Cover Story

The university that we want

Oliur Sun | Published: 00:00, Apr 21,2019 | Updated: 00:15, Apr 21,2019

Cover story  , Oliur Sun, Sayeed Ferdous, A-Al Mamun ,  Maidul Islam

The University Teachers' Network organised a two-day teachers' convention on 11-12 April, 2019 at Jahangirnagar University . - Oliur Sun


The crises at our tertiary education system, particularly universities have been discussed for long now, but what is the way forward? University teachers united under the banner of University Teachers Network organised a two-day long teacher’s convention to develop a shared understanding and vision of university education system that will remain accountable to public and serve only the interest of students defying the evolving culture of sycophancy on campus. Oliur Sun, as one of the student participants, reports from the University Teachers Convention 2019.

HIGHER education — a privilege for the few? A threshold for the middle class to transcend their class? A tool of the state to produce state ideologues? A means to cultivate knowledge that cuts the repressive power matrix? What generates the hierarchy between private and public universities? Is the hierarchy invalidated now with the growing pressure by the global market? Where does our pedagogy stand in the era of neoliberalism? What choices are we left with to fight the existing repressive conditions within which the public universities operate?

These questions emerged and engaged the audience and discussants in critical discourse in the first ever University Teachers’ Convention titled ‘The university that we want: Higher education, policies and structure’ by the University Teachers’ Network held at Jahangirnagar University on 11-12 April, 2019.

With the state vis-à-vis market’s increasing pressure on the universities a rethinking of the higher education system of Bangladesh was crucial to fight for the autonomy of knowledge production, circulation and sharing. The two-day long University Teachers’ Convention promises to create that space of thinking curving out a shared space for teachers from all the universities who are not willing to trade their conviction for a share in state power or the lucrative market-demand. Over the period of two days, the convention included four discussion sessions and three workshops which were participated by eminent teachers, scholars and students.

University, society and state
THE opening session featured professor emeritus Serajul Islam Chowdhury, professor Abul Kashem Fajlul Haque, Anu Muhammmad and Gitiara Nasrin. The discussants explored the current relation between these three entities — university, society and state. ‘The students are taught to be skilled, to be followers of instruction, but not to be revolutionaries’, said Serajul Islam Chowdhury. ‘We did not take the challenge of changing the medium of instruction to people’s mother tongue at the university. We needed original research, books and translations which we failed to produce’, he added. Professor Gitiara Nasrin drew the analogy of the ancient Chinese universities which were designed to produce state bureaucrats to illustrate the current condition of our university which is being faced with BCS mania. Professor Anu Muhammad envisioned universities to be unlike the current ones where teachers and students would grow the capacity to think, to question, to be genuinely interested in the functioning of the state and the society.

University Grant Commission: Strategic plan
THE implementation of the Higher Education Strategic Plan 2006-26 is already underway. Despite protests and opposition from various students’ organisations, UGC is only seven years away from completely materialising the project. Though it talks about quality enhancement, the definition of quality centers around the idea of market-demand and the idea of humans as capital or means to accumulate capital catering the overpowering capitalist economic system. Professor Bokhtiar Ahmed from Rajshahi University presented his paper on the cons of Higher Education Strategic Plan and how it is going to affect the existing pedagogical freedom ensured by the University Ordinance of 1973. The discussants on the paper included professor Tanzimuddin Khan from Dhaka University, professor Rayhan Ryne from Jahangirnagar University and professor Ainun Nahar from Jahangirnagar University.

Discussion session during the two-day teachers' convention at Jahangirnagar University - Oliur Sun


The first day ended with two closed-door workshops for the participating teachers to critically investigate the current crises of the universities and how to overcome them. The first workshop was titled ‘The 1973 Act and autonomy of state and university’ with professor Kamrul Hasan Mamun from Dhaka University as the chief speaker. The second workshop titled ‘The neoliberal transformation of the university’ featured professor Mahmudul Sumon from Jahangirnagar University as the chief speaker.
The second and last day of the convention started with the workshop titled  ‘Outside public university: experiences of private and government universities’ which featured professor Sumon Rahman from University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh as the chief speaker while assistant professor Ovinu Kibria Islam from Jessore University of Science and Technology, researcher and teacher Afsan Chowdhury from BRAC University, associate professor Nasir Ahmed from Jagannath University and professor Salimullah Khan from University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh shared their experiences as discussants. The session was conducted by anthropologist Rahnuma Ahmed.

Teaching and research
GENUINE research is currently a rarity in universities as research is only being done to fulfill the promotion criteria or to climb up the ladder of higher academic status. With increasing workload on teachers, as well as lack of work ethics, both teaching and research activities have become increasingly difficult. Added to that is the screening by the authorial power on what can be researched upon and what can and cannot be taught in the classroom. Repressive surveillance mechanism therefore is also an obstacle yet to be fought and overcome. With assistant professor Rushad Faridi from Dhaka University  as the chief speaker the session titled ‘Teaching and Research’ raised these issues to be elaborately discussed by professor Mohammad Azam from Dhaka University, Kazi Farid from Bangladesh Agricultural University, associate professor A-Al Mamun from Rajshahi University and Ar Razi from Chittagong University. Associate professor Samina Lutfa from Dhaka University hosted the session.

