Colleges set to be brought under public universities

The education ministry is planning to bring the colleges under the umbrella of different public universities from the National University.

If this plan is implemented, government colleges will be affiliated with public universities as like seven affiliated colleges under Dhaka University.

Educationists said it is true that the colleges under the NU are not in good condition but it has to be pondered beforehand as to what will be the situation if these colleges are affiliated with the public universities.

The reason behind their apprehension is the bitter experience the seven colleges faced initially after being affiliated with the DU. However, the situation has improved a bit now. This is why the educationists think a holistic approach should be taken first to improve the condition of colleges under the NU. Fresh problems might emerge if preparation is not taken beforehand.

Education ministry sources said education minister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury held a meeting with vice chancellors of public universities recently. The minister suggested that  ‘academic monitoring’ of the government colleges should be vested with public universities by affiliating the colleges.

He said the government will consider amending the law to this end if required. The education ministry said all the VCs who attended the meeting were interested in enforcing the directives of the government.

University Grants Commission’s (UGC) chairman professor Muhammad Alamgir told Prothom Alo that official directive is yet to be reached but he is in favour of the proposal.

He, however, said it would be better if this plan is implemented in phases upon taking enough preparation.

Education minister Mohibul Hasan recently told Prothom Alo that the prime minister has a decision regarding this issue. The process would be finalized upon discussion with educationists to improve the quality of education.

There are a total of 169 public and private universities in the country. Of them, 55 are public universities including four autonomous ones and 114 private universities. The number of students under the NU is over 3.17 million which is around 72 per cent of pupils in higher education. The number of colleges under the NU is 2,257. Of these, 555 are government colleges. A total of 881 colleges offer honors courses.

The colleges would once run under umbrellas of different autonomous universities. The NU was founded in 1992 and colleges were brought under it to ease the burden from the public universities. The NU offers degree (pass), undergraduate (honors) and postgraduate courses. The university also offers some professional degrees.

Former UGC chairman and  DU’s professor emeritus Nazrul Islam thinks public universities would come under extra pressure if the colleges affiliated.

NU VC professor Mashiur Rahman told Prothom Alo that the government has been advancing with a plan in this regard.

He said the NU authorities are ready to do anything needed for doing the work in a coordinated way.

The number of colleges was less when the NU was established. Yet UGC reports in the past blamed the NU authorities for failing to meet the expectation. There have been questions regarding the quality of education in colleges under the NU since long. The colleges allegedly focus more on examinations rather than class attendance.

For a long time, government-private colleges opened honors courses without considering much about reality and demand. In reality, most of the colleges do not have enough facilities required for higher education. There is a discussion that the NU authorities are not being able to oversee the colleges properly as the number of students and colleges are increasing day by day. As a result, graduates of these colleges are failing to achieve expected skill.

According to a 2021 study of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), as much as 66 per cent of graduates from the colleges under NU remain unemployed.

Despite such a situation, the NU opened an honors course in its Gazipur campus defying the prohibition of UGC. The UGC ordered the NU authorities to postpone enrollment of honors students in its main campus in Gazipur in the 2022-23 academic year. As per the UGC, enrolling students in the main campus is in violation of the National University Act, 1992. The NU authorities, however, maintain that enrolling students is not illegal as per the law.

Amid the tussle over the issue, the NU authorities took the initiative to enroll the students on the main campus in 2023-24 academic year too. The UGC on 11 February again ordered the NU authorities to stop the enrollment.

UGC chairman Mohammad Alamgir told Prothom Alo that intervention of the university’s chancellor and president has been sought through the education ministry.

Educationists said the NU could not live up to expectations for different reasons. For this, a discussion started from 2014 to take the colleges under the public universities. As part of this plan, seven major colleges in the city were affiliated with Dhaka University in 2017. The process was not smooth as a severe crisis emerged over examination and publication of results of these colleges initially. The dust has now settled a bit.

Educationist and Brac University’s professor Emirates Manzoor Ahmed said the issue of National University's management should be revamped as the quality of education in the colleges are not good. There are problems in everything including management, finance, administration and planning. But public universities too have problems. That’s why a holistic approach should be taken to solve the problems of National University.