TERTIARY education is considered foundational in nation-building as it contributes to the knowledge about facing socio-economic and environmental challenges. In the case of Bangladesh, teachers united under the banner of the University Teachers’ Network have observed a gradual decline in the quality of education and academic environment in universities. The platform organised a two-day convention beginning April 11 to develop a shared understanding and vision of university education system that will remain accountable to public and serve the interest of students. In the convention, teachers have identified three reasons for the current deplorable situation. Firstly, the direct interference of the government in academic and administrative affairs, as in teacher recruitment or vice-chancellor’s appointment, has become a serious threat to academic freedom and intellectual autonomy. Secondly, the Higher Education Strategic Plan has commercialised tertiary education in the name of making universities self-sufficient. Thirdly, the lack of budgetary allocation and other supports has made research or production of context-specific knowledge nearly impossible. The government must realised that by interfering in academic freedom, it is, in fact, interrupting the nation-building process.
In the convention, teachers not only discussed the existing problems of public education but also came up with some steps. In the 1973 university laws, the granting of absolute power for certain administrative positions allowed manipulation in the recruitment and other academic processes. The universities that are established after 1973 operate under controversial, infamous rules and regulation that further expanded the horizon of tangible and intangible corruption. Teachers have, therefore, felt the pressing need for a review and revision of the relevant laws to prevent the politicisation of academic activities and corruption in teacher recruitment. The Higher Education Strategic Plan followed a top-down approach and was an imposition of the World Bank that the University Grants Commission GC has compelled teachers to implement despite their criticism of the policy. A strategic policy is, therefore, needed for higher education but it must be developed in direct and rigorous consultation with teachers and students. In the prevailing situation, teachers at the convention emphasised the importance of collective efforts to fight against the system that has normalised irregularities and deprioritised student interest.
The political party in power, under the circumstances, must abandon its strategy of interfering in academic and pedagogical freedom in universities for its partisan goals and seriously consider the demands that the teachers raised at the convention for a meaningful intellectual growth of the nation. It must also review the laws and regulations that govern private universities. Similarly, the higher education policy must also be debated and discussed with students and teachers to tackle the extreme commercialisation of tertiary education. As for allegations of corruption in teacher recruitment, the University Grants Commission needs to play a strong role. Considering that public universities are financed with tax-payers money, students and teachers must demand a public audit of all universities.
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