In relation to the memo from the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh seeking feedback on the proposal of initiating bi-semester against the existing tri-semester system at undergraduate levels, BRAC University offers the following:
In the context of Bangladesh, the optimal operative scheme is to have a tri-semester system at undergraduate level for the following reasons:
1. Graduating on time
The primary reason for a three semester per year system is to allow students to complete their degree requirements and graduate on time.
On-time graduation is not only beneficial for the student whose financial expenses would be burdensome with additional semesters, but is also a key element for seeking international accreditation.
It also goes in line with the university promise of being student-centric and offering a quality education for all who are enrolled.
2. Private universities are tuition-driven
Second, universities need to continue operations throughout the year for generating revenue. Unfortunately, private universities are tuition-driven and until the universities reach a stage where endowments are large enough to overcome the dependence on tuition-fees as the main source of revenues, a three-semester per year system is needed for healthy operations.
The facilities of the university will remain unutilised for approximately 10-12 weeks, causing, in a way, financial loss to the university.
Simply increasing the number of weeks in a two-semester per year system does not resolve the issue; as a matter of fact, there are quality assurance and performance issues attached to an increased of weeks of instruction for a single course.
3. Salary scheme
Third, a three-semester per year system is needed so as to not displace support personnel, and not turn a large number of staff and faculty into seasonal employees.
The salary scheme with a transition into a two-semester per year system, one that would allow for basic life sustenance and beyond, would be a nightmarish calculation, and under all permutations and combinations, not result in a satisfactory salary scheme.
For some operations, where faculty are required to fulfill tasks that are beyond their regular responsibilities (eg administering admission tests and viva, entering semester grades), this would result in massive overload pay.
Finally, a two-semester per year system leaves the student with a significant amount of unproductive downtime, since, in Bangladesh, there is no real part-time employment
4. Scheduling mayhem
Fourth, a two-semester per year system would result in scheduling mayhem. The number of courses that a student can feasibly take in one semester, coupled with the number of courses a department can offer in a given semester, the number of faculty members who can teach a certain requisite number of courses, the scheduling hours for courses during a given day of the week, will create a very frustrating condition for all.
The university will be left in a crisis management mode all the time.
This does not count the situation where students have to repeat a course -- or several courses -- based on personal exigencies or poor performance.
In the case of two semesters, for a student to finish the total undergraduate program of 130-150 credits in four years, he/she will have to take six to seven three-credit hour courses every semester, a load which the average student will encounter difficulties in shouldering, and performance will fall.
Faculty members will be teaching more courses per semester, and quality will drop.
5. Unproductive downtime
Finally, a two-semester per year system leaves the student with a significant amount of unproductive downtime, since, in Bangladesh, there is no real part-time employment for students to pursue meaningfully in their weeks off from taking courses. With lack of facilities in the country for fruitful or creative use of the free time, the students may get involved with undesired or anti-social activities in case of a “bi-semester” system.
6. There is already plenty of time to rest
With 21 days of government mandatory holidays and Fridays and Saturdays as weekends, the students have adequate free time (125 days annually).
Additionally, the university has one full working week off between two semesters and two full weeks off (15 days) during two academic years to take useful breaks/rest in the tri-semester system.
Therefore, to switch to a bi-semester system on grounds of rest/respite to students/faculty/staff is not justified.
Overall, from BRAC University’s perspective, switching to a bi-semester system is not tenable.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed is the founder and chairman of BRAC.