At least one fifth of the country’s private universities do not have any vice chancellor while one fourth of them operate without any pro vice chancellor, according to records found by various studies, records of UGC and a Prothom Alo investigation.
A large number of the teachers including seniors and PhD professors are guest teachers. These universities in most cases do not even hold academic council meetings regularly.
Some of the universities claim to be non-profit institutions though they were found generating large profits.
On the other hand, the difference in fees among universities is enormous. Allocations for research are inadequate and in some cases there are no allocations at all. More than half of them are running without any treasurer. Only a few of them submit annual audit reports to the government.
The members of the trustee boards are paid honorarium and other financial benefits.
There are 104 private universities in the country. Among these, 95 are active.
Most of these universities are beset with all sorts of irregularities as well as shortage of full-time teachers and a low standard of education.
“Private universities were approved for a good purpose and to meet the demand for higher education. But due to all these shortcomings, the standard of education is falling. Other than a few, most of these generate profits in various ways,” the chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC) Abdul Mannan told Prothom Alo.
Sheikh Kabir Hossain, president of the private university association of the organisation, said that they were constantly asking the members to look into these issues including the appointment of VCs and regular submission of audit reports.
Top three positions vacant
The posts of vice chancellor, pro VC and treasurer are essential for the management of a university. The country's president is the chancellor of the universities and will appoint candidates for these three posts, according to the rules.
The ministry of education and UGC's latest data shows, 20 among the 95 active universities have no VC. As many as 72 universities do not have any pro VC while there is no treasurer in 53 universities. Some universities have illegally appointed 'acting' vice chancellors.
However, if a university does not have any VC appointed by the president, the students cannot get a permanent education certificate. The ministry of education on 17 February in a letter to the UGC ordered private universities to take initiative to fill these three posts on an urgent basis.
In many of the universities these posts remain vacant for long. Asian University of Bangladesh is an example. Three of the posts of VC, pro VC and treasurer are vacant in this institution. However, the acting vice chancellor Abdullah Hasan Sadek said they have sent a proposal to the government for these appointments.
The authorities of the universities often complain that the appointment of the vice chancellor is delayed due to the procedural formalities of the education ministry and UGC.
Two officials of these offices said the claim was not entirely untrue. And the university authorities often send faulty proposals.
Sometimes the authorities recommend wrong names to create hitches in the procedure or take the matter to court, in order to ultimately appoint their preferred candidates, he added.
“For 104 universities, 416 candidates will be needed in three positions. Besides, there are 49 public universities. It’s hard to find so many eligible candidates at a time,” the VC of North South University Atique Islam.
Part-time teachers life savers
There are 16,000 teachers in private universities according to UGC records. About 32 per cent of these teachers are part-time, especially in the ranks of professor and associate professor. About two-thirds of 2500 professors and more than half of the 1500 associate professors are part time.
Likewise, at least two-thirds of nearly 3,500 PhD teachers are part-time. These part-time teachers work primarily at various public universities.
Under the Private University Act of 2010, the number of part-time teacher shall not exceed more than one-third of the full-time faculty.
As a whole, the ratio of part-time teachers to full-time teachers is fine. However, among the senior and PhD teachers, this ratio is alarmingly imbalanced.
The universities which are ahead with the highest number of PhD teachers include North South University, Independent University Bangladesh, East West University, BRAC University and Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology.
The universities do not have any coordinated salary structure or any service rules. For example, the monthly salary of new lecturers at Rajshahi North Bengal International University is nearly 22,000 taka. The lecturers at Varendra University receive Tk 25,000 to 28,000 taka in the same city. On the other hand, the assistant professors get double the salary.
According to the annual report released last year by the UGC, meritorious teachers are hesitant to work in these sectors because of the nepotism of most private university trustees. The teachers often switch when they get better opportunities. It is the is same even for renowned private universities.
Meanwhile, there is uncertainty about the job security among the officers and employees in most universities. Even after dismissing their employees, many universities fail to pay them their due provident fund and gratuity.
Fees and research
According to the law, each private university will fix fees in accordance to the country's socio-economic condition, besides meeting the overall expenditure of the university. The UGC must be apprised of the fees. UGC has the right to ask the universities to lower fees if needed. But there is no uniform coordinated fee structure in the universities.
This Prothom Alo correspondent spoke to at least 15 students of 8 universities. Some of them said the fees were acceptable while other said these were too high.
Fees for BBA full course is 300,000 taka in Varendra University while the fees for the same course in Rajshahi Science and Technology University is about Tk 200,000. This fee can go up to 700,000 taka in renowned private universities in the capital.
A total of 22 private universities did not allocate any funds for research in 2017, according to UGC records. Some universities just make perfunctory allocations in the name of research. Rajshahi North Bengal University zero allocation for research. Its registrar Reaz Mohammad told Prothom Alo that they have inadequate funds and so could not make any allocations for research.
However, the top ranking universities are focusing on research. These include BRAC, North South University, IUB, AIUB, East West University, ULAB, Daffodil University and United International University.
Irregularities in income and expenditure
Private universities submit their income and expenditure records to the UGC. Their total income was about Tk 30 billion in 2017. The year's expenditure was almost equal. Many universities do not comply with the rules to submit regular audit reports.
At least seven universities have never submitted audit reports. These are, International University of Business, Agriculture and Technology, University of Victoria, Khawaja Yunus Ali University, Rajshahi Science and Technology University, German University, Times University and Gono Bishwabidyalaya.
It is mandatory to submit an annual audit report to the government. According to the education ministry and UGC, only 26 universities have submitted updated audit reports.
Several UGC officials complained that members of the board of trustees, including the chairman, draw considerable honorarium just to attend the meetings. They also travel abroad at the expense of the universities, take money from common funds and use university vehicles and personnel.
Rubayet Ferdous of the mass communication and journalism department of Dhaka University is also a part-time teacher in a private university. He said, the founder considers the institution a business enterprise, making family members trustees of the board.
In an investigation, UGC found in 2015 that trustees of a renowned private university in Dhaka took millions of taka as honorarium. The university authorities, however, said, the allowance was only 50,000 taka.
According to a 2014 research report of Transparency International Bangladesh, the board members of the universities usually take 20,000 to 30,000 taka in remuneration.
Former UGC chairman Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo, private universities were run on the basis of demand. They have to be brought under the rules if we want to improve the standard of education.
*This report appeared in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat