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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Narrowing opportunities for higher education

Abdul Hamid

Many factors are working as disincentives to higher education in Bangladesh. Opportunities here for higher education have progressively decreased over the years. Hundreds of aspirants vie for a single seat in any of the departments of the Dhaka University. The scene is more or less the same in all other public institutions of higher learning in the country.

Thus, many in the student population with potential for higher education are finding themselves excluded from the opportunity of such education mainly because the number of general public universities and specialised universities has not increased. Furthermore, the capacities in such institutions have not expanded to make it possible for them to admit more students. The private universities that have cropped up, normally charge high fees that cannot be afforded by many otherwise good students. Thus, the way to higher education is narrowing. Such education is also becoming like a commodity to be purchased by students of affluent parents.

Even in the limited number of public universities or specialised centres of higher education, courses get too frequently disrupted by aimless party politics. Frequent violent incidents linked to such politics contribute to undermine the academic atmosphere. The other fall-outs from campus violence -- session jams -- painfully lengthen the time that students have to spend for their graduate and post-graduate studies. The public universities are also found lacking in introducing or providing up-to-date courses and teaching aids. The teachers in them, as a consequences of their involvement in party politics and pulls outside for private teaching assignments, are seen spending less than the expected time to their main teaching posts.

Improving conditions of higher education will require adequate attention to both quantity and quality factors. It is very necessary to substantially increase government's investments in new general universities, specialised universities, engineering universities, science and technology universities, medical colleges, engineering colleges, agricultural colleges and universities, etc. Not only increasing their number, every effort must also be made to impart quality education in them. The resources of the publicly-run institutions of higher learning will need to be increased with greater allocations from the national budget for the purpose. The institutions themselves can reasonably increase tuition fees and other charges to meet increasing costs. Presently, tuition and other costs at public universities are nominal. Guardians will probably not find it hard to pay somewhat higher fees and other charges for the sound education of their young ones from such institutions.

Most private universities also need to progressively meet the criterion to be fully regarded as worthwhile centres of higher education. The deficiency of many of these institutions, in terms of not having their own campus, competent teaching staff and their own spacious premises to provide a healthful academic environment, excessive opportunities to study on a few subjects to the relative neglect of others, etc., do need to be addressed within a time-frame to ultimately overcome them. The operators of private universities do also need to take moves to set up campuses at sites away from Dhaka. Presently, 80 per cent of the existing private universities are located at or around the capital city, Dhaka. Private universities should be set up all over the country to create balanced opportunities for higher education.

Source: The Financial Express - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

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