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DhakaUniversity1Earlier in the week, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland announced that they are closer to actually discovering a new particle: the Higgs boson. Dhaka University (DU), which shared the glory of having introduced the concept of bosons in early 1920s, seems to be set on an autopilot; it has been causing the institution to sink slowly for over last three decades. With years of comparative data widely available, it is not a guessing game anymore as to where DU and many other Bangladeshi universities are heading. Many of those who are driving these different institutional engines appear to be either unwilling or unequipped to interpret data that cannot be just brushed aside anymore.

A University of Grants Commission leader was quoted recently as describing DU’s ranking decline as evidence of “other universities of the world progressing whilst Dhaka University is failing to keep the pace with them.” When pressed by the media, the person came back swinging, suggesting that many of the ranking criteria are based on issues that are irrelevant to the universities in Bangladesh. The current DU leadership seems to have withdrawn already from the global knowledge race. More folks are happy simply harping on DU’s political and cultural role and the glorious political past but hardly ever of academics and research.

Not surprisingly, when it was time to celebrate the 90th founding anniversary of Dhaka University on July 1, 2011, it was clear there wasn’t much to celebrate after all other than a 90-pound-cake, colourful parade, a drama, sports competition, a discussion at TSC, and release of nine pigeons. Dhaka University, my alma mater, was placed between 550th and 600th in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings in 2010. Worse still, the university’s status seems to be on a sustained decline; it was 365th in the QS rankings in 2005. According to 2011 Webometrics ranking of universities, the Oxford of the East was ranked 3627th amongst universities with BUET ranked at 2108th.

While there are genuine reasons such as lack of sufficient investment, research equipment, and library resources that hold us back, our steep decline can be traced back to a single event –“Dhaka University Order 1973” that ended up in effect replacing “meritocracy” with “democracy,” once and for all. This was brought upon us by an emotion-driven political process and was participated to by the then academic leaders without much thoughts or regards for the future. A current Dhaka University website entry describes this disastrous milestone as when “democratic norms and autonomy became integral features of the institution.” From then on, the so-called democratic practices would be used in identifying the vice-chancellor, deans, and so forth compromising fully the quality assurance so vital to higher education.

Latest websites entries of Dhaka University Faculty of Science departments show the share of their full professors to be now at 43.1%. In case of Faculty of Biological Sciences, in particular, that number stands at 53.4%. These percentages would approach 51.5% and 66.5% respectively, if we exclude the lecturers. None of this is surprising given that promotions are based now solely on political affiliation and whether one has spent an arbitrary length of minimal time in the previous rank irrespective of scholarly or teaching record.

A quick study will reveal that each succeeding VCs since 1972 typically had relatively worse research record than those being replaced. Recent Google scholar search for citation of the published works of all VCs at Dhaka University since 1990, for example, yielded sobering numbers. The average of their cited works is 4.8 and that of their lifetime citations is 40.4. The one with the best record had 14 cited works and a total of 153 citations.

The one exhaustive study that ranks institutions in a non-arbitrary fashion is the SCImago Institutions Rankings (SIR) Report, currently in its third round. In 2011, it ranked 3042 entities based on citation and publications. These 3042 organisations (including 2010 universities) together generated more than 80% of world’s scientific output during 2005-2009. While Bangladesh seems to have 75 universities, only four of its entities had enough output to be included in the SIR Report. In comparison, 111 of 310 Indian and 13 of 126 Pakistani entities were included in the SIR.

The SIR Report measures institutions in terms of 5 indicators: (a) output in journals; (b) International Collaboration (IC) which shows its output ratio produced in collaboration with foreign institutions; (c) Normalised Impact (NI) in percentages, shows the relationship of its average scientific impact and world average; (d) Quality of Publications (QP) measured as ratio of publications that gets into top 25% journals; and (e) Excellence Rate (ER) which indicates % of its output within the top 10% of the most cited papers.

During 2005-2009, 58 of 111 entities in India and 8 of 13 in Pakistan were ahead of Dhaka University. In 5 years, Dhaka University researchers authored 845 articles in journals. The university website claims to have 1805 faculty members. That would imply a 5 year production rate of 0.468 papers per faculty member. In other words, it took 11 faculty members a year to produce a single article. 46.8% of its articles had one or more international collaborators. 26% of the articles appeared in journals ranked in the top 25% of their respective categories. The NI value is 0.8 which implies that its published works on average had an impact that is 20% below the world average.
Excellence Rate is 8.1 indicative of the fact that 8.1% of these articles made within the top 10% of most cited papers. Table 1 and 2 list scores respectively for Bangladesh and Pakistan. Table 3 shows the most reputed as well as a few with the lowest output of the India entities.

By comparing Tables 1 and 3, we see that Bangladesh is dependent on foreign collaboration. The case of Center for Health & Population Research, in particular, shows over-dependence while also yielding positive quality, impact, and excellence. In case of others, their publications continue to involve collaborators but low-impact journals. Table 2 shows that in case of Pakistan, government and private entities as well as colleges contribute to research while equivalent Bangladeshi organisations such as Atomic Energy Commission, BCSIR, Sparso, and others have all become victim of the same malaise that is destroying the universities.

Table1 Table2 Table3

The Indian examples of Table 3 show result of a drive for excellence not only in academic and government laboratories but also in relatively small colleges. In fact, successful graduates of better institutions are now influencing smaller, less-known institutions. The output of larger entities is a function of both investment and quality of people they have engaged to drive their knowledge engines. Their IC values show they are increasingly reaching word-class status and not depended any more on collaborations. In 2011 list of U.S. News World’s 400 Best Universities, there were 66 entries from Asia that includes 6 each from India and Taiwan along with 12 from Japan, 9 from South Korea, 8 from China, 5 from Hong Kong, 4 each from Israel and Malaysia, 3 from Saudi Arabia, and 2 each from Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

In recent years, purposefully, each of the Bangladeshi institutions have been publishing their own sets of low-quality journals that give the false impression that the faculty members are engaged in research yet most of these work will never get noticed by peers anywhere else in the world. The six faculties of Dhaka University now produce six half-yearly English journals and one ten-monthly Bengali journal. This is in addition to ten department-produced journals. The six university journals are offshoot of “Dhaka University Studies” that begun in 1950s while “Journal of Statistical Research,” for example, started in the 1970s. None of these journals is indexed in any database. They do not have enough issues a year nor have focus, depth, and quality in any one field of interest and as such, nothing therein stands a chance of being cited by anyone except through self-citation. It seems that all this has taken an epidemic proportion – each Bangladeshi university, public and private, has one or more similar journals.

The symptom of this nationwide epidemic is apparent from the latest listing of the Bangladesh Journals Online (Bangla JOL). As of December 14, 2011, a total of 73 journals are included in Bangla JOL with five (including a “Stamford Journal of Microbiology”) joining since November 7, 2011. This alphabetized Bangla JOL listing begins with “Anwer Khan Modern Medical College Journal” and ends with “University Journal of Zoology, Rajshahi University.” Of the 73 that are currently included in Bangla JOL, as well as those countless others that haven’t yet joined Bangla JOL, only 8 journals, i.e., less than 11%, are included within the top 18,854 journals in the world.

Table 4 lists the Bangladesh-based journals, their relative measures as identified recently by SCImago and the years since their inceptions. The value of a journal and manuscripts included therein is gauged by the number of other researchers who would make use of it in their follow-up research. Each journal is thus measured and ranked by SCImagoin terms of SJR, indicative of the scientific influence of its average paper. SJR ranges from a maximum score of 63,545 and a minimum score of 0. SCImago also calculates two of the most important and widely-accepted measures: H-index and impact factor (IF). Both measures have a high degree of correlation between them. The H-index, in particular, expresses the journal’s scientific productivity by number of articles (H) that have received at least H citations. IF, on the other hand, indicates average citations per manuscript over two prior years.


The highest ranked journal (3581st amongst 18,854 in the world) from Bangladesh happens to be “Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition,” published by the International Center for Diarrheal Research Bangladesh, now in its 29th year of publication. Its H-index of 23 indicates that 23 of its papers have been cited by at least 23 researchers. On average, 58% of papers published in this journal during the previous two years were cited by one or more researchers. In comparison, papers published over the previous two years, for example, in “DU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences” (ranked 14207th) and “Bangladesh J. of Obstetrics and Gynecology” (ranked 17139th), respectively in their 9th and 24th years, wasn’t cited at all.

It is illustrative to note that the other 65 Bangla JOL journals as well as all others from Bangladesh do not contribute too much of anything as far as scientific impact is concerned. That long list of non-impacting journals happens to also include the “Journal of Bangladesh Academy of Sciences,” now in its 35th year of publication.

Will people continue to go for meaningless low-impacting journals? Yes, they will as long as the system that controls their appointment, promotion and retention decisions will not be bold enough to say “No.” That requires courage and can be pushed by only those who have broken free of these questionable outlets and practices and have set examples already by subjecting their own works to real scrutiny of the global research community.

While there are many naysayers who may argue that it’s impossible or too late for Bangladesh to turn around the boat, I am reluctant to accept it. For the last 14 years or so, I have been fortunate to be a witness to the possibility of a knowledge creation sector of Bangladesh. This happens to be in computing and information technology and is being driven by talents from within Bangladesh with assistance from their colleagues overseas.

The International Conference on Computer and Information Technology (ICCIT) has transitioned itself to now become the largest scientific conference held in Bangladesh. It attracts typically 400 submissions a year and has an acceptance rate approaching 35%, indicative of high quality. Each of its articles is indexed by the IEEE Xplore, the largest research database containing over two million records. Since 2008, over 30 of these accepted manuscripts now get selected each year to be further enhanced which upon additional rounds of reviews appears in international journals.

I cite ICCIT as a game-changer since it gets to engage the most number of universities in Bangladesh. Secondly, ICCIT doesn’t end with just a conference but is indexed worldwide and transitions some of its better works into journal articles. How significant is this? If it can be sustained, this could in 5 years contribute to an additional 150 cited works for Bangladesh – that’s roughly 20% of what got reported for Dhaka University or BUET.

As a proud alumnus of Dhaka University, I do have a simple dream. This is an extension of a poster I saw recently in Dhaka: We would rather not be ostriches and bury our heads in the sand. The mediocrity that has plagued both the University Grants Commission and DU now for some 38 years and in turn has compromised the universities at large will be all swept away by a tidal wave.

The dream gets a bit specific. By 2021, before Dhaka University reaches its 100th founding anniversary, it will free itself from (a) the clutches of the Dhaka University Ordinance of 1973; (b) vagaries of national politics that need to stay outside its doors; (c) the shame of its internal journals; and (d) the practice of appointment, promotion, and retention except on the basis of a quantifiable record of scholarly research and teaching.

Is it too much to dream?

Mohammad Ataul Karim is Vice President for Research of Old Dominion University, Virginia, USA.

56 Responses to “Dhaka University: Can it turn around?”

  1. H Mannan

    I am an ex-faculty of DU like AS Wahed. I want to point out that public education in Bangladesh including Dhaka University has been under a vicious cycle as has been researched out by a Japanese academic. I don’t want to go into details but I hope you would understand this. On one hand we are expecting quality education while on the other there is no money. You cannot have quality higher education without adequate funds. For example, you need sufficient money to do research, give students access to latest books, journals, and to provide them with up-to-date scientific equipments, computers etc. for performing research. Though the public universities have been receiving some financial support from the governments it is quite inadequate considering the large number of such universities in Bangladesh and because of the governments having tight budgets implemented towards higher education with Bangladesh being a very poor country having many of its own other problems. So what is the solution to this. The only way out would be for the universities to generate income on their own. This is how universities in the developed world have been surviving. You cannot depend entirely on government support for your existence. One can ask how universities can become self reliant monetarily ? First, the century old ideology of free or semi free education for all its students has to go away. Second, the universities need to attract donations etc. from the rich in the society, attract foreign investment like Bangladesh has been endeavouring to attract foreign investment since its inception. In response to the first point one may ask how this is possible in a poor country like Bangladesh. I would suggest to increase tuition fees within manageable abilities of students and increase the amount and number of scholarships to very poor metetorious students. I can go into furher details but don’t want to as this is just an opinion site for DU and not a site for providing education policy. The jist is that my suggestions are well known to our education policy makers and I hope that mine and other’s suggestions would draw their attention.

  2. Jamil Khan

    I totally support Dr. Karim’s comments and views. I am an ex-graduate of the university. Last week I visited the university and gave a technical presentation in my old department. I was shocked by current academic standards — both teaching and research — of my old place. Academic standards have declined at an exponential rate. National, teacher and student politics have killed the place. No one cares about any quality. I found curriculum and laboratories are ancient because no one has time and/or desire or leadership roles to improve them. Perhaps there is no reward for doing any good academic work because almost everyone becomes a Professor with time. Political links can reduce that time.

    However, I found lot of good eager students are waiting to learn, they expect academics to deliver good standard of teaching, unfortunately their expectations will not be fulfilled.

    What is the solution? I am sure the DU administration and their cronies will still label them as the “Oxford of the East”. I am not sure which Oxford they refer to. They probably don’t care about anything other than their own positions which will threaten if academic standard is raised.

    Let’s hope the young students will demand for quality if we can open their eyes and mind.

  3. Maniruzzaman, M

    Dear friends,
    I am a former student of Dhaka University. It’s sad that it failed to maintain the academic standard even of 1960s or ‘70s. Most of the brightest citizens of the country are the product of this University of the past decades. But why the same institute now produces mastaan (musclemen)?

    Let the reputed scholars speak of academic excellence. But what about tens of thousands of graduates produced every year? What learning they are getting from the teaches recruited on political consideration, rather than on teaching and research capability? Students are enrolled based on the instruction of the political leaders and their follower student leaders. This injustice is strengthened by following quota system comprising quotas for the children and even grand children of employees, freedom fighters (many allegedly holders of fake certificate), tribes, sports person and women. After keeping provisions for so many types of quota, merit (which should be the only consideration for enrolling students and recruiting both faculty and other staff) is completely sidetracked.

    While allocating accommodation in the residential halls, it is political party activists who decide who to stay in the halls and who must leave.

    This is the reason why standard of education has so deteriorated which is further exacerbated by complete politicization of teacher politics, student politics and even employee politics.

    Best wishes.

    M. Maniruzzaman, PhD

  4. Concerned DU Alumni

    I, more or less, agree with Mr. Kairm’s article. But there is one thing everybody missed out — the VCs or Deans (administrators) do not necessarily have to have a stellar research/publication record. They are basically ‘managers’ and expected to have a good insight to research (of course, they should have some decent past publication record). For a starter, the whole process of electing Deans and VCs at DU should be done away with. That will solve a ‘myriad’ of problems at the very outset and install fiscal responsibility (management & fund raising), remove some dirty politics, improve academic environment, etc.

    I attended a gathering sometimes back where the VC of DU was speaking…I was taken back. They need some ‘executive’ training, on assuming the job, on what to say and how to say things in public. They should consider hiring ‘speech writer’ among their staff to save themselves and the institutions they represent from disgrace.

    But I think the expectations here are too high. Please remember that DU is part of Bangladesh. The ‘psyche’ of the population (in different walks of life and professions) is merely reflected in the current university setting (and working) – nothing more than that.

    Also, DU’s primary contribution (since inception) has been on national political issues – Language Movement, Liberation War, etc. I am not sure if DU is known to produce (as groups, not few individuals) graduates of consistent quality over the years.

    These are just my thoughts.

    • Curzon Ahmed

      I agree that VCs and Deans don’t have to continue being a stellar scholar researcher. This opinion piece is insisting that they will need to have a real past record for themselves to be able to have the moral authority to expect that their faculty can be held accountable. For a rather long time, the only credential that seems to be important to rise up the food chain is whether one is linked with blue, pink, white, or other such political colours.

      Whether or not these individuals also ever had real executive skills to “install fiscal responsibility (management & fund raising)”, “improve academic environment,” seems to have all become victims of the “democracy” that has for ever replaced “meritocracy.”

  5. Sharif As-Saber

    Thank you Prof Karim for portraying such a detailed account of an utterly dismal scenario. As a DU alumnus, I am feeling bad but the reality needs to be brought to light. I must salute you for doing just that!

    We would like to see positive changes in policy and practice in all tertiary institutions in Bangladesh including DU. The issue of democracy and good governance is important to understand here which you have precisely underscored. Democracy is definitely good but only in its ideal form. It should have its necessary governance mechanism with appropriate checks and balances. Unfortunately, in its current form in Bangladesh it is no more than a ‘feckless pluralism’ or ‘dominant power politics’ as democratic mandate is typically used to pursue objectives only to benefit the ruling elites! DU and other public universities in Bangladesh are no exceptions. From a broader perspective, we need a major shift in our political culture and processes. It would be impossible to impart any improvement to these institutional inefficiency without addressing the country’s political mess. Cheers.

  6. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    No, Dr. Karim, it is not too much to dream of a rejuvenated, academically excellent university i.e. Dhaka University.

    All it takes is an educated approach, of the sincere lot, taking the UGC in confidence and calling ALL enlightened DU alumni to offer consultancy and an ACTION PLAN. But to materialize this program, campus politics has to depart for good. Students are being used as pawns and thugs by the parties. The incompetent VCs have to LEAVE; meritocracy has to have the priority above all. MONEY (increased funds) and MERIT have to make a strong come back.
    Since you have so passionately felt, projected and made us all aware with stats, etc., we would hope and wish you to ‘keep going’ with the cleansing act, instilling the need to focus on the quality more, quantity less.

    Do keep us readers posted.

    Best wishes and God speed!

  7. M.I.Zuberi

    Thank you for sending this post..we should send it to all our friends and contacts.. we should read and analyse… and try to do something. We know this is not only about DU..this is true for all our universities …our higher education and research…the foundation stone of our future development. We are responsible for this state of our education…we are ‘independent and democratic’ after 1970s, so all the responsibility go to us! The only option open for us to try to put things right..we have to do it…we, every one of us..let’s try, lets start from here.
    M.I.Zuberi, Rajshahi University [now in Ambo University, Ethiopia]

    • Ashraf Shaheen

      Yes, and this also requires you and all BD scholars to show some respect in writing correct english. I have not been to a university in BD but curious to know if you had been taught to put three dots after every sentences!

  8. Golam Faruk

    Thank you Prof. Karim. Yes, the VC or Pro-VC or other high-ranked teachers of DU have no intention to do research. But their only aim is to satisfy Hasina or Khaleda. Present VC and Pro-VC are the most politicised al leaders in the history of DU. Shame for DU as well as shame for Bangladesh.

  9. Mozammel

    Excellent analysis and clarification about DU.
    Merit is replaced by democracy. This hears so practical and hard truth with our politics that a fear of defeat prevails for the party if there is any effort to change.
    And it becomes”who will bell the cat” being mice are leaders and cat is the Fear fear fear fear fear of defeat.
    And not only defeat but revenge also.
    We want a dedicated leader a public leader not a party leader to change the situation.

  10. kakoli ahmed

    No chance of turning around where politics has become the nucleus so what else will wipe out its shame?

    • Ali

      They say: If wishes were horses…
      Unless there is SEA-CHANGE, particularly in the mind frame of whom we like to call intellectuals and politicians and decision makers, who are playing with the fate of the nation, slowly realize what they are doing and that the politics must be out of campuses, there is No respite but to continue to swallow the bitter pill.
      But if there is a NEW DAWN, fresh thinking, inspired by the Youngsters with fortitude and solemn desire to protect their future, there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
      Let us also not forget that this small land of ours is OURS only and no one else’s; this fact is getting diluted!
      So, if you sow the seed and work collectively, you can see the germination and the growth culminating into shaping your OWN Future. So, Please think collectively. Take charge of the future; it is there for the coming generation. You can see DU and many more institutions as centers of excellence.
      It is the ‘people’ dummy! (no pun, but to stress on the word people who are to bring about change).

    • Rezauddin Chowdhury

      Mere wishes will not buy us horses. This willingness supported by willforce must come from DU and other Bangladeshi University teachers.

      • M.I.Zuberi

        Yes I do agree though not fully..,..there is a BIG but…following the prevailing, many of them are after something else and they are the majority now with back-ups and they control everything. The minority are driven out of the stage…already left or leaving the scene. I don’t see much hope..it is beyond the teachers now..it is the system.

  11. Abed Chaudhury

    Let us not whinge and moan, berate or accuse rather let us all together do something about the situation. The shocking scenario also includes the fact that about one thirtieth of H.Sc students can’t even get into any of the public universities. I think the whole education sector has had a great demise already and one can see that our leaders embraced mediocrity so strongly that our leaders do not speak about excellence any more.

    We have to think of novel imaginative ways to kick-start a new process; maybe internet based excellence-centred foci of merit-driven work. The existing public universities are un=salvageable.

    Dear Dr. Karim no need to analyse anymore a manifestly lost situation; the question is what optimistic forward looking new scenario is there for the future?

    • M.I.Zuberi

      Your comments may be right but not the extreme conclusion. We need more positive approach following the needed analysis and realization we need bold and simple steps. Those may be small but persistent like networking and mobilizing opinion and people. From inside and outside our country…from public and private sectors from groups coherent and aimed at reaching the goal…salvaging the system. If we are many we will have power and ability to change..at least initiate change.

      I thank Dr Karim and others for pointing to the real world…many among us think that our universities are doing fine and are happy and dam satisfied with our progress (!!)… but this article and the bdnews24.com just put a BIG question mark there.

      • fuad

        Really amazing debate here, it’s hard to move in any deshi institution even if you know what to do. So many interests fighting over such little resources. Teachers working at private universities awaiting foreign visas.

  12. Dr. Imtiaz Habib

    Being an older colleague of Ataul Karim here in the U.S., as well as an old ex-D.U. faculty member from before Karim’s time, I feel obliged to respond to what I feel are some fundamental inaccuracies in Karim’s write-up.

    Karim is either unaware or misinformed about the history and nature of the 1973 University Ordinance. That document was created out of the long history of struggle against the oppression of the universities by the Monem Khan-Osman Ghani administration in Ayub Khan’s Pakistan. Their rampant interference in, and manipulation of the universities’ internal workings, tried to convert the universities into becoming a mouthpiece for government propaganda in the late ‘60s. Their sponsoring of violence against faculty who would not comply culminated in the besting up of Professor Abu Mahmood of the Economics department by the thugs Altaf and Gauhar, and the setting up of the infamous government student gang of killers called the NSF. The ‘73 Ordinance was created as a legal framework to prevent this kind of corrupt government manipulation of the nation’s highest seats of learning and to make them self regulating, autonomous institutions that they deserved to be, exactly as they are the world over, especially in the West.

    Would Karim wish to reverse all this and go back and surrender the proud intellectual independence of the universities and all that such independence contributed (including the seeds of Bangladesh’s freedom movement), to government control again?

    Of course there is much that is deficient in the universities today. Their intellectual standards have certainly declined. But that is the result of Ziaur Rahman’s having unleashed a free student politics in the university, the result of which has been to make the nation’s campuses essentially student coerced if not controlled places rather than abodes of rigorous academic study. The ‘80s and early ‘90s were a particularly brutal example of this. University administration suffered grievously as a result and has never recovered since. Can Karim suggest who can bell this particular cat, and how?

    Declining standards are also the result of astronomical population pressures on the universities. The last time I looked, the four large universities could only absorb about 20 % of the HSC output each year. Even then, they were operating at several times the capacity they were designed for. This includes human and material shortage.

    Despite this, and despite Karim’s excited statistics, the four largest and oldest public universities remain the only places in Bangladesh recognized nationally and internationally as places of learning.

    As such, the 1973 University Ordinance has little to do with the root causes of academic decline in the universities. It may be the only thing preserving the freedom of learning in the highest academic institutions of the country.

    • Dr. Kamrul Hassan

      Thank you Dr. Habib for expressing your thoughts on Dr. Karim’s writing. But you are completely missing a point and too far away from the truth. The ordinance which was perhaps timely at that time not necessarily should remain timely for ever. Our socio-economic as well as political conditions have changed so much since then that the ‘73 ordinance is not only inappropriate this day but also detrimental.

      All I see is the mere abuse of the ordinance. Are you talking about proud intellectual independence of the academicians? That intellectual independence is depleting everyday and thanks go to this ordinance unfortunately. If Hasina or Khaleda say that the sun rises in the west then you will find their respective follower resonate it like anything to establish.

      I totally agree with the last four bullet points Dr. Karim mentioned in his article.

      You are right to say that Ziaur Rahman has incorporated student politics but you condoned the role of all the successive government. After ZIA, loads of other governments came and went; what have they done? Instead they have incorporated teachers’ politics. Perhaps you are not aware of the kind of students and teachers involved in such politics.

      I think time has come to review the ‘73 ordinance in an attempt to find a way out of the present dismal situation. Of course, this ordinance is not the only thing responsible for everything but certainly it is one of the major components. Sooner we realize it the better it is for us.

      • Syed Shah Salim Ahmed

        I think Dr Kamrul pointed out the right thing. We should rethink about the ‘73 ordinance as time has indeed been changed. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • Curzon Ahmed

      This seems to be the same tired and tried logic used to maintain the status-quo. The fact remains that the most brutal murders in the history of Dhaka University took place actually after the adaptation of this awful ordinance when on April 4, 1974, seven young men were lined up in Haji Mohsin Hall and then gunned down. Their widely-acknowledged murderers were celebrated and then allowed to go free without any opposition. As of February 13, 2010, according to an article in Daily Star, at least 74 young persons lost their precious lives in 38 years. So much about this ordinance!

      The author Mohammad Ataul Karim did call spade “a spade” and did so on the basis of irrefutable data. I agree with Suja (who commented below) that “at last someone has said that the king has no clothes.”

    • M. Zaman

      “… self regulating, autonomous institutions that they deserved to be, exactly as they are the world over, especially in the West” -posited Imtiaz Habib.

      And it is true both public and private universities in the US are largely autonomous when it comes to admission, hiring, firing and promotions. But, I bet, Mr. Habib will not be able to cite any US University, where promotions are decided in a politically inflected democratic manner.

      And I am sorry, I can not blame Ziaur Rahman for the current state of student politics. He, possibly was evil, although charismatic, but not evil enough to be blamed for all that followed…

      Anyway, whatever the initial rationale for 73 ordinance happened to be, this democratization is not working … and has not preserved the freedom of learning either.

      Rather by institutionalizing politics, this have made the teachers political lackeys.

    • Johny Hawk

      I would like to thank Dr. Karim for his insightful article on the shameful standing of the Dhaka University in the international rankings. As a current member of this glorious institution, I can’t but agree.

      I, for one, believe in evolution. We, as humans, upgrade. And we are supposed to learn from our mistakes. And the first thing we should learn is that, we should not cling onto the decisions taken on a different time on a different circumstance. If the system that has been installed 38 years ago is not working, we should not justify its usefulness, but we should adapt to the new situation. We should change. I must say, if democracy is not working, throw it away. Bring something that will reinstate the standard. The democracy has given us violence, incompetence, inadequacy, cynicism. I hope for a change. The greatest minds of our time were wiped out in ’71. We just sealed the deal in ’73 replacing meritocracy with democracy, as Dr. Karim quoted.

      And, on that note, I must disagree with Dr. Habib. There is a fine line between democracy — where everyone has his rights and chaos — where everyone can do whatever they want. And now we are very much titled to the later one. I just want to learn and not regret admitting to this marvellous institution. And as for the question of freedom — as much as I can gather, giving the opportunity to pick 3 from 5 marbles where the picker is thinking he is picking from 100 is not freedom. I call it eyewash.

      I hope that one day, we will be granted our rightful place among the leading universities. I will do anything and everything on my power to do. I urge all of you to do the same.

  13. Farrukh Mohsen

    Dear Dr Karim,
    Thank you very much sharing your article. Even though we were not aware of the gory statistics you provided, the state of the University is clear to virtually all. The solution is simple but difficult to implement. The people of the country must muster political will to enforce the removal of PARTY politics from ALL campus. The students in Bangladesh have traditionally played valuable roles at numerous crisis points e.g. pre-partition, 1952, 1971 etc. partition We can expect they will again play laudable roles at NATIONAL crisis points. But there should be no room for PARTY politics in campus. There should NOT be any monetary or governmental supports to any groups within a campus. Please write another article on the solution.

    • Ali

      Abolishing party politics from students and teachers of all public Unis is an absolute necessity to bring back the scholarly and sacred atmosphere for education and research to thrive.

      The advocates of politics in campuses are myopic and are ignoring the long term DAMAGE it will bring in our society.

      Thugs and goons sponsored by the parties are blemishes for the intelligentsia and its growth.

      If a referendum is held on the existence and nurturing of politics in campuses, the naysayers will easily WIN, and dump those who wish to hang on.

      Along with this basic move, some other areas need to be ‘cleaned’ and enhanced under the stewardship of competent VCs then we can usher in a new era, bring back our glorious days and look forward to newer challenges.

      A true Bangladeshi RENAISSANCE is what we are in dire need of.
      Can you think of initiating by virtue of your training, learning, experience, position, networking and ‘reach’? Do try, please.

  14. Noor Nabi

    I agree with the author except for his claim that every university in Bangladesh has its own journal.

  15. Sonia Sharmin

    Has anyone visited the author’s page? The writer Mohammad Ataul Karim is one of the “1000 Outstanding Scientists of the 20th Century”! How many of us knew that? More so, has the University he studied in is even aware of this?

    What an unfortunate nation we live in!

    • M. Zaman

      I happened to know Dr. Karim (Ataul Bhai) since my college days. Over the years, I have come in contact with many smart people. No, I have not seen any one smarter than him.

  16. Ys

    Thank you Dr. Karim for your wonderful and thoughtful article.

    I cannot regard what remains in DU and in which its faculties are engaged in is “politics”. Politics holds people’s aspiration and leads causes of common good. What is exercised there is merely an act of some sycophants of some selected personnel holding important public offices.

    These sycophants must be eliminated, the way we eliminated all evil occupiers from our land throughout the history. And DU shares the same legacy. Now it’s her turn to eradicate her own evils. Till today DU contains energetic young faculties, students, alumni, who do not agree to bear this alleged decline. They must unite and boldly stand for it and nullify all fawning practices, thus giving this institution a reverse turn!

    This is very much possible, and we must aspire for it.

    Thank you.

  17. M Walid

    I think you are probably right about bulldozing the place. This is not my type of a solution; but what else to say? Shame on our leaders and policymakers!

  18. kalpana

    Thanks so much for this high quality eye-opener. But could it be all a “U-lu Bo-ne Mukto Jhorano”? Do quality education depends on democracy and equality? A cheap slogan!!

    Nowadays the only emphasis is given to DU students’ contribution to national political struggles. Names of the political leaders and their interviews are focused in the print and electronic media. As if, the primary duty of the students are political agitation and toeing political leaders and making easy money. As Kayes Ahmed had said we started politicizing the education since the birth of our nation!

    Is not it that the Dhaka University was better off during the colonial period with teachers like Sayten Bose, Dr. Md. Shahidullh, Dr. Habiullah, Dr. Motahar Hossain Chowdhury and father of Nobel Laureate Amyarta Sen etc?

    The quality of national political leadership is reflected in the selection of students, the vice chancellors and the academic staff. Consider the academic stature of J. Nehru and Manmohan Singh of India and Bhutto family of Pakistan.

    Pashchim Bongo (West Bengal) under the so-called communist government has also deteriorated so much that they have severely lagged behind the other States of India. To rectify it Mamata Banerjee has recently passed act in parliament to hoot out the political influence in academic arena in W. Bengal educational institutions. Can we rise to the occasion? Is there any Mamata among us?
    Bengali Muslims (now majority of Bangladesh) are historically foolishly emotional. When Bengali Hindus under the able guidance of great Raja Rammohan Roy started English Medium School (1816) on their own initiative even before the British thought of starting English as a medium of education in India (1835). The Muslim fools (!) refused to study European science and arts by which the Europeans (and now Americans) are dominating the world. Muslims remained emotionally attached to Farsi (Persian) and Arabic. So they missed the cart by 100 years till arrival of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Now in Bangladesh we are actually moving the cart backwards!

    This time we have foolishly replaced English with Bangla in higher education (Bachelor and Masters even in science) in majority of our educational institutions. Even the most advanced non-English speaking countries have become proficient in English language which is now the ‘Lingua franca’ of the 21st century global village.
    India and Pakistan have kept the English medium studies from class XI onwards. At the moment 1.2 million Indian students are studying in Colleges and Universities in English medium.

    How can we expect to compete in the modern world?? Our boys will not be able to compete even with those of India and Pakistan for scholarships and employment (except menial and low level jobs) in home and abroad. The Government will have no efficient BCS officers to negotiate with foreign delegate or scrutinize the foreign contract etc.

    It is a false notion that English in higher studies will be detrimental to our mother tongue. From 1835 to 1921 all over British India from class IV all subjects were taught in English. From 1921 it was shifted to class XI. Even our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam was taught in all subjects in English up-to class VIII when he joined the Army. Think of all others who were graduates and masters of British period. Even Rabindranath Tagore got Nobel prize not for his Bangla ‘Gitanjali’, but for his own English book ‘Songs Offering’!! Political leaders of British India were mostly Bar-at-Law from London. They acquired knowledge of democracy, socialism and nationhood from Europe spearheading the anti-British and Independent struggle.

  19. suja

    I salute you sir. At last someone has said that the king has no clothes.

    To me it is a tragedy that our politicians simply want to control the campuses and allow their hired goons to reap money from there. They are way too scared of universities becoming centres of free thinking and places where true leaders are created. They simply don’t care about the future of the nation. From independence we have witnessed the systematic destruction of universities which were the best in the region. I do not know of any other nation which kills vibrant universities so casually.

    Also missing is the collaboration with local industry/business for research, not to mention the role philanthropy plays in building better institutions. Only the agriculture university is an exception. As a nation we have collectively failed to treat our best institutions for our own good.

    It is about time we said no and turned around.

  20. olosh

    Great article. Thankfully someone at last has written something on this rush for publishing in low impact journals and our smugness about being the ‘so-called’ best.

    About your dream, I am afraid, that is not going to happen from within. I hear certain politically affiliated members in other universities want to implement the 73 act (i.e. politics over merit) in their universities, so DU (or any other university) reversing its trend on its own will remain a dream. I am sorry to say, others are following DU in going down the hill.

  21. Faisal Anwar

    Thanks to Ataul Karim for an excellent article. Clearly DU lacks 1) Investments in research & technology 2) Quality teaching staffs 3) Management that understands international rating criterion. Well, your dream is my dream too. 2021 will celebrate 100th years of DU. We have good 10 years to work on those points around and make it happen, some glory back. Why can’t we? The country is doing good between 6-7 percent growth and I am confident the country’s prosperity will have a positive impact. If latest survey shows that 76% of DU students don’t like “Politics”, I see this as an opportunity to make DU proper “pora lekhar kendro” and in that case we need to upgrade mediocre teaching staffs to productive ones. Let that place be run by the people who got right frame of mind.

