The Financial Express

Why Dhaka University is unique

Why Dhaka University is unique

A large section of people in this society takes a sickening pleasure at the exclusion of the name of Dhaka University from even long lists of these institutions. Be they regional or global. According to them, this is what the university deserves. These lists, like many other surveys, have continued to be released over the last couple of decades. The reason these people feel elated over the absence of the name of DU from the lists of better performing institutions is clear.

As these people's mentality explains, they view the university's failure to make it to the 'prestigious' lists is its inability to create an atmosphere conducive to academic activities. Unlike many regionally important universities, its students and teachers are devoid of the qualities required for doing research works, they add. The days of sessions jam are over. But occasional internecine conflicts flare up on the campus. Even the Covid-19-prompted indefinite closure of the university keeps the detractors annoyed. Some of them seem to hold a terrible view --- the reopening of the university has long been overdue. As the programme of online classes is not possible to hold for numerous reasons, they want the dormitories to open and classes resume. In terms of support from general students and organisational strength, they have long proved their newly gained power-wielding capability.

Moreover, they are 'ideologically' backed by a segment of the country's civil society. According to these quarters, the lost glory of the University of Dhaka has to be regained by any means; even if it means large-scale Covid-19 infections and fatalities among the students and teachers.

Another part of the tale is also recognised as hard truth. It remains etched out on the pages of history. It speaks of the relentless efforts made by East Bengal's socio-political and academic leaders after the 1911 annulment of Bengal Partition plan, to establish a full-fledged university in Dhaka. Later, it was planned to be modelled after the Calcutta University. With the great objective of bringing the light of higher learning to the post-college students in the neglected East Bengal, the University of Dhaka began its journey in 1921.

There are few universities in the world, the students of which have played the role of a catalyst in the birth of an independent nation of theirs. There are few universities, except the University of Dhaka, which have shaped the founding father of the Bengalee nation; the person was none other than the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; and many of his contemporary and younger associates. There are fewer universities in which academically and intellectually refined yet politically conscious students kept being enrolled since its birth. During the last half century, there had been few street-based political movements and mass upsurges in Dhaka without the participation of this university's students and teachers.

There is also another aspect of the episode. Marking the occasion of the university's centennial, it has been found out that high-achieving DU students are now spread throughout the world. Some have become globally acclaimed like Scientist Satyendra Nath Bose, Abdus Suttar Khan, aerospace researcher, Linguist Dr Muhammad Shahidullah and many others. Moreover, the university has produced statistician Dr Kazi Motahar Hossain, Poet Buddhadev Bose, Poet Shamsur Rahman et al and lots of politicians, political theorists, social scientists, academics and authors, sportspersons and cultural personalities. The disappointment of the university's former students at its humble place in the list of the world's reputed universities pales beside its unique achievement --- the role it played in attaining the emancipation of the masses. These were actually movements for myriad types of freedoms. Although they started with the 1952 Language Movement, in the following decade it fanned out to include the basic issues of life like food, shelter, education and social opportunities.  Being a seat of higher learning, coupled with many forms of academic and research activities, remaining busy with non-academic issues doesn't suit a university. But the University of Dhaka followed a unique course. Like it did with the demand for Bangla as a state language of the then Pakistan, it attached the similar importance to the Bengalees' all-round uplift. Its struggles for cultural freedom continued along with those for political and economic liberties. The latter eventually ended up being the lone demand --- the struggle for freedom. This has no parallel in the annals of history related to university performances.

As a general rule, the highest seats of learning, viz. the universities, are born to be the cradles of knowledge. The learners coming out of them are spread in their own countries and throughout the world after the completion of their studentship careers. The University of Dhaka has never been found engrossed exclusively in academic pursuits. Alongside the various disciplines of knowledge, this century-old university has made forays into the learned ways of how to attain socio-political and economic developments of the East Bengal people, long oppressed in different stages of the history of the sub-continent.

Attaining reputation of being known as an international university has not tempted it. In short, DU belongs to a different genre. In order to elaborate on its multifaceted functions, distinct from the research-centric ones, pundits need to broaden their orthodox definition of ideal universities.

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