Higher education declines: Are guardians of the education sector asleep?

Prothom Alo illustration

No universities from Bangladesh have been featured in the top 800 universities of the World University Rankings published by United Kingdom-based Times Higher Education (THE). On the other hand, 24 Indian and 8 Pakistani universities have been ranked in this bracket. Dhaka University and North South University (NSU) were in the 601-800 bracket in the previous year’s ranking.  

Four Bangladeshi universities secured positions in the 801-1000 range. These are: Brac University, Dhaka University (DU), Jahangirnagar University (JU), and North South University (NSU). Three Bangladeshi universities--Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET), and Rajshahi University (RU)—have been placed in the 1001-1200 bracket. Khulna University (KU) and Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) have been placed in the 1201-1500 range.

No Bangladeshi universities made it to the list of top 100 Asian universities last year. DU was 186th and NSU 192nd in the ranking. Four universities from China, three from Hong Kong, Two from Singapore and one from Japan were placed in the top 10 Asian Universities.

Bangladeshi universities are found at the bottom in rankings published by different international bodies. Although this is a matter of shame, those who have become the guardians of the education sector don't seem to be bothered. They always dream of role models for development. But no single country could be found in the world that progressed without education.

Once BUET and BAU had reputations all over the world. What is the reason behind failing to keep up this reputation? Is it because we are not being able to attract the best students anymore? The top students would once come back after their higher studies abroad. Most of them are not coming back these days. It is said that those who are coming back after having a degree from abroad are not being able to stay in the country for different reasons. Who does not know that those talents who return to the country are not easily recruited in universities or other suitable places?

Teaching, research environment, research quality, international outlook and so on are considered in the rankings. It’s a bitter truth that our universities and guardians in the education sector always overlook indicators other than teaching. The best universities of the world emphasise most in research and knowledge creation but Bangladesh neglect these two aspects the most.  

The number of teachers in our universities is inadequate in comparison with students. We don’t have adequate classrooms and education resources. These are obviously a problem. But the bigger problem is our overall outlook to education. The policymakers focus more on establishing new universities in every district instead of trying to improve the quality of education in existing ones. They focus on the number more than the quality.

Bangladesh has the lowest allocation for education among the South Asian countries. As a result, the quality of education cannot be maintained at any level from primary to higher education. A country’s quality of education can be called developed when foreign students get interested to study there. Why would foreign students come to our universities while we cannot even attract our own talented students? 

It is irrational to think of sustaining the quality of education by allocating less than one per cent to basic research and innovation.