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pic (2)The Jahangirnagar University situation is a good reminder of how amazing the situation has become in the public universities. While the agitation there is about removing the vice chancellor who has been publicly disgraced — not that it matters — and has lost support of many people, it also reflects a deeper reality. He continues to stay on because a strong part of the government supports him and not his ability. He will stay on until the authorities remove him and not because he is bad for the University but because it suits existing power politics and his continuation may provide political embarrassment.

* * *
Anyone asked about the great achievement of Dhaka University always mentions its role in the 1952 Language Movement, the 1969 anti-Ayub agitation, the 1971 war, the anti-Ershad movement of the 1990s, the anti-ML agitation of 2008, etc. These are great political moments of our life but none are intellectual milestones. The intellectual tradition and the public education system do not co-exist.
The public university system has not produced any great thinker in the last half century and as trends go will not do so in the next either. This is not a statement of frustration but a factual one. The universities are not expected to produce scholars because it serves no purpose to anyone including the teachers but political activists which serves everyone and that’s where most of the focus of the universities are.

BANGLADESH-UNREST-CLASHBut when were public universities any different? The greatest tradition the universities have are political in nature, not academic ones. Nobody ever says that the great achievements of Dhaka University are related to education or intellectual greatness. In fact, this University has had its glory days largely before 1947 and maybe one or two winks before 1971 but not many later.

It is not fair to ask a donkey to give cow’s milk.

* * *
Many people are angry with the present VC of Jahangirnagar University because of how he has run the University and dealt with those opposed to him. But excuse me, which VC has behaved differently in any public university? Obviously the VCs reflect prevailing political cultures and that is hardly in any way different from the ones the VCs practice. VCs are not appointed on the basis of academic, intellectual or management skills merit but political ones. They are there because they are political activists and that’s how the activists behave. Nobody has ever asked that the VCs think clearly and if they did they may not have wanted to become the VC in the first place. The point is the universities are a place for politics and how are politicians in Bangladesh expected to behave?

They are perfectly suited for their job and they do well what they are supposed to do. It is enough that they don’t fight amongst each other for the job like the way two factions of students’ activists of the same party slug it out in attempts to gain control of the campus.

* * *
We are often disappointed with our universities because we expect them to deliver education but if we look upon their actual purpose we won’t feel so bad. Since 1947, the universities have been used to gain political advantage. Once it became clear that controlling politics meant controlling the campuses, every political party has gone after it. Thus in the pre-1971 days, as students agitated against the Pakistani leadership of General Ayub Khan, the pro-Ayub Muslim League party floated the NSF( National Students Federation) which produced the kind of thuggery that we are familiar with and is the source of the great tradition. The 1969 movement solidified that position and 1971 made it the principal purpose. Nowhere in the years has been a call to develop intellectual positions or acumen. Consequently, neither an intellectual environment nor any number of significant independent intellectuals has emerged out of the university system.

education-Dhaka University-strikeNo scholar is rewarded for academic excellence and whether it’s the university or the media, the focus is for political alliance not original thinking. So why should teachers think when you get much without doing so?

Since 1971, this position has been strengthened till it’s taken for granted that university based party politics is the key to everything else. The universities are about politics not education or scholarship. The proof is in the proverbial pudding.

* * *
The public university education system doesn’t work because there is no effort to make it work. That happens because the principal cause which is gaining political advantage is achieved and the teachers are there to ensure that continuation. So they produce political factions — the White, Pink and Yellow groups — that fight a political partisan proxy war in the campuses. Teachers are ensured of privileges if they belong to the right group at the right time and the identity of the teacher as a political activist is guaranteed and consequently no pressure to deliver either as a teacher or a scholar. This process leads to the development of a new form of political institutions disguised as a place of learning. It is at par with the sewerage and sanitary worker of WASA where trade union activities can guarantee that he will not have to clean sewers because he is a political activist and his reward cup will be full.

* * *
It is the students who I suppose are caught in this confusion as the best still apply to the public universities. They end up in a place which doesn’t consider their education the main duty of a teacher or many of the students either. The students spend time doing many things which have nothing to do with education like trying to remove the university VCs who look exactly like the one before. And the next one will look the same too. If Khaleda and Hasina look so much like each other, how can the political children look different?

* * *
The universities look bad because we consider them educational institutions primarily. Of course as an institution meant to produce scholarship and learning it is non-existent but as a political activist producing factory it is enormously successful and that too at a low cost. For the moment let’s live with the fact that it is doing what it is supposed to do and rather well at that.

So let’s celebrate what they have done. As history shows the public university system as the prime delivery agent of higher learning ceased to exist many many years before. And so let’s not ask what can’t be delivered and focus on what it can do. Ask the donkey what it can do not what you think it should do.

Viva public universities. May the VC of Jahanagirnagar University be there forever!

Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com.

Afsan Chowdhuryis a bdnews24.com columnist.

60 Responses to “Public universities in Bangladesh: Asking a donkey to give cow’s milk”

  1. Noor Faizur Reza

    1)The writer here is obsessed with the word “agitation”. I merely admire his thinking capabilities.May be at the very beginning,he should think that he is also a production of public universities.

    2) Instead of mocking about the problem, please try to come with a solution about the problem.

    3) Still, despite of poor funding and limited facilities, the published research papers are far more greater in numbers than the private universities. Though, all the excellent work remains silent due to the culture of media. They only focus on publishing hot topics like clashes between two student groups rather than the good research results. How many of us clearly know about some good works made by Biomedical, Physics and technology departments?

    4) Yes, our educational systems have a great deal of problems. and the problem lies deep within the system, not only in public universities. (Though the writer seems to be obsessed with the idea).
    Thank You.

    • Firoza

      I fully agree with you..many good work of public universities never comes out in the media

  2. shamim mahmud

    I think at first Afsan Chowdhury needs to know what is public university and what is the contribution of public university in different national sectors. I think what he has written is a cock and bull story which doesn’t have any basis.

    although politics is becoming an integral part of our public universities (which is always not a good thing), we cannot ignore its importance as well.

    • Sabreena Leya

      Our universities are not research oriented, the students are expected to produce what the professor says in lecture. This constricts their thinking ability, moreover the university does not have a good library system, and does not provide adequate opportunities for students to study. Overall I think the standard of Dhaka University is extremely low and it cannot be compared with the universities in UK or USA.

  3. Shoeb Amin

    What does the writer wants to say here? What is his goal? To promote private universities? How many people can afford to study in a private university? Does the author have any knowledge about the intellectuals of our country? Are they product of private universities?

  4. A.Abdullah

    My question is where do PRIVATE universities stand? Public university this, public university that, show us what your great private universities can do! Are they giving birth of uncountable intellectuals? Give me ONE name, ONE single name from private universities who stood out and made an intellectual contribution.

    BTW, DU or any other public university does not contain a handful of people like your business institution does. Almost 6 to 7 thousand students enroll each year in DU where you would see only a hundred or two running around the campus during a political mishap. Anyway, I wish I could show you how public university students get the most respective scholarships by their MERIT only! We the middle-class hard working not so intellectual public university students dream of being something big in future by holding on to our institution and fortunately each year everywhere around the world we stand out to be the best among the bests. wish you could see some news also! Ooops I forgot, your eyes are in your pocket!

    • Tasrif

      You might be too obsessed with public universities. Don’t forget the age of private universities in Bangladesh. DU is 100 years old and still people started to compare private against the public.

      I believe many meritorious students go to the public universities because they want to be the best but after getting admitted, things start to change for them AND I also believe intellectual thinking comes from a great nourished mind and that can only be achieved by going to a proper educational centre. U talk about MERIT. Where does merit comes from? It comes from a good education centre and not from political asylum. Thank you.

  5. Maruf Reza Byron

    I do agree with many points of Mr. Afsan Chowdhury.

    I have graduated from Dhaka University in 1998. For the last twelve years I have been teaching in private universities. I have a direct experience of nine years of Dhaka University life as a student. At the same time, I have spent twelve years at private universities as a teacher. I have some differing observations from Mr. Afsan Chowdhury’s on this issue.

    Mr. Afsan has started his write-up by describing the situation of Jahangirnagar University. With a few exceptions, I do agree with his explanation regarding this issue. Then in the second paragraph of his article Mr. Afsan dramatically attacked public universities as a whole with special reference to Dhaka University. He declared, “The intellectual tradition and the public education system do not co-exist.” I strongly oppose his view about the “public education system”.

    Mr. Afsan, how many examples of our national pride and achievements (in any branch of our intellectual field) you can give which are not nurtured and supported (directly or indirectly) by the “public education system” of Bangladesh? Majority of the intellectual legends of Bangladesh are from the “public education system”. Let me help you to recall some names: in poetry Shamsur Rahman, Al Mahmud etc; in art and painting: Zainul Abedin, Kamrul Hasan etc; in science Kudrat-e-Khuda, Abdullah-Al-Muti Sharfuddin etc; in journalism Manik Mia, Motiur Rahman or Afsan Chowdhury etc; in corporate world thousands of top executives – who is not produced by “public education system” of Bangladesh, Mr. Afsan? Would you please show me any of the local or multinational company/organization/media/political party/private university or any other institution of Bangladesh which is not run by the graduates of the “public education system” of Bangladesh! I am sure you cannot do that. You do not have that much time even. You are rather very happy to see the increasing number of comments on your write-up and definitely you are cheered by your fellow colleagues (আরে বস্, যা লিখসেন না… একদম ফাটায়া দিসেন… ইত্যাদি… ইত্যাদি…).

    I can point out many more limitations of your write-up. However, I am not doing this right now.

    Yes, finally, again I want to say that I do agree with many points raised by Mr. Afsan. Public education, especially, public universities of Bangladesh are suffering from many more problems. However, ignoring public university is not the solution of these problems. Public education system is the driving force of the “intellectual tradition” of our country. For our existence as a nation, we must find out the right solution for our public universities as well as for the private universities.

    (Mr. Afsan, I have heard that you are also involved with private universities which are also suffering from several problems, specially the BRAC University, in which you are working. Would you please tell us something about the problems of your university, at least, about the problems of private universities of Bangladesh in your next write up, Mr. Chowdhury?).

  6. Khalid Khan

    Dear Afsan, I’m a young donkey — graduated from DU just 2 years back. Well, the thing is, I could also point out the problems that you had. Unfortunately, despite being such an old donkey (you are also a DU graduate, right?), you couldn’t do more.

    Who’s going to talk about the solution?

    I know YOU will. Very soon you will come to save the nation with your master plan. What could that be? Privatization? That sounds perfect! Tell the poor guy “sorry young man! I understand you are very intelligent and capable. But since you don’t have the money, you better work at the fields”. I see the agenda behind your development agenda.

    But you have got the facts wrong, or you distorted intentionally. Your portrayed picture of DU full of political thugs is as wrong as your intentions. Yes there are some. And if you know some basic mathematics, go and calculate their ratio to NON-thug students. Yes I know you see on TV that two political groups of DU students, each with some 30 students, are violently running around the campus to hunt each other down. But the TV doesn’t show you the thousands DU students who go to the library everyday to study. It’s not as SEXY you know!

    Morality of the whole nation is degrading. DU is not situated in heaven and only donkeys can expect that the condition of Bangladesh would not affect DU.

    People don’t get me wrong. I am not denying the problems of our universities. And I want those to be addressed. I just want to make everyone aware of the wicked agenda of development hyenas like Afsan.

  7. Ononto

    গাদারা যেই কারনে পানি গোলা করে

    মায় খাওন রাইন্দ্যা দিলে চউদ্দরহম বাবে চুল বাইন্দা গুরন যায়।
    গাদার বাচ্চাগুলাতো এতিম। ছডিগরেই মা গাদাডা মইরা গেছে।
    এহন তাগো আনাজপাতি জোগার করন লাগে, রান্দন লাগে।
    হেরপর যাও একরহম চুল বান্দে, চুলার তাপে হেইয়া চুম্রাইয়া থাহে।
    হেল্লিগা এহাত্তুরের পর থিকা, কেউ কয়, গত পইঞ্চাশ বছর দইরা-
    কুনো “বিন্যস্ত কেশ বোস-বসু” পয়দা অয় নাই।

    গরিবের এইএক জালা, চুল ঠিক করব না চাল-চুলা ঠিক করব- দিশা পায় না।
    বেদিশা গাদারা তবু এই আশায় পানি গোলা করে-
    তাগো বংশে একদিন একটা চতুর চউদুরি বিয়াইবো।
    হে কি আর অয়!

    হায়রে গরিবী, তুমি ওগোরে দান দিছ খিশ্ঠের থান:
    তোমার সিস্টিকত্তারা গাদারবাচ্চাগুলারে কালে কালে জিগায়, “সইত্য কী?”
    ওগো জবাব তেনাগোর পছন্দ অয় না বইলা, ওগোরে মাবাপ তুইল্যা গাইল্যায়,-
    হাতপায় গজাল গাইত্যা কুরুশে জুলায়।

    এইবার খেমা গিন্না কইরা দিতে কও।
    গাধারবাচ্চারগুলার পরান তাগো মার কাছে যায়যায়- পরায়।
    যাইতে যাইতে প্রভুগো বুজাইতে ভালো বাংলায় কয়:
    “কোনোদিন মানুষ ছিলাম না ‘আমরা'”।

  8. naznin

    I am stunned by all the comments received by Afsan. As a general student, I have seen such hatred and terrible situation in my student life in DU created due to politics and oppositely a progressive movement influenced by the politics that worryingly positioned me in nowhere. But when I saw my little cousin, a brilliant student, chose to participate actively in politics in the same DU and become someone unthinkable that changed my belief.

    I also agree that structured politics is necessary, but we should realize that the students are manipulated by the ruling party (or opposite party) like a dancing doll with no self-realization of what they are doing or how to do things better (also necessary to point out the political parties’ and their cruel intention), then why do we let ourselves be a dancing doll? No comment about our teachers as they know better than us what they are doing.

    Please say ‘NO’ to anyone who make (or made?) us a dancing doll..

  9. Sonia Kristy

    Dear Readers,
    Two of the comments one by Shahnewaz and another by Matiur Rahman, have become “Hidden due to low comment rating.”

    Just to clarify, the comments are not being censored, but it is a technical limitation. If four or more people dislike a comment, it is automatically ‘hidden’. In order to read the comment, one only needs to click on exactly where it says ‘Click here to see’.

