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education-DU CampusGlobal university ranking exercises rarely make headlines in Bangladesh. Part of the reason is that they are somewhat predictable. Irrespective of the assessment method followed, North American, British and Australian universities dominate the list and occupy top positions. However, recent trends suggest that this may change in the distant future. Although not as spectacular as East Asia’s economic ascendancy, Eastern universities are gradually making their mark. According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2013 ranking published last month, a good number of universities from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have broken into the global top 500 list in recent years.

Since 2003, the Shanghai based ARWU have been examining data on more than 1200 universities and published ranks of the best 500 on the web. This is the Asian equivalent of the prestigious UK-based Times Higher Education (THE) ranking of universities worldwide. The other widely recognised international university list is the QS World University Rankings.

This year’s ARWU list of top 500 also includes universities from India, Malaysia, and many from China. However, none of Bangladesh’s 34 public and 70 private universities is present on the list. At a time when Bangladeshi entrepreneurs are making inroads into foreign markets by exporting quality readymade garments and our world class NGOs are offering development solutions to countries in Africa and Asia, our universities are nowhere near their Asian neighbours. Bangladesh even failed to make it to the 2013 QS list of top 200 Asian universities.

education-Dhaka University-strikeOne may argue that it is too early to expect Bangladeshi universities to attain international standard given our low income and lack of resources. After all, most Asian countries breaking into top 100 Asian universities in ARWU and top 500 in QS and THE lists are upper middle or high income countries. However, analysis of QS ranking for 2013, which also separately lists the top 300 Asian universities, reveals two additional patterns. First, despite low income, both India and Pakistan have a strong presence in Asia’s finest 200. India has as many as 11 and Pakistan has 7 in the top 200. The top 100 also includes 21 from China. Second, some of these universities have been developed by private entrepreneurs. One case in point is Lahore University of Management and Science (LUMS) of Pakistan. In contrast, none of our “renowned” private universities manages to get into the top 300 of Asian universities. Dhaka University is the only successful entry from Bangladesh featuring in the top 300 QS Asian university list. However, owing to its “less than satisfactory” research records, it ranks between 201 and 300. No wonder Bangladesh is also absent from ‘THE 2013 list of Asian top 100’.

When universities are ranked each year by different international agencies, attention is paid to a number of factors. Whilst QS, ARWU and THE rankings differ in terms of the weight they put on a given institutional attribute, disciplinary focus and the quality of instruction, all three are unanimous on the importance of scientific research. To give a specific example, ARWU uses indicators such as the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes, number of highly cited researchers and number of articles published in prestigious journals. Universities that chiefly rely on “research inactive” teachers inadvertently fall out of the league table. It is no wonder that our universities have failed to secure position in any of the three lists of global top 400 universities produced in the last 10 years.

education-DU convocation 1As a matter of fact, the reputation of some of our private and public universities significantly outweighs their measurable research performance. None of our universities emphasises on research activities. Since many chose not to enter global ranking exercises, their actual performance and quality relative to their peers in neighbouring countries remains unknown. Many Bangladeshi public universities even struggle to maintain an academic environment that is congenial for teaching and learning activities. They remain closed for long period due to student violence and destructive on-campus political activities.

It is high time that the government formulated policy measures to encourage our universities to participate in international comparisons such as QS, ARWU and THE. To break into global league tables, reform measures must be put in place so that individuals with research ability are attracted to university teaching. Retention and promotion must be conditioned upon scholarly work that is evaluated externally by peers in their respective field. Current institutional structure creates little incentive to pursue scholarship. Staff members get away by publishing in in-house journals of dubious quality. Sadly, this has led to mediocrity in academic research. Some of our universities have simply become a sanctuary for mediocre teachers.

East Asia still has a long away to go before it is established as the main destination for higher education seeking students from around the world. However, the aspiration of countries in the region to promote university-led research to strengthen their economies cannot go un-noticed. If Bangladesh is to emulate East Asia’s economic success, it must ensure that its universities also aspire to position themselves amongst Asia’s best. Needless to say, a quality university system will give the economy the much needed productivity boost by expanding the supply of highly skilled entrepreneurs, medical professionals, engineers and researchers. Without one, the prospect of Bangladesh achieving middle income country status may remain a distant dream.

M Niaz Asadullah teaches economics at Reading University, UK.

21 Responses to “In a league of our own”

  1. kgazi

    Simple reason for this decline is that the Govt is not really interested in building universities with high ranking, they just want a sub-standard school where their cadre & mastan foot-soldiers can hang around.

    The reason there is so little fund is because the Govt is too busy embezzling (stealing) from the Ministry of Education, and if the Uni standards improve, then less funds will be available for embezzling.

    So with this background, the teachers have no interest or sincerity either – they just want a paycheck while contributing little time & effort to the students.

    So what is the answer ? The answer is to PRIVATIZE the Univs, separate from Govt, and IMPOSE EXCELLENCE, discipline, law & Order to clean up the places from mastans and criminals – and replace them with real education – so that the nation regains its old glory once again.

  2. Suja

    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.

  3. Inam ul Haq

    If education was left to the educationists only then we could see some small changes. But politicization of everything is ruining our education system beyond repair.

  4. obhaga

    Education has always been IGNORED in Bangladesh by ALL the governments so far! No uni in BD is (not even BUET) anywhere near any ranking even in Asian standards.

  5. kim

    ইউনিভার্সিটি তে হয় খালি পলিটিক্স আর চামচামি। টপ লিস্ট এ উথতে হলে তো পড়াশোনা লাগে, রিসার্চ করতে হয়। আমাদের সেই সময় কই?

  6. S.m. Tofazzel Hossain

    the universities here do not have any good library system, availability of internet is rare, lectures are extremely boring while the students are interested in anything but learning. Their main goal is getting good grades and getting good jobs. Overall I think the standard of Dhaka University is extremely low and it cannot be compared with the universities in the top ranking lists.

  7. Badiul

    Our universities, public as well as private, are not at all research oriented. The students just memorize what the teachers lecture and the teachers too don’t seem in teaching in the real term. This limits the students their thinking ability and they just mimick what the teacher taught them. There’s no ‘learning’ in our universities.

  8. Cricket King Ashik

    টাকা নাই বলে দেশের ইউনিভার্সিটি তে পড়ি । টাকা থাকলে কবেই ভাল ইউনিভার্সিটি তে চলে জেতাম। ক্লাশের পড়া যে আনন্দের হতে পারে সেটাই কোনদিন বুঝলাম না। হায় রে ছাত্রজীবন !

  9. Taimur J

    It’s the media that is to blame for our poor reputation. All the media highlight about our universities is clashes between two rival political groups. They don’t have time to do news on achievements by our students and teachers.

  10. failed student

    পড়াশোনা আর আমাদের ইউনিভার্সিটি? হয় না কি? জানতাম না তো ! আমি ওখানে শুধু প্রেম করতে যেতাম।

  11. Mahbub Razib

    I beg to differ with the writer. We are doing our best. Despite of poor funding and limited facilities, the published research papers are far more greater in numbers than the private universities.

  12. ET

    I don’t think we will have any luck in getting included in the top university list in foreseeable future. Our education standard is pathetic. Students don’t get to attend any standard lecture and those few quality teachers we have don’t get to teach any inquisitive students. It’s a depressing sight in our educational institutions – schools, colleges, universities.

  13. ET

    There’s hardly any difference in the standard of education in public and private universities in the country. All produce students who have learned little and memorized more.

  14. Nazmul Halder

    The reason why private universities are getting more and more students, that even middle class people are sending their children to private universities is not because of better education standard but because it assures that their children will get a degree and come out safe and sound, not get into violent politics that’s prevalent in public universities throughout the country. No parents want their children to become victims to the cancerous politics that we call student politics.

    • Afsna I

      I cannot agree with your comment fully. The primary reason parents are sending their children to private universities is the fierce competition in the public universities and not being able to get through the competitive admission tests, not the political issue. In this time of high inflation parents would love to avoid high education cost! The political impact on campus has reduced to a large extent than what it used to be in the 80s or even the early 90s. I have been a student of a public university and passed on time without any session delayed by political unrest!
      If parents have the choice they would want their children to go to prestigious (at least in the standard of Bangladesh) public universities rather paying high cost for almost a low value degree ( again in the context of Bangladesh) from private universities.

  15. abbas

    The whole education system of ours is in shambles. We have systematically destroyed our education system and the future of the nation.

  16. omar

    The writer has written bitter facts, but facts they are. No guardian who can financially afford it will send their children to local universities. It is us, the middle-income ones, are stuck with these. Trust me, there is no patriotism, or nationalistic views when it comes choosing local universities for our offspring.

  17. Kazi Helal Uddin

    The writer is absolutely right. Some if not all of our universities, public or private, have become ‘sanctuary for mediocre teachers’.

  18. Anjum

    Even Pakistan has its universities in the top list? That’s really frustrating. We should have at least fared better than Pakistan.

  19. Dr A Rahman

    You have hit the hornet’s nest now. Before Bangladesh, universities used to hide their shortcomings by keeping academic scrutiny away under the guise of academic independence. After Bangladesh, universities, particularly the private ones, became ‘dignified’ schools and money making machines. Even calling them ‘dignified’ is praising them excessively.
    The public universities all over the country became the playground of national politics. The teachers started identifying them not by the subject they teach (they don’t) or academic experts they are supposed to be (they are not) but by their political affiliations (BNP panthi or Awami panthi)! Teachers started getting promotions not by their academic excellence but by their length of service! At the moment, the Physics Department of Dhaka University has nearly 25 Professors and less than half a dozen lecturers. In any case none of them is interested in teaching at this university, more interested in teaching at private universities and doing consultancy work to get money. Their dedication, commitment and research activities are nil, absolutely zero. The students take cue from the teachers. The students started asserting that if teachers can be in the university payroll without teaching, why can’t they get university degrees without taking exams? Valid point! The country has bright future!

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