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University ranking announcement and next morning

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The success of DU and NSU shows that with the right attitude, we can create world-class universities. VISUAL: STAR

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The success of DU and NSU shows that with the right attitude, we can create world-class universities. VISUAL: STAR

The oldest private university in Bangladesh gives a hard time to its oldest public university. They are the only two educational institutions to appear in the top 800 of a world ranking estimated by Times Higher Education (THE). Seeing these local universities in the same global category raises more questions than answers.

These two universities – one in North Dhaka, the other in South Dhaka – are separated by heavy traffic worth a two to three hour drive and a culture of mutual disdain. It remains to be seen whether the ranking agency will unfreeze the frozen relationship. The success story of North-South University (NSU) cannot be ignored as it devised and pursued a strategic plan to achieve its status in the elite club of universities. Three other Bangladeshi universities, all technically oriented – Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), Bangladesh Agriculture University (BAU) and Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (Kuet ) – were presented in the 1200-1500 range. The overall performance is dismal. This begs the question, why aren’t the other major public universities and notable private universities there?

Founded in 1921, the University of Dhaka (DU) has a clear advantage in the five areas in which THE measures a university’s performance: teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry earnings. Thanks to its government funding, DU enrolls 38,172 students and has a fleet of 2,200 teachers. Conversely, NSU, established in 1992, has 20,596 students with a teaching staff of 386 full-time teachers and 362 part-time teachers. According to UGC’s 2019 record, DU spent Tk 52.02 crore on research and published 472 publications, while NSU spent Tk 65.32 crore on research and claimed 1135 publications.

It is worth mentioning that a university must have 300 publications indexed per year for five consecutive years to be considered for the THE ranking. NSU has consistently nurtured a research culture to be on par with a university that is 70 years older than it is. The presence of three technical universities in the ranking suggests that they have the required number of publications, which many other universities lack.

It’s refreshing to see DU feeling the pressure to excel. Recently, it initiated an annual performance objective for each academic department and liberalized its international openness. According to THE, 7.5% marks are awarded for international outlook based on the proportion of international students, international staff and international collaboration. This is an area in which private universities have greater flexibility. In terms of teaching, which accounts for 30% of the ranking scale, the sub-categories are reputation survey, staff-to-student ratio, doctorate-to-license ratio, doctorate awarded to academic staff, and institutional income .

Considering the government policy of not allowing private universities to award PhDs, private universities miss out on the learning environment category. The same goes for industry revenue, which amounts to 2.5% of the THE ranking indicators, in which private universities are handicapped because they are not allowed to run for-profit institutes. But a lot depends on the reputation survey (15% in teaching and 18% in research), where alumni in the labor market contribute to the overall image of the participating university.

NSU’s success will inspire other private universities to join the global rankings. They already have a clear strategic vision in place. The share of student distribution in the tertiary system, if the colleges under the National University are excluded, is almost equal. However, some misconceptions persist about private universities as they are subject to additional regulatory oversight that handicaps their growth.

The introduction of private universities prevented many students from going abroad as they could get quality education in the country and save money through the credit transfer system. In many cases, public university curricula are not updated. Most of our programs are not accredited. The government has launched the Bangladesh Accreditation Council which is likely to address the issue and bring public and private universities under the same measuring scale.

For the tertiary sector to develop, a common and coherent policy is needed. Some older universities behave as if they are beyond scrutiny. Their vaunted claim to prestige is now disputed and rightly claimed by the new universities. It is time these divisions were avoided because the teachers who teach and the students who learn are all citizens of this country. They all deserve fair and equal treatment. For example, UGC research and travel grants are only awarded to teachers at public universities. UGC allows doctoral programs to be offered only by public universities.

With the kind of intellectual resources available to the main private universities, either through the reverse of the brain drain by welcoming returning expatriate scholars, or by retaining the best teachers who have retired from the public system, they can easily attract local and international students in doctoral programs. Of course, UGC can apply strict regulatory criteria for awarding the degree.

In the absence of such open-mindedness, we see many of our local students going abroad. Malaysia has become the second largest student destination for Bangladeshi students, which was once a source country in the 1980s. According to Bangladesh Bank, in the first four months of this year, $343.9 million was sent abroad to Bangladeshi students. Through the official channel, $1.32 billion (Tk 12,144 crore) was sent abroad for outbound student mobility. The actual numbers would be higher as there is no trace of the illegal channels. The number of outgoing students has increased by 129% over the past six years.

The success of DU and NSU shows that with the right attitude, we can build world-class universities to meet our local needs and prevent foreign currencies from being siphoned off. But to benefit from the system, we need a sea change in the mindset of policy makers and government.

Doctor Shamsad Mortuza is an English professor at Dhaka University.