It is only natural to expect teachers at institutions of higher education in the country to have an elevated sense of responsibility and ethics. And that was how things were in the past, with a few exceptions here and there. But things have changed. And this is what the president Abdul Hamid highlighted during his speech at Jagannath University’s first convocation ceremony recently.

Addressing the teachers, he said that you all have chosen to become teachers rather than take up lucrative jobs elsewhere. However, it may be pointed out here that there is acute unemployment in the country and so job selection is hardly a matter of choice any more. And teachers no longer live lives of paucity and want. As the president said, “For some teachers, their jobs at public universities are just a shield. They are more eager about conducting evening classes at private universities than to take their scheduled classes at the public ones.” The president might also be knowing that many teachers not only teach elsewhere, but also get involved in narrow but profitable political activities. All this has a negative impact on their teaching standards.

We have been expressing our concern over the past few years about the appointment of vice chancellors. As chancellor, perhaps for the time the president questioned how the universities would fare if the vice chancellors resorted to corruption. It is to his credit that he raised this important point, albeit late. All sorts of allegations are being brought against the vice chancellors of reputed public universities. Yet no action has been taken in this regard and the universities are gripped by an epidemic of irregularities.

The public universities run on public money. That is why when the meritorious students pass out from these universities, the public has high expectations from them. The meritorious teachers of these public universities are expected to work for the improvement of education, to stand out above the rest. They are to be role models. But reality tells a frustrating tale. All sorts of disheartening stories are revealed. After securing jobs at public universities, they simply begin taking classes at private universities and also take up well-paying assignments as consultants. Many of them take extended leave and go abroad for their PhD degrees, but simply do not return.

The vice chancellors, and others in responsible positions, turn a blind eye to such discrepancies. That is why many teachers are losing interest in teaching at public universities. And due to a lack of monitoring, many teachers are being derailed. They are taking up jobs with NGOs, business houses, foreign firms and other government and private concerns. The students of the public universities suffer. The reputation of these universities suffers.

Bangladesh’s universities are nowhere in international ranking. Our public university authorities are least bothered. They do not even take the matter up for discussion or debate. Of course, the conscientious teachers must be pained, upset and concerned.

The sad state of leave and classes is not a matter of trivial irregularity. This is blatant corruption and fraud, a criminal offence. We hope that the education ministry, the vice chancellors and the University Grants Commission take concerted efforts to place priority on preventing such offences.