Tertiary education today


Throughout the history of Bangladesh, students of different university played a very important role in the nation building process. On February 14, protesting against a controversial education policy they took bullets on the streets. Since then, the day is observed as the day of resistance against autocratic forces. Nahid Riyasad looking at different national education policies and its practices writes about the realities of tertiary education.

Collage of photographs from the protest on February 14, 1983. Courtesy: Collected.

Collage of photographs from the protest on February 14, 1983. Courtesy: Collected.

February 14, 1983. That was the reign of autocratic military dictator HM Ershad. His education minister Majid Khan had announced a controversial education policy. Students from different public universities collectively protested against the anti-people education policy. On that day, under the banner of Chatra Shangram Parishad (United Students Resistance), they brought out a procession towards the secretariat. The procession was obstacled by the law-enforcement in front of High Court, things turned violent soon, police used water cannon, bayonet and subsequently opened fire on the students. At least 10 students lost their lives, however, the original number of casualties might never be known. That day, brave students stood in front of the oppressive state force and fearlessly took bullets, laid down their lives, marking their names in the history. The day which is widely regarded as the day for love, has become something very opposite but interconnected to us, the day which started anti-autocracy movement. Needlessly to say, love and revolution is opposite side of a coin and one cannot be legitimised as well as fulfilled without the other; on the day of love, those students demonstrated their inner rebel.

In a course of seven years, starting from that day, students along with ordinary people of Bangladesh, have successfully overthrown the military dictator and paved the way for an elected government. The controversial education policy was never enacted. However, as country entered a stage democracy, academic environment in public universities, as well as student politics slowly became a matter of maintaining territorial control than about organising protests against education policies projects that goes against the interest of the students.

In this circumstance, to mark the day this year, this article has taken up education policies of Bangladesh starting from 1974 to the most recent 2010. The first national commission, popularly known as the Qudrat-e-Khuda commission’s report, was published in 1974. While 1974 was the first in independent Bangladesh and the subsequent ones have followed its basic essence, contradictions are widely found in the implementation of these policies. This discussion will revolve around the philosophical basis of these policies and how they are adapted and dealt with in the academia, mainly in the tertiary level.

In the 1974 commission report, under the chapter of higher education, an important recommendation is given. The commission suggested that ‘there is no alternative of introducing Bangla in all stages of education’ and in order to do so, through a gradual process, modern and important reference works need to be translated in Bengali. According to the report, ‘this is an important National task’. The report also added that in this scenario, English medium ‘may continue for a short period’.

In the 1974 policy also, language of instruction in higher education was a priority concern. According to this report, due to the colonial legacy, our higher education is still taught in English which is a ‘burden’ to the students and a strong ‘obstacle’ on the path of education. Bangladesh, ignoring the recommendation of the commission, made no substantial attempt to make such knowledgeable reads available in Bengali. As a result, English has remained the language of higher education, singling out Bengali. This directly contradicts with the essence of 1952 language movement as well as affects the practice of knowledge in tertiary level education. To cope up with the higher education, English medium schools have thrived in the meantime thus creating another class of students, mainly belonging to the upper income margin of the society. As a result, divisions are created; students from Bengali medium are having hard time grasping the language of higher education thus hampering their overall education process. Interestingly enough, we have not seen many efforts from the authority to implement Bengali as the medium of higher education.

The 1974’s education policy has been also lauded for its diversity as well as democratic practice. The commission was established in 1972 and they worked two years to establish the policy. During the process, a team has travelled to India to observe their education system. Newspaper articles on education were scrutinised, recommendation from all concerned people were taken into account and a questionnaire was prepared in order to take opinions from an array of people. This process evidently indicates that the process has been done democratically. This participatory process was not followed in the formulation of the following education policies.

In every education policy including the 1974, a major aspect of higher education is to create knowledge through unique research. However, our existing reality might suggest us something entirely different. Universities are not anymore centre of research education; rather they have turned into something very different. At this stage, agendas of private and public universities differ but remain all the same at the core. In case of public universities, they have become a production house of bureaucrats or civil servants. Sole interest of students have become securing a place in the public service, doing well in Bangladesh civil service examination. The library at Dhaka University is used more as place for preparing for the BCS exam than as a place to look through reference books and course readings. Clearly, the university has failed to create an environment for student nurture her/his thrust for new knowledge.

