THE University of Dhaka, the premier seat of higher learning in what is now Bangladesh which began its academic function by the turn of June in 1921, has stepped into its 100th year, on its journey to celebrate its centenary in 2021. There are all the right reasons for the university authorities, for its teachers, about 2,000 of them, its present students, about 37,000 of them, and a countless people to whom the university is alma mater to celebrate the beginning of its centenary. Since the establishment of the university, it has been the cradle of most of the progressive and secular intellectual movements, including the language movement of 1952, which culminated into the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. But the standard, the quality of teaching, the creation of knowledge and, perhaps, the philosophy of the university have changed for the worse over time. While everyone — people engaged in the university administration, people on the teaching stuff, former students and all — bemoans the decline, there have hardly been efforts to remake the university. Time has now come — and a hundred years appear to be ripe enough — for the university authorities and others to do some introspection to find out whether it has lived up to its commitment and has trodden the path forward.
The university seems to have grown in size but has hardly matured. The university, which began with 12 departments under three faculties with 60 people teaching 877 students, now has 83 departments under 13 faculties. The university also has 12 institutes. But it has failed to leave its mark noticeably in world university rankings. The university appears to have its focus shifted away from research, which is especially important for low- and middle-income countries such as Bangladesh as it plays a crucial role in developing effective academic systems and makes it possible for the countries to join the global knowledge society. While it could hardly resolve poor allocation for research and knowledge creation and other problems such as poor laboratory and library facilities, inadequate accommodation, shrinking extracurricular activities, poor medical services and transport shortage that have continued to plague the institution, it appears to have shifted its focus more on technology and applied issues from science education. The university has a rich library, with its prize possessions such as old manuscripts, rare books and the collection of newspapers still imprisoned on paper and made accessible only to university stuff and students. Many of the ills could be resolved if the authorities, both inside the university and outside, put in more efforts to free the institution of partisan politics, in the recruitment of teachers and their promotion, in the appointment of top university positions such as the vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellors, and in the daily functioning of all university affairs.
The university, fondly called ‘the Oxford of the East’ in its initial days more, perhaps, because of some similarities with the University of Oxford in structure in some areas, has hardly been able to retain its past glory. Only basking in its past glory now is less likely to take the university forward. It is time that the authorities and others who take pride in having been students of the university re-made the university that was made about a hundred years ago.
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