions. The University of Dhaka and the National University (NU) were at loggerheads at the time of handing over and taking over the charge of the seven colleges. It was at the insistence of the ministry of education that the DU swallowed the bitter pill. Whether the NU heaved a sigh of relief or reluctantly agreed to the deal is not known but the antagonism between the two higher seats of learning is at the root of all the disconcerting developments since then.
In its haste to raise quality of higher education, the ministry moved fast without allowing time for facilitating the process of shifting the charge. It was highly preposterous. One wonders why the DU agreed to accept the charge. Evidently, it had no preparation for assuming the responsibility of about 0.2 million students studying at the seven government colleges. Also, there should have been the apprehension of non-cooperation from the NU. Sure enough, such an apprehension was not misplaced given the personal relations between the two vice-chancellors of the two universities of the time.
It is ridiculous under the prevalent system to bring government colleges under the ambit of the DU. The appointment of teachers at those colleges is a responsibility of the education ministry. To become teachers, they have to overcome the civil service examination. It is the ministry that supervises their career including promotion and transfer. The DU has no function in the process and still it has been handed the job of taking examinations of students of those colleges. Teachers of colleges teach their students and when it comes to holding examinations, a different authority arrives. There is a limit to naivety!
The system here is not remotely similar to that of the Oxford or Cambridge University, where colleges are self-governing institutions within the universities. Classes, lectures, laboratory works are provided by university faculties and departments. So any illusion that mere affiliation with the country's premier university will raise the quality of education must not be entertained. Under no circumstances the government institutions and an autonomous one can have an enabling environment for taking ahead education.
Already, voices have been raised for return of the seven colleges to the NU. Notably, the NU has more or less brought its academic sessions in order and overcome its session jam. The demand is quite reasonable because the DU was not provided with extra staff to undertake the responsibility of the seven colleges. It itself is a huge institution and the load proves quite heavy for its administrative section. One after another new department has been opened at the university over the past few years. The number of students has thus shot up and more will add up to the total with the opening of fresh courses and departments. So, it will be wise to return the seven colleges to the NU.
Better concentrate on raising the quality of the NU supervision, facilities and authority. Let there be academic councils in each of these seven colleges which will have representatives at the NU to bargain for academic facilities that contribute to class lectures, laboratory works and other academic activities. There is no point carrying on with an ill adjustment -one that is unlikely to benefit anyone. If the ministry decides to treat a few colleges differently, it can do so in other forms as well.