Poor showing by univs debunks govt’s improved education myth
IT IS perhaps not surprising at all, but shocking nonetheless, that both public and private universities have fallen far behind their regional and global counterparts, and failed to manage a satisfactory place in the internationally-acclaimed university rankings. It is not surprising because the Bangladeshi universities have been virtually on a freefall insofar as the international rankings are concerned for quite a few years now. It is shocking because, as educationists point out, sustained decline in the standard of higher education ultimately pose a grievous threat to Bangladesh’s standing in the comity of nations. According to a report published in New Age on Tuesday, not a single university from Bangladesh has ranked even in the top 500 of the Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Rankings, the latest edition of which was released on August 13. It is worth noting that the ranking of universities by the Centre for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tang University and Shanghai Ranking Consultancy scrutinise more than 1,200 universities every year against such yardsticks as the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and field medals; the number of highly cited research; the number of articles published in journals of nature and science; the number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index-Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index and per capita performance. Dhaka University, the premier public university in Bangladesh, which was once dubbed the Oxford of the East, perhaps a bit hyperbolically but not altogether irrationally, and the only university to have featured in the Quacquarelli Symonds rankings of universities, has dropped more than 150 places in eight years — from 365 in 2005 to 601+ in 2013.
The reasons for the sustained decline of Dhaka University and other public universities are manifold, ranging from insufficient allocation for research and development to partisan tinkering with the academic staff by the party in power. It is pertinent to note here that, at this point in time, academic and administrative activities in at least four public universities are in the midst of agitation by teachers for resignation of their respective vice-chancellors; the turmoil in most cases is the fallout of partisan intervention and interference by the incumbent Awami League-led government. Intriguingly, the AL-led government, which has presided over a sustained decline in the standards of the public universities in particular over the past four years and a half of its tenure, has boisterously claimed significant improvement in education under its stewardship. Its evidently misleading claim is apparently based on its self-professed success in printing and distributing primary and secondary textbooks on time, which happens to be a routine task for any government. The incumbents have also sought to take credit for high success rates in the secondary school and higher secondary certificate examinations, which, notably, has been contested and questioned by a number of educationists.
Overall, the sustained slide of the public and private universities in the global rankings seems to have deconstructed the myth of unprecedented improvement in education that the incumbents have so carefully crafted, and also exposed the absurdity of their proposition that timely printing and distribution of school textbooks may be cited as a mark of improving standards in education. Now, the incumbents, especially the education minister, have two options to choose from — to carry on with their wilful denial and to redraw their strategy for the education sector. The choices cannot be any starker.
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