Bureaucrats in public universities

Published: 00:00, May 18,2021


Open windows are indispensable for creating a world-class atmosphere, conducive to the concept of university, for teaching and research, writes  Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin

EVENTUALLY the fears began to prove to be true. When Sheikh Rezaul Karim, the registrar of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, was given the routine charge of vice-chancellor in September 2020, many were regarding it as a forerunner of appointing bureaucrats in deputation to various key posts in public universities in future. Thus, the incident caused intense anger among the teachers and students at the universities. However, it seems that the policy makers did not take this protest at the universities seriously, as it came to be evident from the appointment of Mohammad Abdul Mannan, an additional secretary, as the treasurer of Bangamata Sheikh Fojilatunnesa Mujib Science & Technology University, Jamalpur on May 6.

Naturally, the teaching community in the universities could not take the matter easily. The Federation of Bangladesh University Teachers’ Association and other teachers’ associations at different universities have already protested the appointment. Teachers are also posting status individually on social media to express their dissatisfaction. The question is if it is just an isolated incident or the whims of some people in a responsible position, or a hint of a paradigm shift at the policy-making level. Is it just a question of dignity of the teaching community of universities, or a decision that conflicts with the aims and objectives of universities and can have a negative impact on their overall performance in the short and long term? To what extent is such a policy consistent with Bangabandhu’s thoughts and policy on higher education?

Universities are engaged in building up highly skilled and qualified human resources to serve the needs of society and the state. In addition to this, the main responsibility of the universities is to identify the existing problems in different spheres of society through research and to identify their causes and suggest solutions. They conduct structured and systematic research on all the aspects of human life including religion, science, education, health, politics, economics, and so on. New technologies emerge, new horizons of knowledge and science are opened, and society and the civilisation get the direction to move forward. Universities in different countries have played a key role in bringing the world civilisation to today’s stage. If you take a careful look, you will see that the knowledge and the technologies derived from research in universities have been the key driving force for the countries that are in the pinnacle of development in today’s world.

To manage these multidimensional functions of universities, a group of people have to perform administrative duties at different levels. These include heads of the departments at the department level, deans at the faculty level and above all the vice-chancellor and one or more pro-vice-chancellors. A treasurer is appointed to assist the vice-chancellor in financial matters. The hostels are administered by hall provosts. In addition, several bodies, including the syndicate, the senate, and the academic council, play their respective parts in coordinating the overall activities. The whole thing is led by the teachers, but a team of officers and employees provide them official and clerical support. The registrar of a university is responsible for the overall coordination of these activities.

Due to the opportunity to play an important role in the overall management of the country, the civil servants enjoy a special status. There is no alternative to an experienced and skilled bureaucracy to carry out the responsibilities of the government and state system of a country towards the people smoothly and efficiently. If the bureaucrats play their due role from their respective places, it can ensure total welfare of the country. Considering the unique opportunity to serve the country and the nation and the special status and esteem that the officers and employees of the republic enjoy at all levels of society, a large section of the youth consider civil service as their first choice after graduation.

One has to get a chance in the civil service of the country through an intensely competitive exam. The candidates have to go through rigorous screening step by step to reach the final stage and get selected. Is it not quite natural that those who are going to be entrusted with the responsibility of the overall management of the country will be brought out through such rigorous screening? Even after joining the job, in addition to regular field assignments, they need to go through various trainings and tests to get promoted to next positions. At each and every step, they have to fulfil the responsibilities, entrusted to them, within the framework of strict rules and regulations. Thus, when a civil servant reaches the final stage of his career, the experiences and skills he acquires through the ups and downs of his long career are incomparable in a sense.

That is perhaps why there has been a practice for long time in Bangladesh of appointing high-ranking civil servants in deputation to top positions in various semi-government/autonomous organisations. There is good reason to believe that they make significant contributions to the management of these organisations using the skills and experiences they have acquired over a long period of time. The question is: to what extent can their skills and experiences be useful in running an institution like a university? It has become extremely important at this critical juncture to find the answer to this question dispassionately. There is no room for whimsy or experimentation. The country’s seats of higher education are already plagued with many problems. There is a need to think calmly whether bringing in people who are not university professors in the overall management of the universities will bring any benefit at all, or will add to ongoing crises in the seats of higher education leading to chaos and a worsening of the situation.

When a teacher goes through various stages after joining a university as a lecturer to ultimately become a professor, s/he gets acquainted with all the different aspects and issues of the institution, involving teaching, research, student affairs, and student-teacher relationship. The overall insight that a teacher develops over the course of this long journey about the totality of the university and its issues can never be achieved without going directly through this process.

You may have achieved the highest degree from a university, maybe even a PhD degree from a reputed university at home or abroad, but until you get a chance to serve as a university teacher for a sufficiently long period, you have only seen one side of the coin. You are totally in the dark about the other side. The kind of free and open interaction that takes place among teachers and students and with the outside world in universities that still function, despite limitations, as platforms for free thought and reflection is not the same in the civil service.

Thus the skills and experiences gained by a high-ranking civil servant in the course of his long career, though invaluable assets for the country, do not matter when it comes to running a university. Because how can someone, who is not acquainted with the ins and outs of an university and its various issues, judge allocations required in its different sectors? It is not just a matter of book-keeping or reconciliation.

Considering the immense importance of education in the development of the country and the nation, Bangabandhu, on the one hand, nationalised primary education and, on the other hand, gave autonomy to the universities so that free thinking and scholarship could be practised in higher education. There may be questions as to what extent we have used or abused this gift, but if we want the seats of higher education to play a proper role in the advancement of the country, then that is the only and right path. All bolts must be untied. Open windows are indispensable for creating a world-class atmosphere, conducive to the concept of university, for teaching and research. This is a very sensitive issue, which involves the fate of the whole nation. It is not a matter of adventurism.


Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is a professor of pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.

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