Rajshahi University turns 69 amid hope and despair

Rajshahi University administrative buildingProthom Alo

Rajshahi University (RU) is a prestigious seat of learning in the domain of higher education and research in the neglected northern region of Bangladesh. Considering the number of students, it is the country’s second largest university, hovering between past glory and present despair. Located on the green landscape of Motihar, adjacent to the river Padma, it has witnessed many of the nation’s historical upheavals since its inception.

The institution is now buzzing with over 38,000 students, 1200 teachers and 2500 administrative plus supportive staff. There are 12 faculties, 58 departments, 13 academic buildings, 17 residential halls, an international dormitory for foreign students and other researchers pursuing higher degrees along with 6 higher research institutes.

As an aftermath of the demand for a university in the northern area of the then East Pakistan, the Rajshahi University Act 1953 was enacted and the university came into being on 6 July 1953. It started momentous journey academically in 1954 with only 161 students and 20 teachers in 6 departments under 3 faculties.

During the early days, the classes were held at Rajshahi Government College while the Bara Kuthi, a Dutch trading house, was its administrative hub. Dr. Itrat Hossain Zeberi served as the first Vice Chancellor of the University. During 1961-1964, the university shifted to its present campus. Currently, the second oldest public university of the country is run by the Rajshahi University Act, 1973.

Apart from its pivotal role in education and research, it has played a historical role against the disputed education commission report of 1962, in the mass upsurge of 1969 and in the 1971 liberation war, as well as the anti-autocracy movement in 1990.

Main entrance of Rajshahi University
File photo

RU teachers, officials and students carried out an all-out fight against the Pakistani occupation forces and the glaring examples are portrayed by the Shabash Bangladesh Chattar, martyr memorial archives, the mass grave, and emblems of Shaheed Shamsuzzoha, Sukhrojjon Samaddar, Meer Abdul Qaiyum and Habibur Rahman. A plaque bears a list of 27 teachers, students, and staff who embraced martyrdom during the liberation war.

Dr Shamsuzzoha, the then proctor and professor of chemistry is known as the country’s first martyred intellectual who sacrificed his life near the university’s main gate to save hundreds of lives of agitating students, protesting against Pakistani misrule and occupation on the turbulent day of mass upsurge on 18 February 1969.

The first Martyred Memorial Archives which is also the first museum of the country on the chronicles of 1971 great liberation war was established in the campus in 1972. On 23 April 1972, after independence, a mass gravewas discovered and in 2003 the authorities erected a mass graveyard monument to the eastern part of the campus, as a mark of respect to the valiant martyrs.

With a view to accelerating academic excellence with priority on quality education and research, in 2020, the university has formulated a 50-year master plan (2020-2070).As per an info-graphic of the scientific documents contributed by researchers, RU stands top second among Bangladeshi universities in 2021.

Sabas Bangladesh, a sculpture at the Rajshahi University campus portrays the history of movements from 1952 to 1971. Photo: Collected

Many alumni of the university are now in reputed positions at home and abroad. Nevertheless, politics of teachers, students and non-academic staff of the university has a glorious past but a shocking present. Unfortunately, the Rajshahi University Central Students’ Union (RUCSU) has remained dormant for more than 32 years, in spite of incessant demands by ruling and opposition student organisations.

After 66 years, the authorities on 11 November 2019, adopted a vision of the university upon the recommendations of the Quality Assurance Committee (QAC) established under a joint project of the University Grants Commissionand World Bank. The vision entails to pursue enlightenment and creativity for producing world-class human resources to cater the needs of changing time.

Politicisation in appointments and promotions of academic and non-academic staff in the past, at present and presumably in the future, has created dichotomy regarding the credibility of this higher academic institution. Also, students’ politics is now polluted than ever before.

Sadly a 2018 report shows only 24 per cent of students enjoy residential facilities under 18 dormitories while 76 per cent are still deprived of such facilities. The campus is covered with plenty of trees and a census in 2020 reveals more than 30,191 trees on the campus. Notably, owing to the presence of plenty of trees, the heat wave is 2-3 degrees less inside the campus than its outside areas during summer.

The 69th founding anniversary of the varsity was on 6 July 2022. There are so many numerous memories. It is hard to forget a quote on the wall of a female students’ dormitory saying the world is a classroom and life is a memorable teacher for those who are prepared to learn. Among the odds, it has seen the death of around 30 students who are the victims of campus violence after independence.

The university celebrated its golden jubilee in 2003 and completed the diamond jubilee in 2013. It is adorned in a 753-acre campus at Motihar which is 3 kilometres east from Rajshahi city centre. It is known that when the entire structural accomplishments as per plan will be completed the university will look like a U-shape. It is blessed with a library of 3,50,000 books, 40,000 journals, and periodicals.

Now, at the age of 69, the university still looks young from the global standpoint of university education. In fact, RU has a lot of possibilities ahead but the challenges are enormous. Politicisation in appointments and promotions of academic and non-academic staff in the past, at present and presumably in the future, has created dichotomy regarding the credibility of this higher academic institution. Also, students’ politics is now polluted than ever before.

Lastly, the university is lagging behind in attaining a notable position in the ranking of reputed global universities in terms of teaching, research, and services, although it has been sparkling the rays of hope to young minds across the country in its 69 years with a holistic aim of quality education and research for the society.

*Emdadul Haque is a law graduate of Rajshahi University and now works as an independent human rights researcher and freelance contributor based in Dhaka. Reach out via email: [email protected] and Twitter @emdadlaw