A recent initiative of the government to make an accreditation council law to ensure the quality and standard of higher education has received much applause.
While Bangladesh is gradually experiencing a change in the traditional perception of the quality of public university students being better than private, the perception could well have changed a long time ago.
It is beyond question that private universities not only contribute in improving the literacy rate of the nation, but the economic impact of private university establishments is massive, since otherwise, a great chunk of students would perhaps go to neighbouring countries for higher education.
Having said that, I feel that there is a crying need for the University Grants Commission (UGC) to adopt greater farsightedness to ensure that students of private universities are at the receiving end of good quality education.
Ensuring quality higher education
With the assistance of the World Bank, the UGC has undertaken the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), a commendable step in order to produce quality teachers for various disciplines.
The project is solely for the benefit of university faculty members -- to develop their teaching methods and techniques, but I believe the root of the problem in providing quality education at most private universities need to be addressed immediately.
Being a law lecturer, I will speak for my field, although faculty members of other subjects are likely to be on the same page. To begin with, I am unaware of any private universities other than a few such as North South University in Dhaka, where junior faculty members (lecturers to be specific) do not remain overburdened.
Most law schools on an average expect lectures of 12 credit hours per week, while lecturers must maintain weekly office time for as long as 32 hours. Lecturers of some universities conducting two semesters (whereas most offer three) in a year are bound by the terms of their contracts with the universities, to take up to 16 credit hours of class every week, while he or she must remain in office for 40 hours.
Given the potential that teachers of private universities hold, I am confident that a lessening of the workload and working hours would enrich research
A specific course being of three credits, for example, basically means that a teacher is required to take three hours of lectures on the subject, in a particular week.
For a lecturer, the credit hours at most private law schools may amount to teaching four different subjects per semester. Must lecturers work beyond compulsory office hours just to prepare lectures or engage in research?
The answer is yes, way beyond.
Overburdened with expectations
For the ease of understanding on the readers’ part, I bring about the example of a public university lecturer, who lectures for just one course (or rarely two), meaning three credit hours per week.
The difference in credit hours well explains the capacities of teachers to prepare lectures at both types of institutions.
On one hand, a public university lecturer has the opportunity to spend long hours preparing lectures for the subject of his/her interest or specialisation (while this process of preparation further strengthens his/her knowledge).
On the other hand, most private university lecturers are crunched with the challenge of simply making deliberations, one after another, every day, the quality of which is undoubtedly compromised.
I wish it would end there. A lecturer doesn’t just lecture. A lecturer does script checking, and marks tabulation. A lecturer is expected not only to carry out various administrative tasks (tackling office bureaucracy throughout) relating to their department in particular or the university in general, but the overall pressure taking a toll on one’s health should not be of surprise, given that lecturers are also required to supervise as many as a dozen students for their dissertation papers in a single semester.
With such a workload and working hours, I believe any academic would find it extremely difficult to devote his/her time to research, whereas, promotions of university teachers are obviously subject to publications at peer-reviewed journals.
How students and universities lose out
Having to spend so much of their parents’ hard-earned money, students are being deprived of the expected quality of deliberations from their lecturers, who are by no means under-qualified in comparison to their colleagues at public universities. And it is no secret that private university graduates face uphill battles getting an interview at a public university for the position of a lecturer.
Finally, every university should strive to excel in research. Given the potential that teachers of private universities hold, I am confident that a lessening of the workload and working hours would enrich research (the credit of which would be shared by both teachers and the institutions), which is a primary indicator of university rankings.
Research would further help with an in-depth knowledge of a lecturer’s subjects of interest, which they would teach. That again, would ensure greater quality of classes from the lecturer’s end. I am fortunate to have been working with an institution at present, which is one of a kind, which encourages research to such an extent that it generously funds individual lecturers for research, and even provides leave for the purpose.
Accommodating the needs of lecturers has rather helped them achieve the highest reputation along with the attainment of goodwill that helps in further collaborating with prestigious universities and research institutions abroad.
Therefore, provided UGC sets a limit on the number of courses and hours a lecturer is expected to spend actively teaching versus doing research (according to the needs of each field of academia), students would benefit from fantastic lectures while private institutions, with the blend of excellent potential graduates and dynamic research capabilities, can earn top spots in university rankings.
The space teachers ask for is simply to engage themselves more into studies, and not be similar to an employee of a private bank or company but to have the space for research, which we are having to make at our leisure or personal time, depriving our family members and social circles.
Saquib Rahman is a lecturer of law at North South University and an advocate of the District Court, Dhaka.