The Association of Private University of Bangladesh (APUB) has expressed concerns with the proposed amendment of the Private University Act 2010 – which seeks the involvement of the University Grant Commission (UGC) in private university operations.
Instead, APUB has proposed the government form the Accreditation Council to ensure standard higher education at both public and private universities.
UGC has repeatedly made recommendations to the government – to amend the law – to embed UGC representatives in private universities’ finance and teacher recruitment committees, take UGC approval while setting student fees, and embed temporary government observers in private university trustee boards.
APUB high officials, however, criticized the proposed recommendation to embed government representatives in the trustee boards, terming the move as “impractical and irrational.”
“The trustee board members currently have no power in their hands as the universities are operated by syndicate bodies as per law,” APUB General Secretary Benajir Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune.
The UGC Chair Prof Abdul Mannan said: “Most of the private universities are not respectful of the law, and the institutions are being run as their authorities see fit. The existing law must be amended in order to bring discipline in the sector.”
UGC in its Annual Report 2016 recommended embedding UGC representatives in trustee boards, by amending the law, with a view to “ensure balance of power in the private university trustee boards and better monitoring of university activities.”
“A temporary observer can be embedded in the board of trustees, who will not be involved in decision-making but will monitor the course of action, and report to the commission,” Prof Mannan added.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Education formed a sub-committee in 2015 to amend the law. The sub-committee has submitted their primary recommendations to the standing committee in line with the UGC recommendations in October 2017.
However, the standing committee is yet to finalize the decision to amend the law as APUB challenged the sub-committee’s recommendations at a meeting with the standing committee at the National Parliament building on December 12, 2017.
APUB representatives expressed strong reservations to almost all proposed recommendations of the sub-committee during the meeting. They said that to allow other representatives in the sector – where they were the only investors – was not acceptable.
They pointed out that UGC representatives were not included at decision-making different levels of public universities, even though they are run on public funds.
As the meeting failed to bridge the gap between the two groups, the standing committee decided to take the final decision after further discussions with APUB leaders.
“We will sit with the private university owners, and come up with a solution,” Dr Afsarul Ameen, the chair of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Education said.
Benajir, also a North South University trustee board member, said: “Currently, the only responsibility of the boards is providing funds, whereas the power is in the hands of the syndicates headed by the Vice Chancellors. If the government wants to embed their representatives, they should also take responsibility for providing funds.”
Meanwhile, former Vice Chancellor of University of Liberal Arts (ULAB) Prof Imran Rahman said private universities are already being monitored by the government, and the UGC’s proposed amendments were not practical.
“Private universities are run as charitable programmes in which the government has zero investment,” he said, adding: “The government had put their observers in different banks but that could not stop corruption in the banking sector.”
The UGC had also called upon private university authorities to consider the socio-economic condition of the students, and make changes to their admission and tuition fees. The sub-committee under the standing committee also backed that idea and suggested the institutions should take approval from UGC while setting the fees.
However, APUB officials pointed out that it would compromise with the quality education offered by private universities.
Benajir said: “We are hiring world-class teachers with international degrees, and offer modern educational resources. The comparison between public and private university tuition fees and teacher salaries is not fair.”
Instead of amending the act, the association suggested that the Accreditation Council be fully implemented.
The government has approved the Accreditation Council Act 2016 a year ago.
However, the Ministry of Education is yet to take any step to form the Accreditation Council, an autonomous statutory body, headed by a chairman, and 12 other members, sources said.
“As the cabinet has approved the council, the Education Ministry can now take initiative in this regard if they want,” an APUB official told the Dhaka Tribune seeking anonymity.
The Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, despite several attempts, could not be reached over phone for comments.
Meanwhile, APUB Vice Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan Choudhury said that there were many organizations like the ministry, UGC and Accreditation Council to regulate private universities. If these organizations want to regulate the universities from different sides, it would discourage entrepreneurs, he said.
Prof Choudhury, who is also the Vice Chancellor of World University of Bangladesh, said: “UGC does not have the required manpower to put representatives in finance and recruitment committees. Besides, the balance of power in private university academic councils, and syndicate bodies, has already been ensured.”