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The real cost of evening and professional programs at public universities

  • Published at 02:10 am May 30th, 2018
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Photo:Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Since 2002, professional masters programs have been opened in nine business departments in DU. In total, 25 departments and eight institutes have evening courses now

Public universities are finding it lucrative to run professional and evening masters courses, with tuition fees exponentially higher than regular masters programs.

As professionals crowd the universities looking for ways to boost their career prospects with an additional post-graduate degree, they have become a source of large revenues for the respective departments. However, there are doubts whether they are getting quality education. Some teachers and students say these degrees can easily be earned in exchange for money and without any real effort.

Teachers involved with some of these courses claim that the programs are beneficial to both their recipients and the regular students because the additional income can be spent developing the departments’ facilities.

Dhaka University (DU)Treasurer Prof Md Kamal Uddin railed against these degrees at a senate meeting in June last year.

“Merchant-like teachers either do not know the meaning of ‘Knowledge and Skill’ or they have intentionally forgotten. Numerous evening masters programs have been introduced under different names and the disease is spreading,” he said.

“Poor students are being enrolled with or without admission tests, while many public universities including DU, are producing under-qualified graduates, only to make money.”

All this money for what?

Since 2002, professional masters programs have been opened in nine business departments in DU. In total, 25 departments and eight institutes have evening courses now.

These departments admit a total of 2,500 regular students to their masters programs, but their evening courses accommodate almost 4,000 students. Altogether, these students pay around Tk66 crore in fees.

Apart from DU, professional courses are run by a number of public universities, including Jahangirnagar University (JU), Jagannath University and Rajshahi University, as a result of a strategic plan drawn up by the University Grant Commission (UGC).

A regular masters student pays something between Tk300 and Tk600 per semester, and about Tk8,500 annually for various university expenses.

According to the dean’s offices, on average an evening masters student pays a Tk5,000 admission fee per semester, around Tk42,000 for four courses, in some cases a laboratory fee of Tk5,000. Altogether a student might pay anything between Tk1,65,000 and Tk3,50,000 for a degree.

This is almost 42 times the cost of a regular masters.

Seeking anonymity, a DU EMBA student told the Dhaka Tribune: “There is nothing positive in here except the certificates which are valuable in the job market. Students have to pay Tk10,000 if attendance is less than 70%, Tk5,000 for missing a final exam and Tk1,500 for missing a midterm exam,” he said. 

While these professional programs are approved by the university authorities, they are yet to prepare any particular regulation on such programs.

According to DU authorities, 30% of the money earned from the evening programs is supposed to go to university fund while rest of the money is distributed among the responsible faculties, departments, teachers and officials.

Although every year thousands of students are being enrolled in different public universities to attain higher education under these professional courses, people are raising eyebrows at the standard of these degrees and quality of graduates. Teachers, students and educationalists expressed worry over the admission procedure at these programs and demanded proper monitoring. 

When this reporter posed as an admission-seeker at the DU political science department, one of its officials said: “We will provide you all the materials for study, so do not worry about getting in.” 

At JU, a number of departments, including the mathematics and economics department, are taking students without an admission test. The university seems reluctant to take action against these departments. Three batches have passed from the mathematics department, while the seventh batch is taking admission without admission test. 

A student from the program told the Dhaka Tribune: “Teachers do not care about quality of education and there is nothing positive here except the public university certificates. 

“Students pay them, so they do not have to worry about getting marks or passing the exams.” 

When asked, JU Economics department Chairman Prof Md Nurul Hoque told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are enrolling students after proper assessment through a viva. There is no problem with the standard of the students.” “As our weekend courses are new and applicants are few, we are not taking an admission test. We will hold tests when applicants grow in number,” Prof Nurul said.

An evening course student from DU said the department was always finding excuses to charge extra fees.

“We have to do event management as part of our practical classes. The department takes money for that during the admission, but they ask for more money when the event begins,” she said.

“Already the fees are too high. Then they try to extract more money from us, which is inhumane.”

Where does the money go?

