Two phrases consist of same words; just change the position of the words, the meaning also alters — lexically and contextually. The words are business and education, and when they set altering to make sense, they are — either Business Education or Education business. Very unfortunately, these two words are now very synonymous considering the reality of private universities in Bangladesh, writes Farrukh Khosru.
However, after the collapse of Soviet statehood, with the emergence of corporate capitalism under the guise of neo-liberalism in 1990s, private outlets of higher education in Bangladesh started their journey with huge potential of business in ‘Business Education’. The motto of those universities was mostly business than providing quality education, and they successfully did it with no confusion. Even some universities were engaged in ‘certificate business’ selling degrees without any education. ‘BBA’ and ‘MBA’ were the hot cakes in the era of corporate conglomerates instead of science or social learning. Those private universities took the opportunity of making profit with education in no time. The scenario is still almost the same in 2020 in the cases of most private universities.
In the recent time, the most widely discussed topic regarding the private higher education in Bangladesh is their inability of hiring the worthy persons for major vacant posts in the universities including vice chancellors. Besides, most of them have failed to shift campus in permanent locations. Though the University Grants Commission (UGC), the sole authority of higher education in Bangladesh, warned those errant private universities to follow the guidelines, but the owners of those private universities in the name of trustee board are powerful enough to show thumb to UGC as they are either politicians linked with ruling elites, or big businesses that can buy the power at any time from the ruling corner. Some private universities have vice chancellors (VCs), though they are not empowered enough to obey the rules directed by the UGC rather than follow the order given by the Trustee Board. The VCs in the private universities like the Generals with no guns to fight the irregularities. So education is a business there executed in the name of a puppet VC. Trustee Boards behind the screen are political persons or business conglomerates who are in most cases not so educated to run a university. In reality, private universities like private commercial banks are given to some people by the government under political indulgence who are even not worthy enough to maintain a primary school.
However, recruitment of VCs in the recent years in public universities also is not beyond the dispute as most cases they are ‘government pick’ under political indulgence. In private universities, they are the selections of ‘too powerful trustee board’. VC is the administrative and academic head of the university, as UGC act 2010 defines. In public universities having autonomous power, VCs can exercise their power to some extent though have political pressures especially to manipulate tenders, recruitment, and some few other daily routine works. In case of private universities, VC is mainly an ornamental post, given all power to the trustee board — be that academic or administrative. Financial activities also the same, though separate acts for the Public Universities and Private University Act 2010, however, made the universities mandatory to have the VCs and treasurers for operating the administrative and financial activities.
There are more delusions regarding private higher education in Bangladesh. A university having more than 5,000 students should appoint a pro-VC for the academic activities. Though some universities running privately have more students than the said number, but the muddle is that some of them have even no VCs, let alone Pro-VCs.
As per UGC data, 20 private universities are operating without any government-appointed VCs, pro-VCs or treasurers. Thirty three private universities have no VCs while 23 breaching the Private University Act are operating without the VCs and treasures. Some of those private universities had never appointed a VC since their inceptions.
Sometimes private universities appoint VCs, pro-VCs and treasurers without obtaining any approval form the honourable President — the Chancellor of the Universities — as per the law. And most of them do not meet requirements for such posts.
Education minister Ms. Dipu Moni asked the leading public universities last month to send lists of the senior professors along with their biodata by August 31 to the ministry for selecting from them vice-chancellors, pro-VCs and treasurers against the vacant posts at the public universities and asked the private universities to send their panel lists by September 10. But not enough response to this regard is still on the way. The labyrinth across the private education still remains in public minds, the education experts opined.
However, trustee of a private university blamed the government not to approve candidates against the vacant posts of the VC, pro-VC and treasurer from the list they had sent. Besides, there is an organization of the owners of private universities namely Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh who frequently talks in media in enigmatic utterance about rules and regulations of appointing VCs, pro-VCs and treasurers for the private universities terming them faulty and disconcerting.
Top brass of that so mighty organization in a recent interview published in an English daily claimed, ‘If any agency gives a negative report on any of the three proposed names for VC, pro-VC or treasurer, new lists required to be sent. And it is difficult to get so many eligible professors for so many universities.
Ignoring all the allegations against the private entities in higher education in Bangladesh, he dared say flouting, ‘instead of pressing the private universities only, the government should appoint VCs, pro-VCs and treasurers at all public universities’.
The fallacies we can’t disregard in ownership of education have surpassed all the limits in private entities of higher education. VC remains as a soldier to carry all the disorder of the so great trustee board. No remedy in sight there so near to hope.
(Mr. Farrukh is a PhD Fellow, Begum Rokeya University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)