    This can, however, be fixed by removing the ‘like’/’dislike’ plug-in. If the readers feel that they prefer the comment section without the ‘like’/’dislike’ button then do let us know.

    – Comments Moderator
    Opinion Page, bdnews24.com

  10. Goutam Das

    We could have expressed our disagreement on this article dealing with many points. But, the core point, I mean the core assumption and understanding of Afsan in this article, is he expects intellectual milestone or activity, academic in nature, in opposition to politics, political activity, partisan politics in a university. To continue further let’s symbolize the previous sentence regarding Afsan’s assumption in two key words, Academic Vs Politics, where he is in favour of Academic against Politics.
    The root of the problem is Afsan’s understanding of the term POLITICS. It prompted him to conclude to absurd proposition Academic Vs Politics, thereby the expectation to replace Politics by intellect academic activity.

    Politics is nothing but practical Philosophy or in other word to find an applied form of Philosophy but through rigorous exercise, practically realize a Philosophy, in Bengali KORE DEKHANO. So Political Activist carries a very serious deeper meaning we see and its meaning limits not even simply in an organizer of demonstration or Resistance.

    Now where the word “intellect academic activity” stands. Here the important distinct word is “academy” which pre-supposes a formal institutional form. Formal actually means registered or licensed by existing state. So does academic or formal institutional activity means anything devoid of Politics? Distanced from politics or opposite to politics? NOT AT ALL. Whole-heartedly It deals with politics as well, BUT it is the Politics of the existing ruling Idea, the State; regenerating the gene of the Ruling Politics, act as its think-tank.
    No new idea (Politics) can be operated or exercised under licensed by Existing ruling idea. No radical idea can’t be formed, realized (SATYA KORE DEKHANO jai na) under the Heading of “intellect academic activity”.

    So in nutshell, what Afsan is proposing by Academic Vs Politics, is nothing but to regenerating formally the gene of the Ruling Politics, the gene of the Political idea of the Global Economic order; which is in no sense devoid of or against POLITICs and importantly rotten politics. Afsan’s problem is he is looking for a absurd intellect academic form which is free from its own product, dirty rotten Politics (what we see now in universities). The ruling idea (Politics) symbolize as our State-party is nothing but the local Political agent of the Global Economic order and its Politics.

    Afsan has a presumption of an ideal University which are available in western societies. However Afsan is blind to see under what condition those university model functions; they exist only in the precondition of there respective State as Political idea and of the Global Economic order overall and act as the Think-tank regenerating of those Political idea. So Afsan expects our university should be the local agent of those think-tanks like a CPD or BRAC.
    So I will suggest Afsan before exploring his idea further regarding university based on intellect academic activity he must understand the word POLITICS otherwise, his conclusion Academic Vs Politics and choosing the side of Academic – whole proposition would end with absurd stupidity.

    • Admirer

      Bravo! This comment shows the high level of intellectuality developed by our universities. Afsan Chowdhury should be impressed by this comment at least. Intellect is not dead in the public universities!

  11. opu alam

    What are his uggesstions?
    To privatise all public universities? Tell students, (whose parents are not in consultancy business or involved in smuggling) that they are not entitled to higher education? Make BRAC the wholesale education agent in Bangladesh?
    Last of all putting the pre-Liberation NSF thuggery and the movements of 69 – 71 in the same basket is an inexcusable audacity!

  12. ABM Nasir

    With just Tk.62,000 allocation per student per year (about the same a private university student pays for tuition each semester), tk.9676 per teacher allocation in research (tk. 529 per student), what else could we expect!

    A country where per capita income stands around $700 (exchange rate converted), private education remains out of the reach for commoners, tax money heavily spent on non-productive sector like defence, public university is doing just fine within its constraints to provide a minimum education to those who do not have any other choice.

    Can anyone find another country with the same per capita income, the same allocation to public sector education doing much better?

    Yunus, a Nobel Laureate (if it counts) along with many scholars, is also the product of public university. BUET students are considered as one of the best in engineering departments across Western universities.

    This donkey, referring to myself, also a product of public university, thanks to my professors, is doing quite alright in a global system.

    It seems we live in a wonderland where people’s expectation belies the reality.

  13. f

    So don’t ask for milk from Afsan Chowdhury any more. He has gone under severe mutation. By the way Afsan is the ডেদডনপৃটড author of biswasghatokgan (বিশ্বাসঘাতকগণ).

    • Gour Gobinda Goswami

      I think a more appropriate title would be “Universities in Bangladesh: Asking a donkey to give cow’s milk”. In global ranking no university of Bangladesh including public, private or other meet the global standard of a University. In Bangladesh Universities are just giving some degrees to students. Most of them are undergraduate institutions. They are part of our society, culture, and economy. How come a university be different than the whole nation. We have achieved many things in last 40 years but most of the achievements in education tilt towards elementary level. We have achievement in women empowerment through education but mostly at the lower level. At higher education institutions we have miserably failed to provide good governance in the last four decades.

      • Ali

        Education has always been IGNORED in Bangladesh by ALL the governments so far!
        So, although sounds funny to Mr. Russell, it is an absolute truth. No education today means one can go to hell. It is like saying ‘Do vote for me, but later GO to Hell!’
        No uni in BD is (not even BUET) anywhere near any ranking even in Asian standards. Who is the culprit? The policy of Politicizing and low funding; as well as selling their souls and intellect by the teachers.
        Many would not like this, but it is TRUE. If education is left to the educationists only then we can see some small changes to start with.
        Dr. G G Goswami is very correct in his comments. It is not yet difficult to change for the better and raise our standards.
        VCs, please put your thinking caps on.

    • russel

      Very funny comment indeed. Let’s see what Mr. Afsan has to say against your comment 🙂

  14. Salim Reza Newton

    Mr. Afsan is not wrong in his spirit, no doubt. Public university teachers (particularly the Godfathers and practitioners of teachers politics, and even more particularly the teacher-administrator-authorities of the universities) cannot be exempted from being accused. It is they who have systematically cooperated with the state and the political parties to let the universities come to what it is today. They deserve the harsh criticism.

    But very poorly Mr. Afsan misses the basic point. What he “describes” is mere common sense. Everyone knows that. It doesn’t approach to the “deeper reality” as he allegedly attempted to expose. The deeper reality is to be sought in the operational structure of the public universities and its relationships with State. Just nobody raises that basic point in the whole public university discourse. I have analyzed it in detail in one of my works, 5 years ago. I’m going to submit it for publication to the bdnews24.com with a new chapter.

    Sadly, Mr. Afsan’s approach is very much negative. What is his suggestion? What is to be done to get the varsities back on the track? Does he also, like Sonaton Siddharth here, want to “privatize DU with a per student tuition fee of Tk. 30,000 per semester?” Public universities unquestionably will resist that.

    Many thanks to Sayeed Ferdous and Mirza Taslima for their nice analysis.

  15. Matiur Rahman

    Correct observations, Mr. Afsan. No brain exercise for a long haul in public universities excepting a very few. The rest turned into just political junks because we have all the junks in the political arena. They need to be weeded out by generation X. We all became helpless and cannot fight to change anything any more, as it seems to me. Every VC’s office has become a political fish market that stinks. Academic pursuit is absent. Only political expedition is on.
    Thanks for a true exposition of the current situation in Bangladesh academia.

  16. M. Siddique Hossain

    It is too harsh a comment. However, we need to appreciate Mr. Afsan’s courage to bring onto light such a crisis our nation has been facing. Most of the teachers are morally as bankrupt as anybody. Some people could be morally and ethically spoiled, but not the university faculty members. Their blind support for their respective political parties have reduced this nation into a state of political impotency. For this reason Mr. Afsan dared to compare them with donkeys.

  17. As

    He is right. Millions of taxpayers’ money is going to the public universities and we are producing English and Bangla graduates who cannot comprehend or write in the language they have ‘studied’ for four years.

    I have had the painful experience of interviewing these unfortunate boys and girls for jobs and at the end of the day I had to bring in a workforce from abroad to do the simplest of jobs. What a waste! If we want musclemen to become political cadres why send them to universities, shouldn’t we rather send them to the gyms?

    I hold the teachers responsible; except for a handful most of them are more interested in what panel you belong to rather than research.

  18. Helal Ahmed

    Asking for too much politics and democracy are excuses for political ELITES and their cadres to suck blood from unsuspecting hard-working masses in our country. Bangladesh is an example of misuse of democracy.

    I salute hard-working people like female garment workers, small entrepreneurs and other workers in productive industries and their employers. In other words, whoever has got a productive role in our economy. They need proper recognition as they are the main drivers of any progress made.

    Political elites and their cronies are power hungry parasites.

  19. russel

    Mr. Afsan has pointed out many facts very nicely. Students are not there to act as political cadres. They are there to learn and become worthy citizens. So why are the political parties using these naive students and compelling them to do politics? The most important thing would be to ban politics in educational institutions. Ok, I acknowledge that students need political consciousness to become better politicians or leaders or good citizens. But why should they involve themselves in politics like a full-time job? It is unwise to mix up the contribution of students in 1971. That was to live in a liberated nation. Please no messing around with our beloved country.
    Let’s work to prosper our nation and live peacefully.

  20. Iftekhar Hossain

    Dear Afsan Chowdhury,
    Thanks for this post; would humbly draw your attention to a minor blog that I posted, Iftekhar_Hossain, at the Bangla version of bdnews24.com, just two days ago, May 5, 2012.

    In that I, however, refrained from taking any stand on student politics, bearing in mind the positive role it had played during our youth. But that respect is due to the “perception” that we cherished for years and not based on any in-depth analysis. Let’s continue this discussion.

  21. M A Hasan Roni

    Asking a donkey to give cow’s milk….100% TRUE.

