The improvement of public universities is on the cards. However, for improvement, ensuring bare necessities is a must.
This piece would point at some problems that plague the public universities. However, very promising elements are also there. Thus, the article would end with the optimism that universities will be on the path of continuous development despite limitations. Yes, even as far as classroom facilities at many universities are concerned, there are problems of space as well as furniture.
In some places, if all the students turn up in a class, many would have to keep standing. The departments, however, cannot solve this problem on their own due to fund unavailability from the university authority for this purpose. Even if there is sufficient number of seats, can a class of around 100 to 150 students be called an ideal class size? There are, perhaps, very few such places in the world where there are so many students in university classes. Thus, the issue of bench shortage is less important than optimisation of the class size.
Library facility of the universities is good. However, at some universities, students having travelled for hours find it rather difficult to spend much time in the university library. The departmental seminar library, enriched with many books is, however, a place where many students can spend time reading and doing other academic exercises. It is, however, regrettable that the seminar libraries cannot always function smoothly due to lack of skilled manpower.
On occasions, the departments do not get skilled persons from the higher authority despite repeated requests. The departments do not have the option to appoint a person for this purpose either due more to legal complications than to financial constraints. Unfortunately, the same is the case with the computer labs of some departments as well. The departments might have a good number of computers.
The departments, however, cannot always appoint computer technicians for maintenance of the laboratory and the laboratory operation remains unsatisfactory at times. Even if appointed by the departments, the departments cannot provide a handsome salary for the job of technicians. The university has to bear the cost from its fund granted by the University Grants Commission. It is an irony that some universities, like other government and semi-government organisations, do not have dearth of employees.
Some even spend leisure time most of the time. When it comes to the case of computer laboratory operator, however, the issue of skilled manpower shortage comes to the fore. In fact, many departments in the universities appoint computer lab operators on their own which should have been prioritised by the university authorities considering increasing importance of information technology as well as the government’s emphasis on digitisation.
However, in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, the students of university departments show keen interest and fair amount of success. Various programmes turn out to be immensely successful thanks to the relentless efforts of the current students. In the mega events of the departments, they become the major striking forces. They bring laurels for the departments as well through various competitions. They thus truly deserve special commendations.
At the public universities, academic guidance and counselling are not yet institutionalised. However, if students seek guidance and counselling, the teachers tend to try their level best. As a result, students do not return frustrated and benefit more or less. If, however, these can be institutionalised, the results will be more visible and the students will be in a better position to get guidance and counselling.
For career counselling and placement, stronger connections with the alumni and the employers will be the key. The alumni interest in this regard is noticeable. However, close contacts with the employers will warrant vigorous attempt on the part of the departments. Alumni services are indeed worthwhile which need to be diversified and harmonised so that unified and stronger bonds among various alumni bodies’ can take place.
While the students are very much active in various community services, the teachers are expected to manage more time for being involved in performing this act of great social responsibility. Joint efforts of the students and the teachers will turn it into a culture as well.
Meanwhile, the indicators that are given importance for promotion of the academic staffs cannot be underestimated. They are not very simple. Without higher degrees and a good number of research publications, one cannot expect promotion to higher positions. In fact, the decision of taking Research Performance Indicators (RPIs) and Teaching Performance Indicators (TPIs) into consideration lies more with the University.
However, systematic exploration of the nature and contents of the indicators has to be in place and objectivity should guide the whole process so that international standards can be maintained. Introduction of RPIs and TPIs in line with the global standard would surely bring about a qualitative change in the academia which would also prompt the academic staffs to be more motivated towards more effective teaching and more pragmatic research works that can be useful for the society.
In fact, many of the old departments have been able to establish themselves as sound departments in the universities and keep on producing a good number of quality products catering to the needs of the society. The ongoing self-assessment report preparation phase at public universities — the first step towards getting accreditation — however, should be prepared in a critical fashion so that no sense of complacency develops in the academics and the zeal for continuous improvement increases.
There are some inconsistencies in the departments in meeting the global standards in their strictest forms. However, the curriculum of many departments is being consistently updated with inclusion of more job-oriented courses. The academic staffs are being up and doing in technology integration and interactive class room activities are on the rise. Though new in nature, the self-assessment mechanism provides the departments with great opportunities for self-evaluation and further enrichment.
For continuous improvement, however, the departments should always be committed to aiming at excellence and sincerity and integrity on the parts of the academics and other major stakeholders should always be there. The alumni of the departments can be a great source of inspiration. The students of the departments are expected to remain amenable to motivation. Then, the improvement plan arising out of the self-assessment process would surely pave the way for the departments’ reaching the pinnacle of quality and glory.
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong.
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