    Well, if we see overhauling exercise is too costly & more road blocks then we move on. Resource can be allocated to private sector institutions. Doesn’t matter who goes ups in the ratings list as long as proper representations from Bangladeshi universities are there. We have some good stories built up at college education level where Rajuk Uttara Model College is one of the best institutions in the country (story of 15 years only) run by autonomous body even representations from ministry of education. Here we go, lot’s can be built even in 10 years.

    • Ali

      We still wish to hold on to student/teacher politics to gain unhealthy, unethical, naked political mileage from this practice.
      Well said by Mr. Faisal Anwar on how possibly we can achieve up-gradation of DU, higher education and the nation.
      If we are sincerely looking at our future then clearly following four things stand out:
      Law and Order
      Population planning and Control
      All other things and sectors will follow suit. But only the Govt can put them in place and ensure implementation.
      Indian educational institutions have forsaken politics long back, and so they are thriving and producing competent graduates. this is how they are gaining respect globally.
      Why are the educated community in the BD universities, selling their souls and principles so cheaply? An in-depth research will reveal how low they can go to bring down the nation.
      But I believe they can still turn around DU and all other public UNIs if they start working sincerely.
      With lots of hope and trust…………

  22. Dr. Kamrul Hassan

    BRAVO!! A wonderful piece of writing with both quantitative and qualitative analysis. It has resonated through my mind and I am sure it has done so to many as well who cares a lot about DU.

    There is no way to deny the fact that quality of DU is decreasing and there are many reasons contributing to that end. The poor salary to the teachers perhaps is one of the major reasons behind this. A teacher cannot leave with such poor salary keeping his moral and head high. As a result most teachers have to find alternative ways to fill up the gap between his salary and his needs to maintain a decent life style. Me, being a faculty of the university, know that one of third of the total faculty is involved in share market, another one third is involved in part-time teaching at different private universities and yet another one third is involved in full time politics (which also helps providing good economic benefit). So, only a very tiny fraction of the teachers is dedicated to teaching and do some research albeit all the odds. The mind of a teacher who is involved in share market clearly fluctuates with the rise and fall of the market and as a result he/she can hardly concentrate on teaching while doing research with that state of mind is almost next to impossible.

    Research is hardly given any emphasis in DU. In physics, force (cause) multiplied by displacement (effect) is the definition of work. That is, research (displacement of knowledge=effect) is only possible if the researchers are kept under some pressure (cause) and the university has to find a way to exert the necessary and balanced pressure keeping socioeconomic factor in mind. If publishing a research work in science or in nature is given the same credit as publishing in the Dhaka University Journal of Science, then one can say without any hesitation that there is something seriously wrong with our system of evaluation.

    Most DU faculty members take hollow pride of having, say 50 or more publications in national and international journals. In reality, he/she may have a couple of papers in international journals and that too published during PhD abroad and the rest published in national, zero impact factor, only to get promotion.

    Teachers’ politics is yet another important factor which is hurting quality research. I think a cursory look though our society one will get the perception that teachers or student who fails to accomplish academic excellence are increasingly getting involved in politics. Unfortunately, these teachers are increasingly getting all the policy or decision making posts (anomalous effect) and they don’t like good researchers or better teachers. They find it worth spending time in Hawa Bhaban or Shudha Shadan than spending time for teaching or doing research.

    I look forward a better day to come but do not see any light at the end of the tunnel.

    Kamrul Hassan

  23. Mukammel

    This is not at all a “too much”, if we want to survive with dignity and respect, if we want to eradicate poverty, we need to do this. Now it is high time after 40 years of independence that we now make our universities “free” from all those “political rubbish”.

    Sir, thank you very much for the write-up.

  24. Abdus S. Wahed

    Dear Professor Karim,

    As another alumnus of the same University, I share the same dream with you. It breaks my heart to see my DU sink deep day by day. Wish your (our) dream comes true!

  25. Tarif

    I disagree with the article in part that Dhaka University was never a democracy but rather a crony-ocrocy i.e. appointments are made based on affiliation which the author of this article has correctly pointed out. To say why it was never a democracy, neither a teacher nor a student can disagree with their fellow colleagues on academic issues because everyone is confined to memorizing books and healthy intellectual debate is never encouraged.

    At the same time I acknowledge the author’s notion that research has never been a strong side of Bangladesh in general which he is correct in saying. However, the problem with not having quality research is not about the lack of vetting from the authorities. Rather it is a broader problem that runs throughout the whole nation in the form of economic inequality. Hence, when a student qualifies for a seat in the university he/she cares only about getting a degree and getting a decent job such that he/she can rub shoulders with the elite and get food on the table. Education only serves as a spring board to elitism but not for attaining intellectual excellence. Therefore, the incentive to do research is simply not there because the primary objective is not study but status.

    In addition, the disintegration of the university is due to the persistent neo-liberal economic policies pursued by all governments that were in power in this country. Neo-liberal policies advocated by the donor agencies pressure government after government to reduce spending on education and health care primarily. As a result these educational institutes go broke and then the very same donor agencies come in and recommend privatization. Very recently the Asian Development Bank recommended the government to cut subsidies provided to universities and instead increase fees. The report is here (http://newagebd.com/newspaper1/frontpage/36911.html) as reported by the New Age.

    I agree with the author that Bangladesh can be turned around but not by simple legal changes and advice from abroad that the author cites. The main goal should be to address economic inequality in its entirety. If public welfare spending is increased with the aim of providing people with the basic amenities of life he/she will have the incentive to pursue formal education not the other way around. This can be done by breaking free from the clutches of the donor agencies because Bangladesh pays more to them than the amount it receives as loans.

    • Md.Zabihul Haque

      Thank you for your opinion. Our teachers teach us in the class to achieve an excellent academic result so that we can get a good job (serve as a corporate slave) after finishing our study instead of influencing us in such a way so that we can utilize our intellectual ability to build our nation stronger socially, politically, and economically. We do not expect this kind of ideology from our ”desh gorar karigor”.

  26. subah

    How will Dhaka University do well? Students pass from Dhaka University and go to foreign countries to serve their universities. And they do not come back. And from foreign countries, they scream Dhaka University is going down the drain. Shame on them!

