National University: Higher education in colleges in shambles

National University

Century old MC College in Sylhet started honours course in Statistics department under the National University (NU) in 2004-05 academic session.

The college launched masters course of the same department in 2011 session. Also the college has degree (pass course) and higher secondary level where statistics is taught.

Strikingly, there are only four posts of teachers in the department and only one of them is available since last eight months.   

There are 130 seats in the department for honours first year. Around 350 students are currently studying at the department. It is obvious that a single teacher cannot take classes of honours and masters classes. The same teacher also has to teach in degree and HSC level.

MC College authorities said they recruited two ‘guest teachers’ to tackle the situation paying them an honorium of Tk 5,000 per month. One of them left last month getting another job.  

Around 15,000 students study at MC College. Student teacher ratio in the college is 124 to 1. This bleak picture exists not only in MC College but also in other institutions under the NU.

Honours courses were introduced in colleges mostly out of political reasons and business aspects without taking into consideration the question such as availability of teachers, infrastructure and most importantly necessity. At present 880 government-private colleges in the country run honours course and around 300 out of these are public.

Ratio of teachers to students in the public universities of the country is 1:19 while there are on average one teacher for every 29 students in the colleges under NU. Most of the colleges are ill-equipped with lack of classroom, laboratory and library, depriving students of quality education. The evaluation system is also weak as a single evaluator assesses the answer paper. Due to such low-quality education, a large number of graduates of theses colleges remain unemployed despite receiving higher education.  

A survey conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) in 2021 revealed that as many as 66 per cent of the graduates of the colleges under the NU remains unemployed. Over 2.9 million students currently study in these colleges, which is 66 per cent of total number of students in the higher studies. Most of these students are from lower-middleclass and poor families.   

The higher education of colleges came under the umbrella of NU after it was established in 1992. The university now offers bachelor (pass), bachelor (honours), masters course and professional courses.

Although it is named National University, in fact it works like education board with its biggest task is to hold exams. Several reports of University Grants Commission (UGC) said the university has failed to deliver the expected results.   

Mashiur Rahman, vice chancellor of NU, did not deny the problems the university is facing. He told Prothom Alo that the university authorities are working on an academic master plan to improve the quality of education and make students efficient.

UGC’s member professor Muhammad Alamgir thinks ensuring adequate teachers and infrastructure are among the most important things to implement the academic master plan. He said increasing the number of teachers and improving the infrastructure are not in the hand of NU authorities. NU authorities were mostly silent when the colleges were admitting large number of students year after year. It is questionable as to how much the NU authorities would be able to implement its master plan under these circumstances.  

Allocation nominal, lagging back in research

Although research is important in higher studies, the colleges undertake scant number of research projects. According to the last annual report of UGC (2022), only Tk 50 million was allocated in the research in NU. But it was not known whether any research work was carried out that year as they could not bring out any publication.   

Meanwhile, spending per student in NU is also less than the public universities. The government spent only Tk 743 per student of NU while the amount was much more in other public universities. The government spends Tk 185,124 per student of Dhaka University and Tk 298,660 per student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The spending is Tk 44,000 per student in Barishal University.

Science neglected

Out of total students in NU, a total of over 939,000 students study in arts and humanities, over 968,000 in social science and over 700,000 in business administration while only 9 per cent or 264,141 study in science faculty.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina in 2014 directed big colleges to be taken under the public universities to improve the academic activities of the NU. Three years later in February 2017, seven big colleges of Dhaka city were affiliated with DU.

Teachers of the respective colleges take classes at these colleges while DU authorities take care of curriculum and formulating question paper. The evaluation, however, is done jointly by teachers of DU and respective colleges.

The process to bring some other colleges under other public universities has been stalled.

Irregularity in class

Over 30,000 pupils study in Mymensingh’s Ananda Mohan College while the number of teacher is only 220. That means the college has one teacher for every 136 students. The college also does not have adequate classrooms.

A teacher of Economics department at a college in Dhaka told ProthomAlo that the big colleges admit  over 200-300 students in each class in an academic session but none of these colleges has classrooms required to teach such a large number of students. Those who sit at the back of the class can’t hear the lectures of teachers. As a result, many students lose interest to take part in classes.

Sajjad Hossain, a masters examinee of mathematics department of Chattogram College told Prothom Alo their honours exams were held in 2021, which were scheduled to be held in 2019. They could not attend to classes in masters either.  

The NU authorities have taken an eight year (2023-31) master plan. The targets set in the plan include restructuring of degree course, emphasizing on science and technology education, launching market-oriented short and long courses and internships in line with the market demands. The master plan also eyes overhauling exams and evaluation system.

Brac University’s emeritus professor Manzur Ahmed told Prothom Alo that colleges are in shambles. There should not have wholesale honours-masters courses without adequate number of teachers, classrooms and laboratories in colleges. Higher education is facing serious drawback due to such a situation in colleges.