    • Ali

      Quite right. If we are ending up producing donkeys, how can we ask those donkeys to deliver nutritious milk? They are devoid of them. Well, most of them are donkeys, since 1972, when the so-called politics had taken up our universities as an easy target to muster the young for gaining ‘support’.

      It is a SHAME on our educated class to allow this to happen! Why is there no real effort in freeing the universities of such un-educational activities? If we value education and have any hope and ambition to compete with Myanmar or Mali (because many others have left us FAR BEHIND), then we must take the steps NOW so that we can get mental nutrition soon!

      • dhruba

        Great observation! All the students in the public universities are donkeys! I wish I knew that before! I wish you also knew what sarcasm is. Pathetic!

  22. Shafiq

    A good observation. We take pride in public universities as the last line of defence for democracy. Safeguarding democracy is a 24/7 job. Pursuit of knowledge cannot take precedence over such a vital job as guardians of democratic politics. Let us call a cow a cow, a donkey a donkey and save perennial anguish and hand wringing.

  23. Sayeed Ferdous

    This piece of write-up ignored one major fact regarding public university; in spite of its poor resource and capacities, public universities are playing crucial role in constituting the intellectual formation of our country since the beginning; not only by creating political activists (although activist for me is not someone empty headed and without intellect), but also those who are contributing in various fields of knowledge and research, development or in management, both inside the country and abroad, are mostly the product of public universities. How can we simply forget this fact?

    Of course, I must admit there are hundreds of loopholes in our higher education system and in those institutions; of course, we are way behind from the global standard; however, one should not ignore the reality that there is almost no resource allocation for research; the remuneration of the teaching staff is simply not enough to make a minimum middle-class living; students are not sufficiently prepared for a standard higher education, because of the poor standard of primary and secondary education. Parallel to these lacking and absences, there stands the strong presence of national political interference from various vested interest groups; to teach or to learn one must encounter this essential evil.

    In public universities there is no reward for the good job and no punishment for the opposite. Now should we not think for once, why things are like that? Why public universities appear as donkeys? For me, it is highly problematic and ungrateful as well to banish public universities, without addressing the larger scenarios or without mentioning the existing limitations. Such one-sided blaming often goes hand in hand with those voices propagating privatisation of education meant for an elite corporate section of the society. Let there be a system of reward and punishment in the public universities, let the national political interference be evicted from the campus, let there be the minimum resource allocation for research and education; I am sure, public universities will definitely flourish.

    Those of us, who are this vocal today, are in some way or other indebted to these “donkeys”. Well, our universities have not been able to produce Nobel Laureates; but could we ever been able to spare such a reality or such opportunities for them? When public universities are part of the society, what is the benefit to isolate them from the larger whole and then blame them?

    To stand against the existing disorderliness of the public universities, this write-up ultimately stood against those institutions; there are teachers there who teach, at least who want to teach wholeheartedly; there are students there who fight against all sorts of odds and keen to learn; they as well are the victims of the disorderliness of the system; the institutions themselves are victims; Afsan Chowdhury seems to forget these facts. Instead of blaming the oligarchy in and outside the campus affecting these institutions; this write-up disgracefully blamed the victims.

    Alas! Public universities are still among those institutions, who keep their door open for the poor people of this land.

    • Naeem Mohaiemen

      Good response from Prof. Sayeed Ferdous.

      I think in combination Afsan Chowdhury’s op-ed provocation and Sayeed Ferdous’ response can show a way forward. Love the public universities and try to improve them, but don’t hesitate to point out the flaws either.

      If we love public universities (I do, even though my experience in DU econ department was not good) we have to save them. But to save them, we have to first admit that they are broken and incremental change by committee is not going to work. Not when professors and administrators whose tenure depends on keeping it as is continue to be in positions of powers and block any change.

  24. Hasan Ahmed

    The fact that we have a tendency to react to situations such as the crisis being faced at JU and indeed the entire nation says a lot about our evolution or rather the lack of it. Why would it require a crisis of such enormous proportion for us to audit a matter such as the one facing young lives such as those at JU, and also what type of educational institution allows behaviour of an unruly nature without any recourse?

    Perhaps one should start practising the art of looking for potential problems and report on them as well as their potential solutions for an effective functional democracy. I am glad that I have the conduit of allowing my thoughts to be (hopefully!) printed, i.e. we have some basic foundations of a working democracy! For now I hope that the JU students get relief and get back to their studies for a better future for them and this unfortunate nation!

    • Naeem Mohaiemen

      Thanks for sharing. It confirms what I had heard, originally from Prof. Sonia Amin.

      “In the field of original research, we have some limitations in terms of continuity and thematic scope. Dhaka University History Department has produced a number of brilliant PhD theses, but the total number of PhDs completed since 1921 is only 23. We are yet to define whether Dhaka University is a teaching or a research university. If we aim for the latter, we need to create an environment for more original research. Thematically, there is an important but narrow nationalist focus. All PhDs in the department has been on Bengal history (with exception of 2 PhDs which have a sub-continental focus. But even within this, not a single PhD has been on the War of Liberation, although a few MPhils have focused on regional muktijuddhos).”

  25. mannan

    What can one expect from a person who served BRAC and other donor organisations for so many years! Being an assigned researcher and Ashoka Fellow, what has he produced so far? Does Mr. Afsan have any original research?

    • Helal Ahmed

      But he knows what he is talking about!

      Just piling up academic research papers with silo mentality is not going to help much: except the author’s own career and ego systems (in most cases).

      Just look at most academics/economists (with tons of Phds) who failed to anticipate what’s happening with world economy today. I am talking about academia worldwide. This guy, at least has practical knowledge of capacity building.

      • banik

        I wonder whose capacity, these NGO consultants, build!

  26. Sonaton Siddharth

    There are few nations in the world that make higher education, not elementary education, wide open to its people. The nation’s mandate is limited to primary education or basic literacy, not beyond that. The result is obvious. Afsan is looking herds of donkeys not Dante’s.
    I have a proposition. Why are we producing these bunch of “higher educated” donkeys? Are we creating as many (or even one tenth) jobs? What’s the point? In this day and age of increasing efficiency and disinvestment why can’t we privatize DU with a per student tuition fee of Tk. 30,000 per semester? Sounds too harsh? Not really. Let me explain.

    There would be three categories of students: 1) Totally financed (tuition, fees, boarding, etc. totally covered) through government scholarship/fellowships awarded to those who qualify by merit and their financial condition; 2) Partially financed (partial reimbursement of tuition, fees, boarding, etc.) and the rest would be covered from their part-time employment in DU system and 3) Those who can afford Tk. 30,000 out of their pocket. The dorms should run as a break even concept with standard of living and dining commensurate with the money. Cut the student body down to 30% of the present level. Asking for too much? I don’t think so.

    How many of us could predict that there is a big market for private universities in Bangladesh that is still in the bottom ruing of the world economic profile? We have private universities now. Think about thousands more who go abroad each year for undergraduate studies.

    It is possible if there is a political commitment. People will be more than happy to let go of the DU (“Historic”, “Traditonal” or “Oxford of the East” by rhetoric but simply a den of thugs and hoodlums in practice).

  27. truthhurts

    Spot on, I would argue that the politics described permeated in other areas of society as well.

    That’s why you see different business community leaders take turn in being head of this chamber or that chamber based on party in power and their affiliation. Whether administrators, judges, lawyers, and even the low level clerks all get position and promotion based on party in power and their affiliation. All institutions in Bangladesh from the village to the district to the big cities are politicized.

    Bangladesh as a whole is a politicized society.

    The only hope is some of the younger generation who seems apathetic to politics but majority of the unprivileged who doesn’t have money to seek education at private universities or abroad also have to state their allegiances to one party or another for survival. Without that the unprivileged won’t go anywhere in life or have a life at all as they will be targeted by thugs from one party or another.

  28. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    Such a timely, well-written piece that reflects all conscientious peoples’ mind.

    These universities do not care about education as long as they can churn out activists and serve political goals.

    No research, no original thinking, no scholarship, no academics, NO AMBITION, no publication, no tie-up with other institutions, no exchange of academicians, no shame, et all, but yes, a lot of politically motivated ‘students’ who are least interested in education are active and always available.

    Why have our universities lost so much of their shine and recognition abroad? What have we produced in the last 41 years? Where are we today in education? Why have we become mercenaries?

    If education is gone, EVERYTHING is GONE! We must WAKE UP.

    • kalpana

      I am sorry to mention that there was none in the helm of power who had the intellectual capacity of Sher-e-bangla or Shaheed Suharwardy. Pandit Nehru and Moulana Abul Kalam Azad as his education minister ordered to pay substantial allowance to PhDs returning to India from abroad in early days of independence from British empire, even if they cannot find job or cannot be immediately employed.

      During the days of Ayub Khan, we had his lackey Monaem Khan who was helping the “goonda” student wing NSF. Other political leaders were infighting in East Pakistan and were hoping to get some leftover from Pakistani elites and generals. Student leaders were busy in agitational politics as political leaders failed in their duties.

      Most unfortunately, after so much sacrifice when we got Independence, some people thought that this land is their grandfathers’ property. They used their power to grant any favour to anyone even if he is the most unsuitable one. All this has pervaded in every sphere.

      • Ali

        So sorry, our intellectual capacity is fast nearing ZERO!

        Sher-e-Bangla, Jawaherlal Nehru, these names are there only to adorn and enrich history books, not good enough to take lessons from and follow.

        We have the current appointed VCs to adorn our egos.

  29. Golam Arshad

    Afsan: Right on money! Vice Chancellor of public universities are hundred per cent partisan, they prevail to the tune of the government in power. A strange feat in deceptive ideals, scholarly pursuits stupefies the high note of a respected scholar. Good job!