    If you want to see it doing good then come back, try to payback what Dhaka University has done for you. You have merit and use that for the betterment of your nation and your institution.

    And after that only can you cry hoarse that “Dhaka University is going down the drain.”

    • Abdus S. Wahed

      You are right that many of the students of DU who come to North America or Europe for study do not come back. But do you not know that the majority of the professors at DU have their PhD degrees from foreighn institutions (and they went back, of course)? Please look at how successful they have been in advancing the University and their career!

      Also, everyone going back is not the solution. The success of Indian univesrities and institutions did not come through all their foreign graduates coming back home. The number of indian faculty we come across here in North American institutions greatly outnumbers any other foreign faculty, yet their institutions are now comparable to those in Europe or NA. It came through separation of government and politics from the institutions.

      • subah

        DEAR MR. WAHED, thank you for your opinion. I am not saying that everyone went and never came back. I also agree with the author on many points. I have said this only to those persons who went abroad and didn’t come back. I just want to say, not only politics, but also teachers and students are responsible for this situation.


    • M.O.Gani

      Mr S is wrong, I do not suffer from same mentality, nor did I belong to the DU. In fact, the commentator has no valid point except condoning the wrong done by the policymakers who have brought shame to the academic sphere of Bangladesh. Who can bell the cat, not the hooligan students I suppose?

    • olosh

      I beg to disagree.
      And why are you shaming the author? He has at least done some background research and spent considerable amount of time to write this piece, which we should take seriously to improve ourselves, rather than shaming him. I think this attitude of the teachers like you (shaming others without acknowledging the real issues) also contributes to the downfall!

      Now, my story. I came back. Have been trying my best for the last few years. Unfortunately I am 80% decided that I shall leave the university since it is no longer a place where decent people can work with his/her integrity and values intact (no offence to those who are still here, but I bet each had to compromise a bit here or there, about which they are not happy).

      So, there you go, I have returned, and am still shouting the universities are going down the drain, and DU is leading the way.

      • AK

        Firstly I thank Prof. Karim for posting such a thoughtful and evidence based piece of work. I support the argument that autonomy by the 1973 ordinance of DU is the root of all these infections that DU is suffering from.

        I do agree with Olosh that the situation in DU is fully controlled by the so-called politics teachers (I call them politics teachers as their main business is nothing but politics) that the others (the cohort with better quality, merit and intension) aren’t able to make any change.

        As stated by a senior (politics) teacher of DU “… spending a few hours in the DU club to socialize with the so-called politics leader teachers would be more rewarding in many ways than engaging in research in the laboratory”. Every reward is based on the key question: Are you with us (ruling party: white/blue) or with the opposition? Teachers without any affiliation are on the last in the list to receive any reward, recognition or even appreciation.

        I know a few teachers who went back to DU after their higher studies with a dream to change the culture but eventually had to leave DU due to their helplessness in making the changes of their dream. I don’t think brain drain is a big issue in the broader picture of DU’s progression.

        Lastly, I share the same view with Prof. Karim and others that it’s not too late to turn the boat around but that won’t be an easy task to accomplish, I bet.

        All the best wishes for DU.

  27. Mahfuzur Rahman Manik

    Thanks Mohammad Ataul Karim, you rightly pointing out the present condition of our University (DU). Here, basically you wanted to see DU on the basis of research and definitely the quality of our teachers has come. I’m wonder-struck seeing our position compared to others. I’m also interested in students, meaning, students’ quality and how they pass their time. I want to conduct a study on the reading habit of students of University of Dhaka.

    I would really like to see another piece by you on the students’ quality and the standards of our university. If it’s possible, please write about this in your next post or you can also reply in brief in this comments section.


  28. SZaman

    A very well written piece. What the writer forgot to discuss is in detail was the gradual decline in the quality and employability of DU graduates, except for a very few departments.

    Being a proud graduate of the same university, sometime it is so shameful to see the average quality of graduates coming out of DU these days.

    More alarming fact is that not even the lower middle-class family students from small towns want to get admitted in DU unless in a few handful of departments with high employability, if he\she can manage few lakh taka they would rather study in a third grade private university than DU.

  29. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    A wonderful article written with passion and facts.

    Thank you Mr. Karim.

    It is surprising to see that for a couple of decades now our ‘intellectuals’ have also become mercenaries and mix politics in almost everything, higher education and healthcare included.

    The way you have felt about the visible, measurable DECAY, is absolute truth. But who cares? Our policymakers’ priorities are politics oriented. Sincerity, dedication, meritocracy, academics, motivation and to give respect where it is most deserving is absent. These are the reasons of the educational DOWNFALL. Yet, we think student politics and teacher politics will transport us to the next, brave new generation!

    It is time academicians looked into the core of matters with campaign and gave back DU the place, position it had enjoyed. Currently the position of DU in the world, or even regionally, is miserable and a matter of shame.

    I think there are some who want the nation to fail! Hence there is no other soft spot than education to be targeted. THE UGC and the university syndicate are to be blamed. VCs and ‘professors’ should be removed if incompetent. Are we actually going to see any courageous decision taken to address the CRISIS?

  30. London Eye

    One could not agree more than the conclusion of Prof.Karim. It all boils down to politics versus academics. Insanity reigns in the Nilkhet which is a brownfield site of hate and prejudice. No wonder the pitiful pictures prevail. Thanks for your kind insight into a rotten apple. Alas, God save Bangladesh.

  31. Kayes Ahmed

    A phenomenal article. Thank you. It is not only the democratisation (sic) of faculty but also the utterly corrupt admission processes after 1973 that has contributed to the decline. I got into DU in 1973 because of political muscle and the meritocracy of “Pull”, looking back I think I was utterly unqualified to be in an University. But, the whole DU apparatus played along with the corruption and contributed to the steady slide. DU needs to become independent of political meddling and have a “constitution” and performance metrics that preserves the integrity of academic freedom and academic achievement. It is well and good for us to say these high minded things but implementation is probably impossible. The place is so rotten that it is probably better to bulldoze the place and start over with fresh new concepts.

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