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Dhaka Tribune

The Oxford of the East?

Update : 11 Mar 2017, 02:51 PM

Our President Abdul Hamid in his recent speech in Dhaka University convocation said: “I’m now the chancellor of a university which once rejected me”.

He narrated his own experience as a student when he was young. Without any inhibition and hesitation, he  told everyone that he was such a bad student that Dhaka University administration didn’t even give him an admission form to fill up.

He applied all his humour while describing all this. Humour apart, he also talked about DU Central Students’ Union.

“During the 60s, we were students and into politics only to serve the people and the country, to help people get their rights. We did not have any personal agenda,” he said.

Many couldn’t appreciate the president’s remark about Dhaka University, and thought he was discouraging studiousness and eulogising bad students by describing his own experience. I believe they couldn’t grasp the underlying message that our president has tried to impart to everyone.

I believe this was a serious wake-up call to everybody related to this university, a call to do some soul-searching about themselves, about the achievements that the university so far has accomplished.

That brings me, a Dhaka University graduate, to deeply think about my institution. As a student of this university, what are the elements that can make me feel proud about my institution? What did we learn that can be mentioned as outstanding?

Academically, my experience wasn’t a very satisfactory one. We had all the stalwarts as our teachers, and we had sky-high expectations from them.

However, to our (or specifically, my) dismay, our teachers were far short of fulfilling our dreams about higher education.

I expected our teachers would arrange regular seminars on literature, lead us to the British Council, organise yearly dramas, arrange writing contests, and many others. But all these activities, from their part, were completely absent from our life.

The most meritorious of the university -- the first of the firsts -- usually become educators of this institution. Why wouldn’t they attempt to take their institution to a height that everyone could be proud of?

In 2016, our university had ranked 701st among 916 universities in 81 countries across the world. In Asia, our institution had ranked 109th. From this ranking, we can easily understand our position.

When we were growing up, we heard that Dhaka University was called 'the Oxford of the East'. When I was entering the institution, there was a wow factor about this university and I was ecstatic about enrolling.

When I started my classes, however, I wasn’t able to fathom why they associated Oxford with our university. After all these years, I still don’t understand.

I believe he wasn’t trying to talk about his inability to get admission to our university, but subtly question the ability of those who get into Dhaka University

We were studying at DU at a time when a dictator was illegally ruling Bangladesh. He was ruthless in destroying the educational atmosphere of the institution. At that time, this university was the citadel for gun-slinging.

The unruly environment continued for another decade, even after the students had deposed the dictator. We had great teachers - who were also great social reformers - who could play very important roles for bringing back proper atmosphere of education. They did not come forward to do that.

However, the best role this university played, perhaps, was against the Pakistani rulers. The students of this university had also sacrificed and greatly contributed to liberating Bangladesh from the clutches of the Pakistani autocracy.

The second time the university contributed to a national cause was during the time of a local usurper of power during the 1980s and early-90s. Apart from that, the performance of the university was quite mediocre.

President Abdul Hamid also reminded us about what they used to do as students. I believe he wasn’t trying to talk about his inability to get admission to our university, but subtly question the ability of those who get into Dhaka University. How are they contributing to nation-building?

He also compared his generation as student-politicians with that of today. He highlighted how they used to behave with the common students and how indirectly showed the present-day norms.

Many opine the problem of Dhaka University is a problem of management. If we term it as a problem of management, the question arises: Why can’t the rest of the university do what the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) can do? Is IBA a school outside our university? How can IBA keep its cool and make progress? What does IBA have that DU doesn’t?

The answers, perhaps, are blowing in the wind.

Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.

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