ANTI-IMPERIALIST SOLIDARITY DAY
Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project, funded by World Bank and implemented by University Grant Commission, was focused on tertiary level education. This project, besides being funded by foreign organisation, in reality, is focused on external and infrastructural development rather than genuinely enhancing the quality of students-educators and overall education system, writes Nahid Riyasad
IT WAS the first day of 1973. United States of America was at the end of their involvement in the Vietnam War. Protests were forming across the globe condemning USA’s imperialist foreign policies and their association with gruesome war crimes in Vietnam. Youths of Bangladesh, a newly formed country, were not behind in zeal. They formed resistance against Vietnam War at the end of 1972, conforming to millions of students protesting imperialist policies and war in many major cities across the globe. The first day of January of 1973 was decided to be observed as Vietnam Solidarity Day. On that day, the resistance movement picked as students gathered at the historic Bat-tala and proceeded towards the American embassy to mark the day and hand over a memorandum. Police tried to disperse the procession and opened fire which killed two students on the spot — the first instance of student killing by authority in independent Bangladesh. Matiul Islam, student of University of Dhaka and Mirza Kadirul Islam, student of Dhaka College, both members of Students’ Union, sacrificed their lives to put an end to imperialist and foreign intervention. Since then, the day has been observed, by different left-leaning organisations of Bangladesh, as Anti-Imperialism Solidarity Day. After 45 year of their sacrifice, what we need to ponder that have we, as a nation, managed to live up to that spirit?
World Bank’s WB higher Education Quality Enhancement Project HEQEP is aimed at boosting the quality of higher education in Bangladesh. The project has gained its share of criticism and many experts have seen this project as an agenda of western imperialism. The ten-year long project, extended for another five years in 2014, started on 2009 and ended on December 31, 2018. The project cost, according to New Age reposts, is $238.1 million and University Grant Commission UGC implemented it. This project focused on industry-university collaborative research and four major points: first, promoting academic innovation in teaching, learning and research; second, institutional capacity building at UGC and universities; third, connectivity capacity building for research centers and universities and fourth, project management.
More than 95 per cent of this project is focused on tertiary level education, according to the WB website. Cognitive development of the students, who have managed to reach this far, are already more or less completed. In this scenario, without working on primary and secondary level education, exclusively focusing on enhancing quality of tertiary level education is nothing but a well-calculated fallacy. Also, when a student is being exposed to ‘poor quality education’ for over a decade, how will a project in tertiary level be able to replace previous training and boost that student’s as well as the overall quality of education from tertiary level? How can an establishment, without a sound base, be strong just by being well decorated from the outside?
Tanzimuddin Khan, associate professor in International Relations of University Dhaka sheds light on this rather pressing issue by pointing out anomalies in university level teacher recruitment. ‘In order to ensure better quality education and to enhance the quality, the first and foremost requirement is recruiting quality and competent candidates as teacher. However, sadly, anomalies as well as politicisation of teacher recruitment in university level have hindered this process’. Political identity as well as nepotism has intoxicated tertiary level education, he says adding if the institutes fail to adapt a transparent and accountable policy for teacher recruitment, there is no point in implementing decade long quality enhancement projects with foreign collaboration.
Under this project, some 339 sub-projects have been implemented in 38 public and private universities, in selective departments. To be selected as part of the project, departments had to bid. This creates a rather two-edged problem — to win the bid a department has be relatively better performing and the already weak departments could not pass the bid as a result they remain weak. Khan substantiates this phenomenon, ‘we have to consider whose development we are talking about. If this project only pampers, that too not in a constructive way, already strong departments, then, this is pointless’. Moreover, Khan adds, we have no uniform standard or scale to assess the quality of a department, even though UGC has attempted through this project, which leaves the entire project further problematised. Universities should develop their own standard to assess development and shortcomings of their departments. The present condition of public universities, their lack of philosophical understanding of education and pedagogy, the administrative leadership that are being systematically developed — all are barriers to what this project wants to achieve. Without sorting out these issues, as Khan suggests, no project will be able to genuinely enhance the quality of tertiary level education.
Living condition in public university dormitories and suffocating grip of political party students’ wing on campus and lives of ordinary students are some of the pressing issues in campuses. Khan says, ‘when a fresher will get a decent seat without being docile to political goons, when students’ union election will be held, then we might talk about enhancing the quality of education’. He also addresses lack of goodwill of the administrative leadership, ‘if university administrations have no vision about education and no inherent philosophy, these projects would not be able to achieve desired results’.
HEQEP project emphasised on infrastructural development rather than philosophical and critical development of the universities. Khan addresses this issue, ‘this project has apparently influenced the public universities to adapt policies of infrastructural developments thus they might look well-groomed as private universities’ attractive infrastructure but this does not effectively affect the knowledge production, nor does this directly affect the quality of education’. He later adds that should the university administration focus on quality of knowledge instead of buildings that would be benefiting for the students as well as for the future.
The quality and process of admission tests for tertiary level is another aspect which might directly affect the result of this project. Khan suggests that the kind of admission test is required for university intake, it does not allow the administration to filter genuinely talented students. ‘Our university admission tests can only judge the cognitive ability of a student, however, his/her writing, analytical and critical abilities are not assessed, as a result, these tests do not guarantee that a good student will pass,’ he says. While talking about the impact of such tests on the overall quality of education, he adds, ‘in my class, most of the students are reluctant to new thoughts and ideas, moreover, as I have observed, they lack the knack to learn as well as the ability to question. Even in the last five years, the situation has worsened,’ he also adds that without admitting quality students, these projects will not bring any substantial enhancement in tertiary level education.
World Bank is a financial institution which is driven for profit. As a result, alike many other things, education is a commodity for them and they do have a distinct philosophy considering this sector. Now, when the education philosophy of a state matches with that of a bank, this is a concern for the thinking quarters of the population as well as for the future of the nation. ‘When state brushes off their duties by collaborating with foreign entities that are after profit, it only widens the gap between citizens and the state,’ thinks Khan.
Many concerned quarters have accused the HEQEP project for commercialisation of the education system. To illustrate on this point, New Age Youth had a word with Golam Mustafa, president, Bangladesh Students’ Federation. He agrees that this project fuels the commercialisation of education but it cannot be seen exclusively. ‘This project is, in fact, a part of UGC’s Strategic Plan for Higher Education in Bangladesh: 2006-2026, which was also made in collaboration of WB and IMF, two foreign entities. Under that plan, universities were instructed how they could increase their income through renting auditorium and other establishments, initiating evening courses. Because, the state is planning to gradually reduce their contribution in tertiary level education and the UGC want the institutions to become self sufficient by earning. Now, if this is not commercialisation of education, then, what is’ says Mustafa. He also asserts that the HEQEP project was just a step towards further commercialisation of education at every level.
To understand the trajectory of this project in our higher education sector, new Age Youth contacted the chairman of UGC Abdul Mannan. ‘The project was a 99.25 per cent success and according to World Bank, no other education project in Bangladesh has managed such success rate thus far’. His word does not express the philosophical or core changes in our tertiary level education due to the project, if it has any. He merely focuses on statistical data rather than effective changes.
The question of whether we, as a nation, have managed to live up to the spirit of Kadir and Matiul’s sacrifices, as of now, leads to a single answer — NO, we have not. This is exactly why, after 45 years of their killing for standing against oppressive imperialist policies, our tertiary education regulatory body UGC has found the education policies of an international organisation World Bank adaptable for our local context. The HEQEP project, in lieu to the discussion, is another project to externally polish the infrastructures of universities as well as shape minds to become uncritical and docile towards foreign imperialism.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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