Admission, recruitment and authority
THE prevailing partisanship in the teachers’ recruitment process, the ordeal named admission tests and the authority’s inaction in the face of repression by BCL cadres in the students’ halls – are some of the key issues that professor Sayeed Ferdous presented for further critical investigation. The discussants professor Manosh Chowdhury from Jahangirnagar University and professor Kazi Maruf from Dhaka University with professor Fahmidul Haque from Dhaka University as the host reflected on the challenges of reforming the recruitment procedures and sought for alternate ways of university admission test.

The two-day convention ended with a summarisation of all the sessions which would later be presented in the form of an agenda through a press conference in near future.

Oliur Sun is a non-philosopher.


‘Universities cannot play their expected roles when irregularities are normalised.’

Sayeed Ferdous
Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University

TODAY, universities, public or private, are failing to fulfil the minimum expectations of people. In terms of quality of education and research, university as an institution has social significance. But it is constantly failing to play that crucial role. Critically aware and socio-politically engage teachers of universities have raised questions about the farcicality of society, government and also about the existing absurdity within university. The challenge is that the number of such teachers is very few. Large majority of teachers including the higher authorities have a tendency to serve ruling political party’s agenda sidestepping their societal and institutional responsibility as a teacher. Consequently, the university cannot effectively function when irregularities are normalised. Some teachers of several public universities have raised voice against irregularities and ideological corruption within the universities. We have engaged in self-reflection and criticism — as a teacher we have critically looked at our own profession and our own teaching institutions.

It is the high time to collectively raise our voice against this system that is largely working against student and public interest. We, the university teacher united under the banner of University Teachers’ Network, felt the burden of this system, decided to get united to bring radical change. With this spirit, teachers from different universities who do not approve of this evolving culture of sycophancy have come together to develop a shared understanding of ‘the university that we want’ through dialogue.

‘We have come to a consensus that a radical reformation of existing laws related to higher education is a demand of the time.'

A-Al Mamun
Associate Professor of University of Rajshahi

THIS convention shade light on many issues related with present situation of higher education. For example, we have discussed limitations of the university ordinance and rules enacted in 1973 for four public universities. There was a position of head of the department which had absolute power and teachers had no freedom. Later some changes took place, but it transferred absolute power to the vice chancellors. These laws lack guideline on research in universities. Moreover, power has centralised within a group of people. Inevitably, there remain possibilities of corruption and partisan politics in teachers’ recruitment process. In this convention, we have come to a point that a radical reformation is necessary in the laws.

The numbers of universities have increased. The universities that are established after 1973, operate under controversial, infamous rules and regulation that further expanded the horizon of tangible and intangible corruption. Things that were not possible in 1973’s laws, now have become easily possible. Since the crisis in tertiary education has been discussed, it was time that we took a critical look at these laws and regulations. The other important that was discussed during the two day teachers convention was World Bank’s Strategic Plan for Higher Education which is now being implemented by University Grants Commission — Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC), Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP). How much these plans are effective in the context of Bangladesh is critical that we must ask against this massive attempt at neoliberalisation of higher education.

'The convention is an attempt at making universities accountable to public and reorienting them to work for the interest of our students.’

Maidul Islam
Assistant Professor of University of Chittagong

ACCORDING to 1973’s laws of four universities, they should be run as autonomous body. But, to what extent these universities are actually autonomous is a matter of question. Constructive knowledge can only be produced when knowledge is not chained. From present social and political context, the scope to conduct research and produce knowledge to nurture the intellectual wellbeing of the nation is limited. For ruling political parties’ interference in educational institutions universities are barely autonomous. Moreover, a large number of teachers and universities’ authorities are selected by the ruling party. Eventually, teachers and universities’ authorities enter into a system that allows nothing but serving the ruling political parties’ agenda which is a threat to intellectual autonomy.

Teachers carry the responsibility to groom future knowledgeable and conscientious citizens, but teacher community today seem unwilling to fulfil that responsibilities. From our history we have seen that teachers and students played a great revolutionary role in 1952, 1969 and 1971. But ruling political party’s interference in universities has interrupted that legacy. Actually universities cannot function in this compromised situation. When the illness of state enters into university, we cannot expect production of free knowledge. When a teacher talks about state policy or any kind of irregularities, they are threatened. Shouldn’t the teacher serve the interest of the student and public? or the ruling political party’s interest? Public universities are run by the public money. The convention is an attempt at making universities accountable to public and reorienting them to work for the interest of our students, the future citizens of the nation.

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