Comparatively new public universities as well as those outside Dhaka are failing to woo students for their poor performance due mainly to shortage of teacher and infrastructure.
The number of vacant seats at these universities, mostly at the new ones and those in the outlying districts, tripled in the last three years.
According to University Grants Commission, about 4,100 honours and post-graduation level seats were vacant in 2016-2017 sessions in public universities — an increase by three times from 1615 seats vacant in 2014-15 session.
Against this backdrop, another 11 new public universities are in the pipeline and of them 10 are in the outlying districts.
Academicians have blamed hasty and unplanned opening of higher seats of learning without creating the needed infrastructure and recruiting required number of teachers.
‘Students and their guardians do not prefer the new universities as well as those in outlying districts as these institutions have failed to earn their confidence,’ Dhaka University professor emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury said.
‘Most of the new universities do not have adequate number of teachers, library, laboratories and dormitories,’ he said.
Former UGC chairman AK Azad Chowdhury also cited inadequate teacher and infrastructure for these universities’ failure to attract students.
Guardians do not feel confident about sending their children to the universities outside Dhaka and those which are comparatively new, says UGC chairman professor Abdul Mannan.
The latest UGC annual report, placed at parliament in second week of February, shows that in 2016-17 session 4,098 out of 82,948 seats at honours and Master’s level were vacant.
Of the vacant seats, around 79 per cent are from universities in outlying districts. Currently, there are 39 public universities functional and among them nine are in the capital.
The UGC report shows that no seats were vacant at Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Bangladesh University of Textiles, Islamic Arabic University, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and Jahangirnagar University at both honours and Master’s level.
No honours level seat was vacant at Jagannath University and Bangladesh University of Professional but there were 800 seats at Master’s level were vacant
at Jagannath and 20 at BUP. Both the universities were established after 2005.
UGC officials said that in 2015-16 session 1,629 seats out of 74,540 were vacant at the same level while in 2014-15 session 16,15 out of 74,322 seats were vacant.
UGC said 125 Master’s seats in 2016-17 session were vacant at Khulna University of Engineering and Technology established in 2003.
Khulna University of Engineering and Technology VC Muhammed Alamgir said that a few seats could remain vacant.
He, however, contested the UGC data saying that number of vacant seat would not be 125.
The UGC chairman said that the annual report was prepared based on information provided by the universities, so they should not deny the figures.
UGC report said that 670 Master’s seats remained vacant at Comilla University established in 2006.
The university registrar, M Majibur Rahman Mazumder, said that in the Master’s programme they tried to enrol students based on merit, therefore a large number of seats remained vacant.
Besides, many students of Master’s discontinue courses as they get jobs or go abroad to study at foreign universities, he says.
‘It is very unfortunate that so many seats remain vacant when many students are going abroad and taking lesson at high cost private universities,’ said Serajul Islam Choudhury.
The number of students heading for universities abroad has doubled in one decade as shown by the latest data of UNESCO.
A total of 33,000 Bangladeshis enrolled for higher education at universities abroad in 2016, over a double from 15,700 in 2007.
‘This is waste of public money,’ Shahjalal University of Science and Technology vice-chancellor Professor Farid Uddin Ahmed said.
UGC 2016 report shows that 51 seats at honours and 681 at Master’s level were vacant at SUST in 2016-17 session.
Often the honours students do not continue and leave the courses midway, therefore the seats fall vacant, Farid Uddin Ahmed points out.
Since it is a technology university, many students start their jobs after the honours and do not feel the need to continue Master’s courses, he adds.
At Rajshahi University, 343 seats at honours level were vacant in 2016-2017 session, shows the UGC report.
RU pro-VC Ananda Kumar Saha said the students often moved to other universities.
Education ministry and UGC officials said that laws for forming a digital university in Gazipur, two medical colleges in Rajshahi and Chittagong and a technical university in Jamalpur were passed by the parliament.
The government is planning to set up another seven universities in Dhaka, Habiganj, Laxmipur, Netrokona, Kishorganj, Chandpur and Bogra.
Spreading higher education was needed but that not should be only for publicity, said Serajul Islam adding many of the new universities did not turn into proper universities.
‘Emphasis should be put on issues of teacher, labs and infrastructure when you are setting up new universities,’ AK Azad Chowdhury suggested.