What role model is this?

Syed Abul Maksud | Update:

A Prothom Alo IllustrationThere was a time when Dhaka University and Dhaka College were well reputed not only within the country, but outside too. Overseas students would come to study here in the fifties and sixties.

Aziz Kalingi Kazusa came to study here at Dhaka College and Dhaka University in the sixties, with a scholarship from Uganda. He was my classmate and close friend. He was first a residential student at Dhaka College’s North Hostel and then at Dhaka University’s International Hostel, now known as the Sir PJ Hartog International Hall. Philip J Hartog was the first vice chancellor of Dhaka University. He was a world renowned academic and education researcher.

Aziz Kalingi Kazusa looked a lot like the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, very tall and big made. He was a very gentle, quiet and attentive student, not restless like me. He was here for six years and I found him to be a principled young man. He returned home to take up important positions, even going on to become Uganda’s chief election commissioner. He was praised highly in that position, unlike a CEC here, who had the same first name.

Other fellow students we had here was Geoffrey William Lungu from Nyasaland (presently Malawi), Syed Samah Ali Noor from Malaysia, and many more. They all took up important positions upon returning to the respective homelands. They excelled in their studies, some at Dhaka College, some at Dhaka University and some at Dhaka Medical College.

This year Bangladesh did not appear anywhere among the top-ranking universities in the London-based Times Higher Education survey. I do not know if Aziz, Noor or Lungu are alive, but they would have been sad to see this ranking. They would not be able to speak of their alma maters with pride to their grandchildren.

Countries who may not be ‘role models’ in the world, have fared well on the list of top 1000 universities, with 36 from India, 7 from Pakistan and 1 from Sri Lanka. Here we have to constantly hear rhetoric being spewed out about our growth, development and our being a role model. We top the list of corrupt countries, and are not visible on the list of top universities. That makes sense. If we weren’t on the first list, Dhaka University would have been among the first 200 at least.

What about Dhaka University’s position in Asia? In May this year, Times Higher Education survey listed the top Asian universities. Not a single Bangladeshi university was on the top list of 417. So much was written in the media after the list was published, but the authorities didn’t turn a hair.

Bangladesh surely will be recognised one day for setting up a record number of universities in the shortest time possible. The manner in which these ‘universities’ have mushroomed, in no time at all education will reach the doorsteps of the people just like health service. The villages will teem with universities. If there is a shortage of space, the secondary school classrooms will be used for universities. Even secondary school teachers can take university classes if necessary. The students will still receive certificates at the end of their studies.

Those conducting the surveys have still not be accused of having members of the BNP-Jamaat among them, or critics of the government from the Topkhana leftist camp. Actually the government doesn’t attach an iota of importance to such surveys. Such surveys have appeared down the years, but the education ministry or other concerned authorities have never shown a proclivity to respond with a degree of retrospection.

The merit of the thousands of students that are admitted to Dhaka University every year is quite on par with that of any other student around the world. It is the merit, qualifications, commitment and ethics of a section of teachers that is questioned.

Polluted politics has also permeated and eroded the entire system. Teachers are appointed on the basis of nepotism and political affinity, not on their academic merit. It is the same in the case of their promotions. There is corruption in the admission of students. Unfair means are adopted during exams. There are manipulations in the student union (DUCSU) elections. An unholy nexus of teachers and student leaders resort to corruption to gain contracts for campus development work.
Research, the pursuit of knowledge and free thinking is simply not possible under such circumstances.

* Syed Abul Maksud is a writer and researcher. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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