In case of private universities, the practice is somewhat similar but the goals are slightly different. They have become a house of creating more eligible corporate officials. The way day to day activities in private universities are managed from organising job fairs or arranging youth leadership programmes in association with different corporations, it will not be mistaken to suggest that student learns more about the etiquettes of corporate world than grow independent critical thinking.   It seems like, in most cases, driving force of the private universities is to supply more and more corporate-ready graduates. However, there are exceptions. What I am trying to imply is that policy wise, both in private and public sector education, we are witnessing a fundamental shift — a shift towards producing bureaucrats or blue collar executives than scientists, researchers, writers, or the intellectual minds.

Previously, students were known for their strong stance against any oppression, raising their voices in favour of the people, as they did on 14th February of 1983. Needless to say, in order to secure a job, they have to compensate with their revolutionary essence. This could be the greatest loss for any nation.


Ehsan Rafiq has been beaten mercilessly and is likely to lose his eye sight after he asked to return his calculator to a Bangladesh Chatra League activist. Protesting at the incident, this is a postcard from social media.

Ehsan Rafiq has been beaten mercilessly and is likely to lose his eye sight after he asked to return his calculator to a Bangladesh Chatra League activist. Protesting at the incident, this is a postcard from social media.

Responsibilities of teachers are described in detail in the 1974 policy. This states that the overall standard of education is hugely dependent on the quality of the teachers. According to this report, teachers are not only to lecture, but also to develop the overall standard of the students by inspiring and setting a good example. Tertiary level teachers are suggested to spend at least 3-4 hours in the library daily to enrich their knowledge, to conduct researches; they are also encouraged to spend more time in their respective institutions. Janata Bank has recently cracked the headlines of daily newspapers because they have sanctioned more than double of their capital to a single person, most of which is done under the chairmanship of a professor of the university. In September of last year, at least five teachers of different department of DU have been accused of plagiarism, the highest order of academic crime. Recently, during a protest, activists of BCL have been seen attacking the protesters in order to ‘rescue’ the vice-chancellor of DU. The VC told the media that he has called BCL to ‘rescue’ him. What kind of a teacher calls activists from political party student wing for security? The kind, that serves the government rather than the students and the university. What kind of legacy are these teachers leaving behind? Needless to say, a shameful one!

Private universities are now a fairly common phenomena in our education arena, started in the early 1990s. From then till date, according to the University Grant Commission website, there are 95 private universities operating in Bangladesh now. According to the 2010 policy, private universities should protect the quality of education as well as recruit teachers according to university standard, to ensure the quality of the education. They should not discriminate students based on skin colour, economical status or physical disability. Also, they cannot run after financial goals. Now, given the contemporary scenario, are private universities non-profit organisations? Are they offering affordable education? If so, to which class of the society?

The Article 13.12 of 1974 report deals with a rather grim and ugly truth of our education system that is the dependency on memorisation and flawed examination process. This system in reality forces the students to memorise their texts rather understanding them and copy the exact same answer on exam script. This seriously damages the intellectuality of the students in the long run. University admission system has become nothing but memorising certain irrelevant ‘general knowledge’ and judge their merit based on that. The situation even intensifies in case of BCS examination, which recruits future bureaucrats. This process, actually, encourages students to memorise rather understanding the subject matter, thus they remain intellectually handicapped, which reflects in our public sector.

Education sector is an important sector for any country, as it holds a key responsibility in creating the future citizens and voices. Following the fall of autocratic government, university has been increasingly politicised. There are new public and private universities, new buildings, a lot of investment in infrastructural developments, but the emotional labour and care that is needed to nurture mind of young students is not there. Perhaps, that is why we see a student of Dhaka University is beaten to the extent by the cadres of Bangladesh Chatral League that he is on the verge of losing his sight, yet no procession is there to demand justice. Neither the general students nor the faculties! Perhaps, the best way to observe the sacrifice of students in 1983 is to raise our voices against the impunity that ruling party thugs are enjoying on every campuses today.


Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.












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