VCs blame lack of website updates for outdated information; ranker agency claims universities do not meet minimum criteria
Not a single university from Bangladesh appeared in the “Asia University Rankings-2019” – a list of 417 universities – by London-based Times Higher Education (THE) magazine. In a country where there are around 100 private and 45 public universities, including one often referred as the “Oxford of the East”, Bangladesh’s exclusion from the list raised more than a few eyebrows.
When posed with the question of how Bangladesh was entirely omitted from the list, the response from university authorities were blasé, readily blaming the outdated information on the university websites and claiming the ranking magazine made use of the outdated information.
However, when the Times Higher Education was contacted, they told Dhaka Tribune the ranking was collaborative and supported by university authorities around the world. Of the four Bangladeshi universities that submitted their data to the magazine, not one could meet the minimum requirements. And to cap it off, the Dhaka University did not communicate with them despite several attempts over phone and email.
What is the listing about?
Times Higher Education’s ranking evaluates research-intensive universities according to their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.
The ranking featured institutions from 27 countries where China’s Tsinghua University topped the list, followed by the National University of Singapore, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Japan led the way with 103 universities, while China came second with 72 institutions. India was the third with 49 universities.
Among South Asian countries, India has highest the highest number of institutions followed by Pakistan with nine universities, and one each from Sri Lanka and Nepal listed in the ranking.
Educationists and university vice-chancellors expressed their concerns over the outdated data on their websites, maintaining the claims that rankers collect data from the website.
The oldest higher educational institution in Bangladesh, the Dhaka University (DU) was the only university which made the rankings last year, and before that in 2016.
DU VC Prof M Akhtaruzzaman said: “We will share information required to meet their criteria. We are confident that if we provide the necessary information, we will be in a prestigious position.
“A lot of information on our website is not up-to-date. The magazine contacted us and I have assigned a dean to discuss the matter. We will soon make sure the rankings reflect our rankings.”
Shahjalal University of Science and Technology
SUST VC Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed said: “Bangladeshi university websites are too skeletal to present the current information about our institutions. Our teachers publish many research papers, but they are not updated in the websites. I am working to make sure my university improves them in the annual reports.”
Prof Farid pointed at the difficulty of having foreign students apply to Bangladeshi universities: “Foreign students face bureaucratic complications. After applying to Bangladesh, they have to go through verification processes with the Home and Foreign Ministries. It prevents us from attracting foreign students.”
He called for separate cells dedicated to improving rankings for each university in collaboration with the University Grants Commission.
No minimum criteria met
When contacted, Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer of Times Higher Education, told Dhaka Tribune: “Four Bangladeshi universities submitted the data, but they did not meet the minimum research publication threshold of 1,000 papers published over the last five years. We look forward to working closely with them as their outputs increase and hope to include them in the future.”
Phil also said: “I can confirm that the Dhaka University did not submit data to us for analysis, so they could not be ranked, and therefore they also do not appear in the Asia University Rankings. We were collecting data from January to March in 2018. We hounded them for data over email and phone to no avail.
“We operate an entirely voluntary system, based on collaboration with each ranked institution.”
What educationists say
Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury expressed grave concerns about the present environment of the education sector.
He said: “Education is not getting much preference not only at the universities. The research budget is very poor, the lack of quality research publications are not helping much. Classrooms see very little quality studying. Students are more concerned with their livelihood than learning. And sometimes, teachers are too busy teaching at private universities. They grow tired moving from one university to another. And many administrative heads are more concerned with politics than improving academic standards.
“In the absence of student unions, students were deprived of cultural activities. Even thought the DU now has an elected students’ union, cultural activities have yet to be patronized,” he continued.
Former DU VC AAMS Arefin Siddique said: “We have to find out why our universities are not included in the rankings. Sometimes the rankers collect information from websites where the data is not updated for very long periods of time. It is unexpected that we are not part of the rankings, but we have to look into where we are lagging behind and try to improve our conditions.”