When contacted, Prof Shibli Rubayat-Ul-Islam, dean of the faculty of business studies said that their programs were transparent and they submitted annual audit reports, providing an accurate picture of the faculty and their financial statements.

“Of the money earned, 30% goes to the university fund and 5% goes to the dean office to maintain everything, while 65% of the money is spent for the department, including the payments of teachers, employees and departmental development,” Prof Rubayat told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Admitted students pay to the university’s account, where the university’s portion is set aside before forwarding the rest to the dean’s office and the department,” he said.

At Jahangirnagar University, the Institute of Business Administration introduced a private masters program in 2011. The university syndicate approved the course with conditions. Inspired by IBA, a number of departments and institutes have opened weekend programs as these courses have become very profitable. Despite protests from general students and various students’ organisations, starting up a weekend masters has become a trend at the university.

Teachers love it

Even a few years ago, public university teachers would be constantly blamed for taking classes at private universities. That scenario has completely changed in many departments now, with the professional masters courses taking the place of the lucrative private university jobs. A public university teacher who wished to remain anonymous admitted that it was a source of great distress for many of them that their peers who were bureaucrats or corporate officers earned a lot more.

DU Finance Prof Mahmood Osman Imam said: “Everyone is benefitted from these courses. Classrooms are well-equipped with ACs, multimedia projectors, whiteboards and markers. Teachers are just taking money in exchange of work, as fee for teaching. 

“The university often pays teachers’ salaries with money earned from these programs, due to budgetary shortfall,” he added. 

DU Business faculty Dean Prof Rubayat said: “Money is not the main issue here. The state of higher education in the country is vulnerable. As teachers we are giving this additional service for the development of the country.”

Findings suggest a professor at Dhaka University can get Tk1,30,000 to Tk1,50,000, an associate professor Tk1,00,000 to 1,20,000, an assistant professor Tk90,000 to 1,10,000 and a lecturer at least Tk80,000.

Depriving regular students

Undergraduate and graduate students of these departments appear to be the worst victims of these special programs. Some allege that their teachers have dedicated their time and energy to the high-paying programs. 

A former JU student who wished to remain anonymous said: “Current students have told me teachers frequently postpone their classes. But the same teachers are seen taking evening classes on the same day. The teachers are more interested in the classes where they get paid more.”

Post-graduate students say these “paid-for certificates” reduce their own competitiveness in the job market. JU philosophy Associate Professor Ryhan Rhyne said that regular students were being deprived as teachers were busy with the commercial courses. 

“In many departments with weekend programs, 20-30 regular students fail every year while the results of the students of professional courses are excellent. It means that teachers are failing to take care of their regular students,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

“While a regular student has to compete against thousands of aspirants to be enrolled in a public university, the students of weekend courses do not have to face that hurdle. Teachers do not obey the exam ordinance in case of weekend students,” he added. 

DU Students Union President Tuhin Kanti Das told the Dhaka Tribune: “Teachers are not attentive to the regular programs and often the departments declare exam schedules, leaving regular courses incomplete.”

According to the UGC, the university should not relax admission requirements while enrolling and evaluating students for evening or weekend courses. They also suggest recruiting fresh teachers at public universities to run these programs. These instructions are widely ignored.

DU VC Akhteruzzaman said he has urged the deans of all faculties to ensure supervision and transparency in the evening programs, and to fix the policy gaps in the operation of these courses.

University Grants Commission Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan said the universities are supposed to get a certain portion of the income from the evening courses.

“There may be some violations in some places. But it is true that the universities have seen infrastructural development from this income,” he said.

The UGC chairman said there should be no compromise with the quality of education.

“The most important thing is who are getting enrolled in these courses. It is wrong to issue a certificate to someone against money even if they are not qualified,” he said.

Professor Ryhan Rhyne said the evening courses were using the universities’ infrastructure but giving very little in return.

“The teachers take away 60% of the money. They are pocketing thousands of taka using university infrastructure. On the other hand regular students are getting five days a week in class instead of six now. They do not get their regular exams, their copies are not checked in time. This has to be reined in,” he said.