Privatization of higher education in Bangladesh has opened a big window of opportunity for most financially capable students along with some meritorious ones. In the last three decades, the increase of such institutions bears a clear testimony of tremendous growth. At present, there are over one hundred private universities in the country providing education to over seventy percent of students while thirty percent students are being attached with around fifty public universities in the country. This write-up did not focus on the National University of Bangladesh which is the biggest university considering the number of students surpassing more than two million under around 2300 affiliated colleges.
According to data, around half a million students now study both at private and public universities. Institutional role in educating students is somewhat different from public to private institutions. For example, if any student fails to pass in a private university, the concerned department teacher is expected to explain it while in public university a teacher has less headache whether a student is able to pass or not. Public universities are financed by the government itself whereas the scenario is different in private institutions where students are the main cashing cows for the university authorities to meet up their entire expenses.
Sometimes it is heard that the management of private universities expect some financial facility from the government as all students who are studying there are not from well-off family backgrounds. It is also true that many students of private universities are now doing odd jobs to meet up their high tuition and living cost as well. On the other hand, most public university students are from poor to lower-middle income family backgrounds. Most of them are dependent on their own income varying from teaching school and college students as house tutors, engaged in coaching centres to other odd jobs. However, political affiliation especially with the ruling party students’ wing occasionally offers some students to accommodate themselves in residential halls that reduces their living expenses.
A recent UGC report shows that one lakh sixty thousand taka is spent against per public university student. This amount is greater in scientific, technological, medicinal and agricultural universities. In that year per head expenditure of Bangabandhu Shiekh Mijibur Rahamn Maritime University was four lakh 67 thousand and 788 taka. In Agricultural University per student cost was 3 lakh, 96 thousand 53 taka, Dhaka University one lakh 94 thousand 390 taka, BUET one lakh 95 thousand 110 taka, Jahangirnagar University one lakh 35 thousand taka. The government bears all these expenses. On the other hand, it is estimated that per student tuition expenditure on an average studying in a private university is TK 3 to 10 lakh. Monthly living cost of a private university student is above TK 15 thousand while the same cost is around 3,000 to 5,000 for a public university student.
In public universities, both teachers and students enjoy considerably more autonomy than private universities. Government controls appointment of higher posts including Vice Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Treasure mostly in public universities with few exceptions in private universities. However, the government is stricter in regulating private universities because of the Private University Act 2010 (Previous Act of 1992 with amendment in 1998). This law empowers the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Higher Education wing of the Ministry of Education (MOE) to regulate the private universities but public universities are ruled autonomously by separate laws and under the UGC and MOE.
Truth be told, private universities are saving millions of dollars for the country. If there was no private university, nearly 3,50,000 students will have to go abroad to educate them, spending huge foreign currency.
Considering the admission of students, private universities are able to admit them three times in a year with a nominal screening system except few ones but in public universities it happens only once in a year through a rigorous admission test. Question arises whether public or private universities ensure quality education. It has a mixed answer depending on the efforts of a university administration along with teachers and students. Most public university teachers are conservative in grading students while the same teachers while engaged in a private university as a guest faculty is liberal enough in grading, raising ethical issues of grading.
In principle, private universities are free of politics but public universities are not, rather the students, teachers and other employees here are often engaged in controversy and clash for the establishment of partisan political supremacy. However, a new form of politics among the management of some private universities has emerged despite repeated warnings from the UGC for their shifting to permanent campus. Some private universities maintain both partial permanent campus and rented campus with time consuming attitude in shifting to permanent campus as per the necessity of law.
Students of a public university are blessed with permanent campus, playground, big library, open space, teachers-students cultural centre for broader educational perspectives. In true sense, most private university students are lacking such facilities. It is alleged that some private universities spend more money in advertisement for attracting students than their co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Nevertheless, private university students are not experiencing some academic curses like session jam and political clash in the name of students’ politics. Moreover, there is more transparency and accountability of teachers and other employees in appointment, promotion in private universities than public universities. Some prominent public university teachers are spending more time in private universities than their own workplace. In fact, most private universities are dependent on the academic services of public university teachers.
The journey of public university in Bangladesh has started more than one hundred years ago but the journey of private university has started only thirty years ago. So, to gain name and fame, private universities are in need of more time to be established as quality education providers. Public perception on private universities is still negative, although trends are changing. As privatization and globalization go hand in hand, both public and private universities have to adopt strategy and policy to collaborate not to confront in educating and training students as human resource
Writer: Emdadul Haque is Dhaka based Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor.
Email: [email protected] and Twitter: @emdadlaw
BDST: 1330 HRS, APR 27, 2022