  30. Taifur Hasan Tuhin

    … And fortunately the donkeys were sent to dairy firms for education.

  31. Naeem Mohaiemen

    Afsan bhai is speaking unpleasant truths as always.

    While researching my essay on Sarmila Bose’s DEAD RECKONING I was told that DU History dept did not produce a single PhD on 1971 (from DU) in 40 years. I am still fact-checking as it’s hard to believe, but if true, it says volumes about the level of intellectual inquiry DU is producing.

    In 1989 I was a DU student in the Economic dept, I found many of the professors to mostly be interested in rewarding chatukars and punishing non-conformists. Their internecine conflict was a sad spectacle and example for us.

    When anti-Ershad andolon shut down the campus I went abroad for further studies, otherwise probably all my energy and curiosity would have been beaten out of me by this institution.

    • Minu

      Naeem Mohaiemen, you had money, opportunity and all the things to get rid of this ‘donkey’ institution and leave for the USA. And Mr. Afsan must have been regretting for years for being once the student of DU and he must be wondering why there was no private university during his time!

      What happiness does it give people to constantly tarnish the image of DU without reflecting on the real problems it has been facing and without making an effort to know that there are still many academics who are doing internationally good and also trying hard to do their best for DU students despite all the existing institutional limitations and constraints? This kind of one-eyed write-up is really demoralising for them! How many of them does Mr. Afsan know?

      • S.M. Tofazzel Hossain

        The teachers who are really trying their best are not leading the public universities anymore. Those who can be rightly termed “so” have been occupying the chair of leadership. I do not think that the teachers who are real scholars will be unhappy at all because they also have huge frustration over the degrading situations in the public universities. I heard an academician to say in front of hundred students “Those who are now enjoying leadership in education sector as teachers many of them do not have the capacity to earn their livelihood working as a hawker in the streets of Gulistan!?…”

        I think , Mr Afsan did not write anything new, just expressed the reality prevailing over decades and in the write-up the dedicated teachers might have some mental peace because they do not have anything to say against the bad situations for the shake of job and…..

      • Naeem Mohaiemen

        I went to US in 1989 on a full scholarship from Oberlin College.

        My father was a government doctor and did not have the money to pay for my education.

        Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions or assume you know where I am coming from.

        After receiving the scholarship letter, there was much discussion in the family and the consensus was that undegraduate level e jawa uchit na bideshe. Phd korte jao. I also agree with that line of thinking. However, when the campus shut down sine die with no hope of opening, I took the scholarship. Yes, I had an opportunity, but it’s one I earned.

        Those who love DU should take this opportunity to admit that the departments are now ridden with politics, and many teachers (not all of course) are more interested in aligning with one ruling party or another and not in their students’ learning. If you want to save DU, admit it’s collapsing state of education and work to fix it, instead of trying to hide the problems.

      • Golam Arshad

        Minu: Current state of DU is a matter of grave concern! How would you fix it? Love to hear your comment!

      • Goutam Das

        Minu: The current state of DU is a matter of grave concern! How would you fix it? Love to hear your comment!

  32. Asad

    It’s a great piece of writing, pointing out exactly what should be pointed out. In Bangladesh, everyone praise the history of student movements in 52, 71, 90. I believe, at those times, not only the DU or other institutions, but also the whole country moved. Those are great movements and success certainly, but not the achievements of studentship, not the achievements of universities.

    Universities should be place of practicing knowledge; teaching, learning and doing research. Other activities like cultural programs, sports should be ‘supplementary’ of basic education.

    Unfortunately, in the universities of Bangladesh, everyday there are some cultural programs, festivals, sports and other activities, and above all the nasty politics — education has become a ‘part-time’ activity here.

    So, what can we expect from these universities and their products?

    • Mirza Taslima

      Intellectually, the write-up is trapped by creating a dichotomy. Here the writer poses the academia/intellectualism and the politics in two oppositional poles. It assumes the academia/intellectualism is pure/sacred, opposite to that politics is dirty and is sin.

      How does such a prolific intellectual like Afsan Chowdhury exclude the academia/intellectualism from the politics? Such apolitical stance often has an intention to convey a political message. Politics is a must phenomenon for a society/state. Question is what kind of politics should be encouraged.

      In the public universities of Bangladesh the kind of politics is encouraged is of course a problem, but satirically to point this the writer has taken a stance against politics itself, which is not a good sign. Moreover, there are lots of other problems which are ignored.

      Like accountability within the public universities, state interferences, resource allocations for education and research etc. Therefore, in general it fails to address the public universities’ problems properly.

    • Syed Gias Uddin

      Universities are the place of knowledge. How could the students who are seeking higher education act indifferent to the prevailing socio political environment?

      University of Dhaka has 40 thousand students. Political activists are not more than 4000. True there are clashes, demonstrations, etc. but there are also students who spend time in libraries.

      The main problem is there exist no inspiration for post graduation in our country.

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