There are 94 private universities [as of February 2016] in Bangladesh. Over a period of two decades, this mushroom growth of private universities manifests an intense demand for higher education in Bangladesh. Indeed, the private universities cater to the demand of higher education more than the existing 37 public universities. Private universities meet the higher educational need of more than 125,000 students than the existing enrollment capacity of the public universities. About 1,500 foreign students are now enrolled in private universities. Moreover, it is to be admitted that private universities substantially helped in the augmentation of foreign exchange reserve because children from well-to-do families prefer private universities for use of English as a medium of instruction than education from abroad. Children from upper and lower middle income families also get the access to higher education through the hefty scholarship many universities offer to deserving students based on merit. Many private universities are positively contributing in the quality of higher education blessed with members of faculty with foreign degrees and genuine research interests.
Nevertheless, this spectacular growth of private higher education is fraught with a lot of fundamental functional inadequacy that the academic community in Bangladesh read in the Annual Report [2014-15] of the University Grant Commission [UGC]. Daily newspapers in Bangladesh report the findings of the UGC’s Annual Report that permeates a sad state of affairs of many private universities. Several private universities run without the basic requirement of the three top position posts, Vice Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor and treasurer. The appointments of Vice Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Treasurer are given by the President who works as the Chancellor of the private universities. Initially, the proposal is processed through the UGC who send the list of panel in the private university wing of the Ministry of Education who ultimately get the approval from the President. This stringent requirement expresses the sincerity of the government to place appropriate academics to run the work in a professional way. Unfortunately, many universities function in the past as well currently just with a vice chancellor or a pro-vice chancellor or in many cases with a designated vice chancellor who is not authorised to put signature on the academic certificates. Universities run campus in Dhaka city with a permanent campus elsewhere.
Recently, a supplement is published by David Mathews in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings on higher education on Bangladesh. The supplement is based on a research work by Matt Husain who currently works as a researcher at the University of British Columbia. He has an innovative research finding on the role of private universities in higher education in Bangladesh. “If anywhere on earth can be called a dystopia of runaway, unregulated, exploitative private higher education” the researcher claims to have found it. Husain who carried an ethnographic study of the members of faculty and students in Dhaka, in Bangladesh on the role of part-time members of faculty in higher education concludes that even the worst cases of academic exploitation in the West look tame in comparison. Many universities fail to maintain the designated ratio of permanent and part-time members of faculty and the remuneration of the part-time faculty members is very poor, “£150 for an entire semester of two or three hours teaching a week” in comparison to permanent faculty.
The findings indeed carry genuine plasma and it is also very difficult to offer a balanced perspective on this issue in the context what we did in the past with a noble venture. That might require a massive overhauling if you expect to get the thing in a balanced perspective in future. The pertinent issue is the quality of education in the higher echelon. Were we devoid of simple math to calculate the minimum number of qualified members of faculty to run a higher educational institution? Just consider the three top position; you require 282 qualified experienced professional to man those position for which the supply is not obviously instantaneous. It is not fair now to report that many universities are now running without vice chancellor and or pro- vice chancellor.
Husain calls the part-time instructor as Rickshaw Faculty [Rickfac may be a portmanteau from the two words; Rickshaw and the faculty] who hops from campus to campus and teach 15 to 20 universities often with a huge students. The interactive learning is almost impossible. Lecturers are “almost dehumanised. They are exploited but they feel they cannot do anything about it.” They take little pride in their work and moonlight at other institutions. There are few other important findings which we cannot also ignore. “The political elite and their surrogates get the licenses for new banks and private universities,” he explains. Gaining permits for universities “depends on who you know in the system”. During his research, he observed university owners arriving at board meetings in flashy BMWs.
It is true you cannot ignore the demand of part-time faculty. There are part-time members of faculty with specific skill in human resources management or in marketing but they are not equipped to teach a whole theoretical course. Or take the case of very outstanding faculty from BUET or University of Dhaka or any other universities. The problem is there when you hire an instructor with inadequate academic exposure to compromise with pay or a faculty who lost his energy by hopping as a part-time faculty and then could not do justice in his principal assignment or unfortunately moonlight as a permanent faculty in a private university.
Higher education is the citadel of innovation and new knowledge that propels the growth and equips the society with skilled manpower. You cannot attain the objectives in a mundane way. It is not the issue of part-time members of faculty but is the integrity of the permanent members of the faculty both from the public and the private universities to be sincere to their professional job.
The writer is a Professor of Economics, United International University