Around 80 per cent of private universities have been operating academic activities, flouting rules and regulations, officials concerned have said.
“Most of the universities are not abiding by the rules and regulations fully and some are only selling certificates without taking classes,” University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Abdul Mannan told Prothom Alo.
The UGC has been assigned to look after the private universities, according to the latest act formulated in 2010.
The UGC can only recommend the education ministry, said UGC chairman.
The accused universities file cases if the UGC takes any action against them, lamented Abdul Mannan, saying years after years passed in this way. The UGC has to be empowered by amending the act, he suggested.
There are 104 private universities in the country. Among these, 95 are active.
According to the UGC there are 350,000 students at these universities. It is expensive to study at the private universities and only 20 are running properly. The rest of the universities have been violating rules in various ways. Only three have actually met the required criteria.
A university is housed in rented premises. It has 120 regular students. There are another few hundred students who attend Friday classes just to get a degree for the sake of their career. The vice-chancellor attends the university from Thursday to Sunday while the treasurer comes off and on.
There are only three professors for 11 departments. There is only one student at the media and journalism department and none for economics. This is the Rajshahi Science and Technology University (RSTU), a private university in Pabna.
The University of Cumilla, also, is running at rented premises in Uttara, Dhaka. The UGC has not yet given its approval, but the authorities are running the university anyway. There is even scope to bargain for admission too at this university.
A number of private universities are doing very well, but the quality of education is extremely poor at others, education minister Dipu Moni said to the media on 10 April.
There are even allegations of certificate selling, she said, adding that an effort was on to bring these private universities under the law.
The act for the approval and regulation of private universities was drafted in 1992, the year that private universities were launched in the country. This was annulled and in 2010, there was a new act. According to the law, a proposed university can be established with provisional approval. A council of nine trustees or owners, a building of 25,000 square feet owned or rented by the university, three faculties and six departments and a bank deposit of Tk 15 to 50 million depending on the area, are required.
The education ministry grants a provisional certificate following the fulfillment of 10 conditions. A permanent certificate is granted on the fulfillment of several conditions in the following seven years. These include the university having its own campus, reservation of three per cent seats for deprived students and allocation of budget for research.
A number of 50 universities were granted provisional certificates in the three consecutive Awami League terms. None of these have passed seven years yet. A number of 54 universities have passed the time limit, but only three of them have received permanent certificate. A few others are under process.
There is specific provisions for appointment of vice-chancellor and other top positions, ratio of permanent and part-time teachers, syndicate and academic council meetings, student fees and submitting annual audit reports to the government. No branch campuses are allowed.
Darul Ihsan University was closed in 2016. The university opened branches and sold certificates across the country. Stern action was taken against another five universities over the last 27 years, but none of the steps remained effective.
Fund allocation for the concerned ministry and the UGC as well as manpower has not been increased in proportion to the increased number of universities, a 2014 TIB (Transparency International Bangladesh) study revealed. The government had no proper or long-term plan regarding this either, the study added.
The provisions of the act are not realistic, Sheikh Kabir Hossain, president of the private university association, said.
A teacher was teaching just three students in a room of the rented premises of Rajshahi Science and Technology University (RSTU) in Natore around 10:30am on 21 March. Two students were in a room and four in another.
A final year student of business administration, Naimul Rashid, said there were six students in the class. Neither the vice-chancellor nor the treasurer was present. An official said there were 10-12 part-time and 32 permanent teachers at the campus. There were three professors who were irregular.
There were 750 students at the university. Among them, 600 were irregular. They were either job holders or job seekers after attaining diploma in engineering. As they attend class on Friday, the VC too comes from Dhaka on the same day. There is no pro-VC.
When the VC, Md. Shahjahan, was contacted at the campus on Friday, he said he was trying to increase the number of regular students and was offering various concessions for admission.
Admission before approval
The University of Cumilla was closed down in 2006 for irregularities. The education ministry allowed the university to run its activities following a court order. The UGC, according to the law, formed a committee to investigate the teaching conditions at the university. The authority filed a case which is still under trial. The university has not been granted approval by the UGC as yet. But according to sources at the private university branch of UGC, the university published an admission circular in a national daily last November. The UGC committee too found evidence of student admission at the university's Uttara campus.
The committee also found that the university was conducting academic activities at two buildings without any permission. The UGC sent a letter to the education ministry seeking directives in this regard last December. No answer was received till 19 March.
This correspondent went to the Polwel Carnation building in Uttara where the university is housed. One of the officials there briefed him about the fees required for admission in the university. A woman introduced herself as a senior lecturer at the university. She said discounts were available for admission.
A total of 34 universities did not move to own campus
A number of 34 out of 54 universities have not yet fulfilled the conditions needed to move to their own campus. The government six times extended time for for the universities to meet the required conditions.
At least one acre of land is required for permanent campuses at Dhaka and Chattogram metropolitan areas and two in other areas. A number of 16 among the 34 have been running academic activities partially at the under-construction campuses at the specified area of land. Two have moved to the permanent campus but the area of the land is less than required.
According to the UGC list, 20 universities have moved to their own campus following rules, but two among these have still maintained different campuses in Dhaka violating rules. Ahsan Ullah Science and Technology University in Dhaka, East West University and City University are the three universities with permanent certificates that have moved to own campuses in keeping wit hthe regulations. North South University, Independent University Bangladesh, American International University Bangladesh and University of Asia Pacific also moved to their own campus. Though the education ministry decided earlier to take measures against those not moving to their own campus, in actuality it was not implemented.
Meeting and others
A number of universities do not hold any meetings of their syndicates or their academic councils.
According to the UGC, 11 universities did not hold any syndicate meeting in 2017. Many of these universities are owned by big businessmen. No academic council meetings were held at eight universities. Also, no trustee board meetings were held at four universities.
There are are all sorts of conflict and cases too. There are legal cases against with the government and UGC. There are cases and conflict among five universities too over ownership.
There is no need to have over a hundred private universities, said Siddiqur Rahman, member of education policy formulation committee and former Dhaka University professor, adding only around 15 universities abide by the rules. If there is strict supervision some universities will be closed automatically, he added.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.