Many are blaming the role of University Grants Commission (UGC) behind the careless approach since this is the institution that gives approval for opening a department at a university.

Departments are being opened haphazardly in these specialised universities in collusion with UGC itself. Educationalists believe there should be a systematic way of opening a department at a university.

However, incumbent UGC officials are reluctant to accept the liability. Dil Afroza Begum, acting chairman (member public university) of UGC told Prothom Alo, “I didn’t allow a single department to be opened since I took over. How will I take the responsibility if my predecessors gave the approval? I believe, a science and technology university should never take the shape of a general university.”

Propensity more in new universities

At present there are 53 public universities in the country, 13 of which are science and technology universities.

These are: Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University, Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, Patuakhali Science and Technology University, Noakhali Science and Technology University, Jashore University of Science and Technology, Pabna University of Science and Technology, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Rangamati Science and Technology University, Bangamata Sheikh Fojilatunnesa Mujib Science and Technology University, Chandpur Science and Technology University, Sunamganj Science and Technology University and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University of Pirojpur.

The universities in Chandpur, Sunamganj and Pirojpur are new. There are more than 57 thousand students at the science and technology universities.

Per student expenditure in these specialised universities is higher than that in general universities. In the 2020-21 fiscal year, there was a non-development budget of more than Tk 6.67 billion (6,677,800,000) (revenue) in the science and technology universities.

Through enquiry and from UGC’s annual report it was learnt that there are six departments under five faculties at the Bangamata Sheikh Fojilatunnesa Mujib Science and Technology University, established in Jamalpur in 2018.

Two of those are non-science faculties. At the time of its launching, two out of four departments of the university were science-related. The other two departments were management and social work.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University in Gopalganj opened in 2011. In the 2017-18 academic session, a history department was opened at the university without UGC approval. Later when UGC sent its objection, a movement was started. So, UGC was forced to give approval.

In all there are 34 departments in this university while 20 of them fall under the science, engineering, life science and agriculture faculties. The remaining 14 departments are from arts, social science, business studies and law faculties. However, there are only three professors at the university. Then again, one of them is on contractual appointment.

One of the three faculties at Rangamati Science and Technology University, established in 2013, is the business studies faculty. Two out of seven faculties at Jashore University of Science and Technology are of non-science related departments. There are business studies, humanities and social science faculties at Pabna University of Science and Technology as well.

It’s always been like this

Shahjalal University of Science and Technology is the first specialised university of the country. There are 27 departments under seven faculties at the university. Of them, there are arts and humanities, social science and business administration faculties, that aren’t science related.

In this university, there are more than 2,600 students at the departments of social science faculty alone. Meanwhile, there are about 1,900 students at the departments falling under science faculty. The university has more than 8,000 students in total.

Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University, established with a stress on agriculture studies couldn’t hold onto its own characteristics. There are two faculties other than that of agriculture and science among nine.

Subjects like English, social science, economics, management, marketing, accounting, finance and banking are also taught at the university. There are 45 departments in total.

In Tangail’s Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, there are 19 departments under six faculties. Three out of those six faculties are non-science related.

There are six departments under the business administration faculty of Patuakhali Science and Technology University too. There are a total of 58 departments at the university.

More than 7,000 students study at Noakhali Science and Technology University. Out of 30 departments under six faculties at the university, 10 are unrelated to science.

Why so many departments

There are minimum two departments to maximum 83 departments at the public universities of the country. But, questions have been raised that why there should be departments like history, Bangla, social work and English at the science and technology universities.

There are allegations that a major reason behind opening so many departments is the recruitment of teachers and other manpower. Meanwhile, vice-chancellors believe that having more departments increases their importance.

An official from the UGC says, some of the UGC officials also have some kind of self-interest in opening departments like this. Apart from that, interests of the university authority, political personality and education administration officials are linked too. Some of these people’s relatives also get appointment in these universities.

Concerned people related to higher studies say, the country would have benefitted if skilled graduates came out of these universities.

SM Hafizur Rahman, professor at the Institute of Education and Research under Dhaka University told Prothom Alo that the question is whether there is any need for so many departments at the specialised universities given the existing reality. The answer could be, there’s no need.

Even the education minister Dipu Moni recently urged the higher education institutes to form an ‘academic master plan’. She said it’s a matter of concern, whether all of the subjects running from before are relevant now.

Who are becoming vice-chancellors

When it comes to the appointment of vice-chancellors at the science and technology universities, different universities call for different qualifications.

For instance, an expert in science and technology is to get appointment as the vice-chancellor of Noakhali Science and Technology University. However, there is record of a teacher from the Institute of Education and Research (IER) becoming the vice-chancellor of the university in the past.

Lately, a professor of the management department has been appointed as the vice-chancellor of Rangamati Science and Technology University. Meanwhile, in Pirojpur the post has been given to a professor of psychology.

On the other hand, no specific qualifications have been mentioned in case of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. In this university, a professor of economics is the incumbent vice-chancellor.

Former BUET professor and distinguished professor of BRAC University Mohammad Kaikobad told Prothom Alo, many of those, being appointed as vice-chancellors in specialised science and technology universities are not even teachers of science and technology.

The name says science and technology university but, the vice-chancellor is from the humanities group. It is also a question whether the government really considers these science and technology universities.

Injustice to the name

UGC member professor Muhammad Alamgir asks why name these specialised if all sort of subjects are blended in there?

Former BUET teacher Mohammad Kaykobad said that there should be a specific policy on which subjects can be opened in which university, otherwise it will continue like this.