Syed Manzoorul Islam said a lot more that didn't appear in the newspapers. It would be good if it had, then the Prothom Alo readers, that is, the people, would have benefitted. The times are such that people are scared to call black, black and white, white. We have dragged the education system to a point where it is nothing by a BCS preparation centre. Before even passing their Honours in university, meritorious students start preparing for the BCS exam. They exchange notes, hold group discussions. There is nothing wrong in preparing for BCS, but if the only objective of higher studies is BCS, then what is the point in having so many universities, departments and faculties?
A few days ago I saw in the news that in the 2022-23 financial year, UGC (University Grants Commission) had passed a Tk 104.44 billion (Tk 10,444 crore) budget for 51 public universities. This money doesn't belong to UGC or the education ministry, it belongs to the people. So the people have the right to know how this money will be spent, where it will be spent and what benefits will it yield. It may be noted here that the budget allocation in Bangladesh's education sector is the lowest in South Asia.
Why do the best students of the universities leave everything else to rush after the BCS exam?
Certain statistics show that 3,150,409 (31 lakh 50 thousand 409) students are studying in 37 public universities, affiliated and attached colleges and madrasas. And every year around 2,000 examinees get BCS cadre service jobs, another 2000 or 2500 in non-cadre service. The question will arise whether UGC allocated Tk 104.44 billion (Tk 10,444 crore) for these 4,500 students or not.
Syed Manzoorul Islam pointed out the basic glitch in our education. Why do the best students of the universities leave everything else to rush after the BCS exam? One reason is that there are not much employment opportunities in other sectors. Even if there are, these jobs do not match with the knowledge they have acquired or the salaries and allowances are pitiful.
There are also questions about the justification of engineers, physicians and agriculturalists joining the BCS administration cadre in large numbers. One side says they get good results in the exam and select cadres of their choice. They have that right. Another side says, there is a difference between general education and specialised education. The state spends much more than the student or their guardians on specialised education. Those who have specialised education and then join the BCS admin cadre, reason that the BCS cadre offers attractive benefits and also more authority. No one in specialised cadre service can see themselves at par with the admin cadre, no matter how far ahead they may be in merit and knowledge. When it comes to postings and promotions, they have to approach the administration. The more the government gives importance to the admin cadre, the more the other cadres see themselves as the 'untouchables'.
Syed Manzoorul Islam didn't speak about a 'BCS University' only. He spoke about the groupings in the universities too. He spoke about the groupings among the teachers vying for the posts of vice chancellor and pro-vice chancellor. There were groups and sub-groups too. The situation had come to such a point that one quarter in a sub-group would even accuse the other quarter of having links with BNP-Jamaat.
In all public universities, odds weigh heavily in favour of the ruling party. Other than a few exceptions, those of the ruling party camp win with a landslide majority in the teachers' association elections. Even then the groupings, factions and sycophancy do not let up. They are constantly trying to trip each other up. In the universities not covered by the Ordinance of '73, the teachers do not hesitate to regularly run after ruling party leaders, ministers and MPs to clinch posts and protect their positions.
It is because our higher education fails to meet the demands of the day that the good students look towards the BCS exam. On one hand our students passing out from the universities are desperately looking for jobs, and on the other hand our industrialists and entrepreneurs are hiring skilled and trained persons from abroad to run their industries and businesses. They complain that our universities fail to provide a workforce of the required standard and so they have to bring people in from abroad.
That is one side of the coin. On the flip side is the fact that a large number of students emerging from our top universities are going abroad. One of the reasons for this exodus is that they are not given value for their qualifications here. Secondly, if they remain in the country they will also have to get into these politicised groupings. They won't get jobs without such groupings. Many persons have returned to the country after earning degrees abroad, but they cannot remain here because of these politicised groupings. This grouping and sycophancy is not restricted to the campus alone, but has entered business too. The chairman of a private bank was recently lamenting that one has to resort to all sorts of unethical work to do business here and approach the ruling class at every step. While the older generation has come to terms with this, the youth are unwilling to do so. That is why they are going abroad.
The brain drain is even worse than money being drained out of the country. If this trend continues, disaster is inevitable. If we could hold on to even a quarter of the meritorious students who have passed out from the top universities since independence of the country, then the country would not be in such a pitiful predicament.
Speaking at the same seminar, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Professor Mizanur Rahman said, "Bangladesh is not what it should have been in these 50 years." It is not what it should have been in politics, economy, education, politics, art and culture, judiciary, legislature, administration, anywhere.
Why is this so? Who will answer this question -- those in power, those who were in power in the past? Will they reply?
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir