• Tuesday, Aug 04, 2020
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OP-ED: How to make DU the Oxford of the East again

  • Published at 08:13 pm July 5th, 2020
dhaka university
Changes need to be made BIGSTOCK

The alumni must play a significant role in its development

I often get involved in debates with my colleagues from different private universities regarding the objectives, goals, and philosophy of public and private universities. I sometimes consider private universities as part of an industry. People invest in education and want to make a profit.

Although, there have been some regulatory changes recently in terms of taking profits from this investment straightway. Some private universities are even blamed for their low quality of education. But there are also some exceptions.

For example, the best universities in the US are mostly the private ones. We also have some good private universities in Bangladesh.

Almost everywhere, public universities are run by the government’s money, and they generate funds from student’s fees and research grants. The money they receive is clearly the public’s tax paid money.

We know that public universities stand to provide any student, irrespective of their financial background, an education upon passing the competitive admission process. They are not like private universities, where students have to spend a lot of money to get a degree, although they have some scholarships for the poorer students.

Historically, the students and faculties of Dhaka University have not only been engaged in learning, teaching, and research but have also been playing a very significant role in various social, cultural, and political movements in the country.

Our students and teachers have always been vocal and active in protesting any wrongdoing in the society, including violations of human rights and democracy, sexual harassment, exploitation, anti-judicial killing, military intervention, lawlessness, corruption, and other types of crime.

These roles have been proved essential for building an independent, democratic, and just society. Dhaka University has always been putting its hand with any anti-democratic movement. For building a just society, one can’t ignore this role of Dhaka University.

But with the recognition of such roles, we also have to accept some of the complaints that are placed by our friends outside the universities regarding our commitment and performance in running our universities and upgrading our rankings.

We should definitely look at ourselves and do our own evaluation regarding our weaknesses, even with the constraints that other private universities don’t have. We know that we don’t have enough money to spend on our students, teachers, and other staff to provide them with all the necessary facilities.

But we can’t always give silly excuses by saying that as we are getting fewer facilities and that is why we are lagging behind. Some of our opposition argues that we have more freedom and we get salaries with less pressure, less commitment, and less performance.

But I know it is not true for the majority of our faculties, and it is no doubt that we have the best students and faculties. But we might be lacking something else. It is now time to figure out those lackings.

Participatory planning for bringing change

To me, a shortage of funds is definitely a big challenge in the way of us taking up productive and long-term, prospective planning for bringing about significant change. But at the same time, we need to think about the university management practices that have been going on for so many years.

It is a fact that having various limitations, Dhaka University is still ranked as the best university in the country. But we, as a proud part of this university, can’t be happy with this. We want to make our university world class.

We want to engage all the alumni living in the country and around the world. We also want to engage our notable citizens working in different world class universities, research bodies, large technological companies, medical institutions, corporate bodies, and elsewhere.

It would be great if we could listen to them and get suggestions on bringing a real change to our university in terms of curriculum development, industry partnership, joint research, international seminars, and book publications, and over and above raising funds for giving substantial backup to cope with the global changes and requirements in the knowledge industry.   

Large endowment of funds and ‘building image’

In recent times, many of our alumni have expressed their serious concern about the quality of our university’s education, the performance of our faculty, employability of our students, facilities available to our students and teachers, and most importantly, the significant fall in its image over the last few decades.

Points have been made comparing progress in the first 50-year period of the university from 1921-1971, to the latter 50 years. Many of them even try to give examples from their time and mention that even with less or similar types of facilities, the university was much better during their time in the 70s or 80s than present day.

Some of the most successful alumni even express their willingness to be a proud part of taking responsibility in rebuilding the image of their beloved university through various kinds of support and activity. Some of the very enlightened alumni give examples of other world class universities which have very strong alumni, and have significant contributions in raising huge amounts of endowment funds.

Like those universities, with more than 100,000 alumni, they believe if Dhaka University can take proper initiative and give an open call to their distinguished alumni (notable personalities belonging to the government, political parties, and industrial sectors) to come forward, they will be able to raise even Tk1000 crore in endowment funds through its alumni living in Bangladesh and overseas.

