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Declining standard of tertiary level education

Just as it is impossible to construct a building without strong foundation it would be unwise to expect an improvement in standards in higher education without improving the quality of primary, secondary and higher secondary institutions
Syed Mehdi Momin
Declining standard of tertiary level education

The UNESCO defines higher education as ‘all types of studies, training or training for research at the post-secondary level, provided by universities or other educational establishments that are approved as institutions of higher education by the competent state authorities’.

Quality higher education is evidently a critical element of development, which a country like Bangladesh must build, if it is to make progress in the contemporary world that feeds on knowledge and breeds on competition.  The standard of education is the most important thing that helps people to remain updated with the latest developments in all subjects and areas of life. The only way that Bangladesh, regarded as a Least Developed Country (LDC) can narrow its income gap with developed world economies is by using knowledge earned by graduates from the universities.

  Education can’t solve all economic and social problems, but it directly increases the proportion of the population who are empowered to contribute to the solution of those problems.

As long as higher education remains available only to a tiny proportion of the population, the nation will restrict its capacity for full economic, social, intellectual, and cultural growth. Many experts have criticised the higher education system for poor quality degree programmes low quality post-graduate education, even in national universities. Private education meanwhile, is unregulated for the most part, with little by way of quality assurance. Large output of low quality graduates has economic and political repercussions. Most of the unemployed and under-employed graduates are from this category.

Most public universities suffer from the culture of violence inside universities. There are students who indulge in violence for the sake of violence. The most trivial of issues are used to incite student violence which results in destabilising universities.

Most countries with a vision for the future have recognised that education in general and quality higher education in particular are the keys to overall growth. They are devoting a large share of the national income and encouraging the private sector to improve the academic institutions. If Bangladesh does not follow suit it will continue to lag behind in the global economy. Mechanisms for assuring the best possible quality must be put in place in the various institutions to enable them take a critical self analysis of their programmes and institutional capacity. Quality higher education prepares people for the knowledge-based economy and also provides a stimulus for creativity and innovation. Universities need to ensure international standards of quality and education that is professionally and socially relevant to 21st-century realities. The seats of higher learning must prepare graduates to live and work in a globalised world with equal advantage.      

Unfortunately for Bangladesh, higher education had witnessed a long period of and stagnation. Naturally the neglect has resulted in a gross decline–especially regarding quality of teaching and research activities– in the quality of higher education and unfortunately this decline became evident at a time when higher education was experiencing escalating enrolments, declining resources, academic brain-drain, etc.  The standard of the faculty and their devotion to teaching has come under scrutiny. Also many students not prepared for tertiary education are getting admitted to the universities. The high pass rates at HSC and SSC exams do not necessarily mean that the standards have improved correspondingly.

Just as it is impossible to construct a building without strong foundation it would be unwise to expect an improvement in standards in higher education without improving the quality of primary, secondary and higher secondary institutions.

Unfortunately the concept of university education is not clear to most people here. University is not really a place where the teachers have to “complete the syllabuses inside the classroom. Many a time exams have been postponed because the teachers did not “teach” the students every part of the syllabus.

Ideally by the time students reach the university, they are supposed to be matured enough to understand lectures and what is expected of them by their teachers. As most students are not actually mature enough we can draw the obvious conclusion that there is something grossly wrong with the 12-year pre-university programmes. We also have to accept that the university can do little for them.

The quality of education in any university depends a lot on the previous academic performance of the intake. Expecting to improve the quality and standards in higher education without improving the quality of schools and colleges is not possible. It would be like attempting to build a building without first establishing a strong foundation.  The proportion of students who are ready for higher education cannot be substantially increased until we address severe problems in the availability and quality of elementary and secondary schools.

  It is also true that some university teachers do not have good enough understanding of the subject they are supposed to teach. One of the main criterions of ensuring quality education is recruitment of good teachers. The public universities have systematic rules for this purpose, which on many occasions have been nullified because of political interventions. The private sector must be incorporated thoroughly. In the current day scenario the state simply cannot bear the burden of education alone. Neither in an open economy it is advisable to restrict higher education to a few public universities.

If the education system becomes stagnant or not updated on a regular basis, students naturally will become incompetent and the system will fail to provide the solid base on which the development of this country can rely on. It is disappointing to say the least that the academic courses are not being updated at regular intervals and there is hardly any research involved in the academic activities of students. The importance of research can’t be overstated. Many students pass even their masters programmes without doing proper research in any particular area of their subject.  The developed countries or countries on the path of development make regular addition or subtraction from their academic courses to cope with changing times. In all advanced countries of the world, students start research as soon as they enter university.

Upgrading and improving constantly is the key to success. Quality is a relative term and yesterday's quality withers away today. Scholars need to continuously update their knowledge for achieving better results for the benefit of our education system. Most countries with a vision for the future have recognised that education in general and quality higher education in particular are the keys to overall growth. They are devoting a large share of the national income and encouraging the private sector to improve the academic institutions. If Bangladesh does not follow suit it will continue to lag behind in the global economy.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent

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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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