PUBLIC universities are considered intellectual backbone of a nation. They are expected to produce new knowledge and create new generation of leaders and responsible citizens, but they have been progressively becoming major sites of financial and ideological corruption and partisan politics in Bangladesh. In recent times, students and teachers have taken to the streets protesting against fund embezzlement, recruitment on political considerations and undemocratic measures to suppress dissenting voices on the campus. For the past several years, general students have blamed the relationship of mutual loyalty between Chatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, and the university administration for ragging and other violence in halls of residence. In 2016, a Transparency International, Bangladesh report revealed allegations of unauthorised financial transactions in eight public universities and political patronage, favouritism, regionalism and religious identity as dominant drivers of corruption in recruitment process in 13 public universities. Earlier in April, teachers of different universities at their first-ever national convention expressed deep concern about the growing culture of sycophancy and the general tendency of the university administration to prioritise infrastructural development over the quality of education and academic research. All the while, the ministry of education and the University Grants Commission had, sadly, been silent which has led to the crisis at hand.
Students of the University of Dhaka, Jahangirnagar University and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibar Rahman Science and Technology University in Gopalganj now have stood up, demanding an immediate resignation of the vice-chancellors as they have lost their moral right to hold leadership positions. Forgery, extortion, tender irregularities by ruling party student leaders, favouritism and bribery in teacher recruitment are common in eight other public universities. Before the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union elections, the authorities allegedly enrolled 34 Chhatra League leaders as students, eight of whom were elected central students’ union members. According to media report, the vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University is found to have directly been involved in distributing extortion money to some university unit Chhatra League leaders from the development fund. The attack on protesting students of the university in Gopalganj, as New Age reported on Sunday, happened at the behest of the vice-chancellor. The nature of allegations against the vice-chancellors support the claim of the University Teachers’ Network that the appointment in this position happens based on their support for the political party in power rather than their leadership quality and academic credentials, which leads vice-chancellors to act as the mouthpiece of the government than educationists.
It is somewhat assuring that the Anti-Corruption Commission has decided to examine the allegations of widespread corruption in public universities. It is, however, far too late to just monitor the situation. The commission has recently launched investigation of the vice-chancellors of six public universities but surprisingly it excluded the vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University, even when complaints against her are reportedly made to the education ministry. In this grim situation, the commission must judiciously look into all allegations of corruption and hold people responsible to account. More importantly, the government must stop interfering with any academic and administrative activities of the universities, including the appointment of teachers, officials and employees.
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