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16 May, 2021 05:59:23 PM
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Is it the beginning of an era of bureaucrats in public universities?

There is a need to think calmly whether bringing in people who are not university professors to the overall management of the universities will bring any benefit at all, or will add further to ongoing crises in country's higher education system leading to chaos and worsening of the situation.
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin
Is it the beginning of an era of bureaucrats in public universities?

Eventually the fears began to prove true. When Sheikh Rezaul Karim, the Registrar of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, was given the routine charge of Vice-Chancellor last September, 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 comes evident from the appointment of Mohammad Abdul Mannan, Additional Secretary (PRL), Department of Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation, Ministry of Planning, as the Treasurer of Bangamata Sheikh Fojilatunnesa Mujib Science & Technology University, Jamalpur on May 6.
Naturally, the teachers’ community in the universities could not take the matter easily. The Federation of Bangladesh University Teachers' Association as well as teachers' associations of different universities has already protested the appointment. Teachers are also posting status individually in 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?
In a country the universities are engaged in building up highly skilled and qualified human resources to serve the needs of the 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 whatnot. New technologies emerge, new horizons of knowledge and science are opened, and the society and the civilization get the direction to move forward. The universities in different countries have played a key role in bringing the world civilization 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 move forward.
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 the University is responsible for the overall coordination of these supports.
Due to the opportunity to play an important role in the overall management of the country, civil service enjoys a special status in this country. There is no alternative for 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 can play their due role from their respective places, it can ensure total welfare of the country. If you are committed to lead an honest life, the civil service may not appear as an attractive option to you in terms of compensation packages. However, 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 enjoys at all levels of society, a large section of the youth in this country 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 not it 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 have to go through various trainings and tests to get promoted to next positions. At each and every step, they have to fulfill 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 why there has been a practice for long time in the country of appointing high-ranking civil servants in deputation to top positions in various semi-government / autonomous organizations. There is good reason to believe that they make significant contributions to the management of these organizations 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 higher education institutions are already plagued with hundreds of problems. There is a need to think calmly whether bringing in people who are not university professors to the overall management of the universities will bring any benefit at all, or will add further to ongoing crises in country's higher education system leading to chaos and 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 higher education institution, involving teaching, research, student affairs, and student-teacher relationship. The overall insight that s/he 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. Despite some limitations, the kind of free and open interaction that takes place among teachers and students and with the outside world, in universities in this country, as a platform for free thought and reflection, is the same practiced in the civil service?
Thus, the skills and experiences gained by a high-ranking civil servant in the course of his long career are certainly invaluable assets for the country and the nation. However, it does not matter when it comes to running a university --- not only for the positions like Vice-Chancellor or Pro-Vice Chancellor, but not even for the position of Treasurer. 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 nationalized primary education and on the other hand gave autonomy to the universities so that free thinking and scholarship could be practiced in higher education. There may be questions on the point that to what extent we have used or abused this gift endowed by him, but if we want higher education to play a proper role for the sake of the country and the nation, 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.


The writer is a professor of pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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