We can easily make a list of hundreds of Bangladeshis, both home and abroad, who are most successful in their careers as scientists, academicians, doctors, engineers, political leaders, and business people. Some of our alumni are not only owning business firms or companies, but also have turned into “business conglomerates.”

The only thing is that before asking for their contribution, the university has to show them its concrete “master plan” and commitment to make this university one of the top 100 universities in the world. 

Many of the alumni feel that forming a “task force” for a period of 5, 10, or 25 years by engaging many notable alumni for necessary actions with proper monitoring and evaluation is essential.

As a result, the donors will have confidence that the money raised through them will be spent to increase the university’s educational facilities: For example, in providing greater research opportunities, giving scholarships to both students and faculty members to further their education abroad, providing need-based skill development training, and also improving career services for students.

Initiatives have to be taken to increase student employability by partnering with various industries, organizing international seminars, inviting world class scholars from different fields -- including Nobel laureates -- creating opportunities for foreign scholars to teach at different departments, and increasing scholarships for foreign students as part of an international student exchange program.

Honour boards for notable alumni, large donors, and outstanding students

The 99th anniversary of Dhaka University was this year. We are nearing the golden centurial number. This 100-year-glory of our university repeatedly reminds us about our commitment to the development of the university in terms of advancement in ideas, knowledge, innovation, and technology for creating an atmosphere of world class education for the development of the country.

The country -- which is now striving to achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and become a developed country by 2041 -- needs more well-groomed people as nation-builders in the future.

In line with these targets, both the government, and our alumni, teachers, and students, need to work together for the development of the country as they always did in the past by preparing themselves adequately so that they can lead the nation in the coming days and build this university as one of the best in the world. 

To be successful in raising Tk1000 crore in endowment funds, which will be rolled over through different investment processes, Dhaka University should make a number of “Honour Boards” to give due recognition to its significant donors, notable personalities, most successful entrepreneurs, non-resident Bangladeshis, political leaders, outstanding students of different faculties, and others to actively engage them with our goal of making this university world class.

I believe it won’t be that hard to find alumni coming up with even Tk10-20cr in donations for their beloved university.

The theme of our centenary anniversary and a call for raising funds

Before going for celebrating the centenary anniversary of Dhaka University in 2021, we need to examine our methods and figure out how we can take our university to a certain height by raising the quality of teaching and research.

How are we going to live up to the challenge of branding the university, which was once called the “Oxford of the East,” and meet the standards set by the development of science, technology, and the liberal arts in the 21st century?

The alumni of Dhaka University can come forward to raise sufficient funds for research and provide scholarships to the students to go to the best universities for higher education.

According to a report in 2019, some of the top universities of the world with the highest endowment funds include: Harvard (up to $40.9bn), Yale ($25.5bn), Princeton ($24.7bn), Stanford ($27.7bn), MIT ($17.4bn), Pennsylvania ($14.65bn), Michigan ($9.8bn), Texas R & M ($13.5bn), Columbia ($10.9bn), Chicago ($8.5bn), Cornell ($6.95bn), University of Northwestern ($11.1n) and University of Texas ($31bn).

These universities are mostly spending their money on sports, arts, students’ scholarships, and research. In these universities, the best performing teachers are rewarded with enough research funding and other opportunities so that they get more inspired in their work.

I strongly believe it is not the lone responsibility of the vice chancellor or his administration to do all that is required. 

It is also the responsibility of all the conscious faculties of the university to put their hands together to build a strong sense of belonging in this university. 

Finally, to make Dhaka University one of the finest seats of learning regionally as well as globally, I want to reiterate that we need to prepare a 25-year perspective plan with immediate, mid, and long-term targets.

Dhaka University alumni -- who have already done commendable work by building the “Senate Bhaban” by giving scholarships to hundreds of students and taking other initiatives to make progress in other areas -- should now come forward by engaging all its members both at home and abroad for branding the university and rebuilding its image.

I believe that every member of Dhaka University and its alumni who are proud of their engagements and contributions to building the nation would also like to feel more pride by rebuilding the image of this university and converting it to a world class centre for production and dissemination of knowledge.

Professor Saifur Rashid teaches anthropology at University of Dhaka. Email: [email protected]

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