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A Deep Dive into the Ranking Struggles of Universities in Bangladesh

A Deep Dive into the Ranking Struggles of Universities in Bangladesh

30-06-2024
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The pursuit of higher education has become a prevalent trend in our nation’s current generation. A significant number of students are selecting their dream countries to attain their advanced degrees. In this scenario, some have chosen to settle permanently in their country of education after completing their studies. Conversely, a considerable number of students aspire to return to their homeland, dedicating their lives to the betterment of their country by engaging in noble professions.

In the age of globalization, universities serve as the ideal platform for acquiring knowledge par excellence, effecting societal change, fostering talent, and promoting free thinking. As stated by India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, “A country is good if its universities are good.” So, what do our universities reveal about us?

According to Bangladesh University Grants Commission (UGC) statistics, there are currently 53 public universities, 3 international universities, and 114 private universities in Bangladesh. Public universities are further categorized into general universities, engineering universities, agricultural universities, science and technology universities, medical universities, specialized universities, and centrally affiliated specialized universities. Among these, several universities have celebrated their centenaries, with many crossing the 50-year milestone.

In recent years, university rankings have become a topic of widespread discussion both locally and internationally. In the era of cyber communication and technology, debates and critiques about university rankings are rife on social media and mainstream media in Bangladesh.

In the globalized world, rankings elevate universities’ recognition on the international stage. University rankings serve as an invaluable tool for educators, students, and policymakers. Systematic evaluations of universities, such as rankings based on various criteria including the quality of higher education, research output, and international reputation, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of institutions.

Times Higher Education, a London-based academic magazine, publishes rankings based on five criteria: teaching, research, citations, international outlook, and industry income, i.e., the commercialization of research work with industry.

Web Metrics, a Madrid-based education and research institute in Spain, prioritizes the ranking of university institutional website content, top researchers, and top research article citations. The United Arab Emirates-based organization, the Centre for World Universities, has four indicators: education, employability, the number of qualified teachers, and research.

The globally recognized Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings prioritize nine factors: institutional reputation, employer reputation, student population, research article citations per faculty, foreign faculty numbers, international student numbers, international research network, staff success, and sustainability. Each index has a score of 100, with the average value of the total 900 marks in nine indicators calculated, and universities are ranked based on the highest score.

In the recently published QS World University overall ranking, no university in Bangladesh is named among the top 500 universities globally. Even according to this year’s regional ranking of Times Higher Education, there is no university in Bangladesh among the top 300 universities in Asia.

Universities in Western nations, notably the United States and the United Kingdom, are recognized as the world’s finest. However, universities from various Asian countries are making significant strides. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA leads the pack with a perfect score of 100 on the QS indicators. The United Kingdom’s Cambridge (99.2) and Oxford (98.9) universities occupy the second and third spots, while the United States’ Harvard (98.3) and Stanford (98.1) universities are in the fifth and sixth positions.

Asian universities, including those in China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore, are vying with their counterparts in the developed world for educational excellence. Universities in neighboring countries like India and Pakistan are also making their mark. The top 500 universities list includes 29 universities from China, 15 from Japan, 11 from India, and 2 from Pakistan.

In the QS ranking of the top 700–1000 universities, three Bangladeshi universities (Dhaka University, Bangladesh Engineering University, and North South University) are included. Despite scoring poorly in some indicators, these universities managed to achieve an average overall value. This has led to skepticism about the quality of education and research in Bangladeshi universities, with the UGC itself questioning the quality of higher education.

Research plays a significant role in university rankings. Professors are tasked with critically analyzing data from fundamental research, generating new knowledge, and disseminating this knowledge to students. However, the quantity and quality of research at our universities are not competitive on an international level. This is due to several factors, including the relaxation of mandatory fundamental research for faculty promotion by university administrations.

In many universities, the lack of a well-structured promotion system and proper evaluation has led to an emphasis on teaching time, relegating research to a secondary role. This is evidenced by the considerable number of professors without research and PhD degrees in many universities, which is cause for concern.

A PhD is more than just a degree; it serves as a gateway to research for a researcher or teacher. In the developed world, a PhD degree is a prerequisite for becoming a university teacher. This has resulted in a reluctance to conduct research among teachers, which is reflected in the university’s world ranking position.

The number of original, high-quality publications and the proper citation of published articles are key factors in improving a university’s ranking. The more contemporary and original the research, the better the chances of publication in journals and the higher the citation count.

However, it is uncommon for weak and substandard research papers to be published in international Scopus-indexed journals. These journals have highly skilled editorial boards that maintain uncompromising standards of publication quality. Most of our country’s research papers are published in weak predatory journals without peer review, which rarely receive citations in quality journals. As a result, Bangladeshi universities are falling behind in the citation component of the world rankings.

The number of students and the teacher-student ratio are indicators of the quality of university education and improvement in ranking. Global higher education standards recommend a minimum teacher-student ratio of 1:20. Although exact statistics are not available, newspaper reports suggest that the teacher-student ratio in various universities is currently between 1:35 and 50. The pressure on teachers to manage classes, exams, assignments, presentations, etc. due to the excess number of students is leading to a decline in the quality of education.

A few decades ago, a large number of foreign students were enrolled in all the top universities in Bangladesh, but this number is gradually decreasing. Foreign students are losing interest in studying in Bangladesh due to a lack of adequate information on websites, complications related to admission and visa, bureaucratic complications, problems with modern accommodation, teaching in the Bengali language, and the absence of an international standard communication cell. This has also significantly reduced the number of foreign faculty or teachers.

The significance of information disseminated on university websites cannot be overstated, particularly when it comes to university rankings. Regrettably, the digital presence of many universities in our country leaves much to be desired. The information available is often incomplete and does not reflect the criteria used for ranking. Furthermore, the data that is available is frequently outdated and not regularly updated.

Our universities' websites are often cluttered with job postings and images from meetings and events. Communication channels, such as email, are often unreliable, with incorrect addresses listed and a lack of response to inquiries. There are some problems that need to be addressed.

The Disparity in Resource Allocation and Infrastructure Development

First of all, understanding the ranking struggles of universities in Bangladesh is important because of the stark disparity in resource allocation and infrastructure development. It's evident that the universities in the urban areas, particularly in Dhaka and Chittagong, are better equipped with modern facilities and have access to more resources. This is largely due to the concentration of wealth and opportunities in these cities. However, this urban-centric development model has inadvertently created a significant gap between urban and rural universities. The latter often struggle with inadequate facilities, outdated teaching materials, and a lack of qualified faculty members. This disparity not only affects the quality of education but also the research output, which is a critical factor in global university rankings. Therefore, a more equitable distribution of resources and a concerted effort towards infrastructure development in rural universities could be a pivotal step in improving the overall ranking of Bangladeshi universities.

The Impact of Insufficient Research Funding and Collaboration

Universities in Bangladesh, particularly those outside the capital, often face a dearth of funding for research activities. This financial constraint hampers their ability to conduct cutting-edge research, procure necessary equipment, and attract top-tier research talent. Furthermore, there is a noticeable lack of collaboration between universities, both domestically and internationally. Collaborative research has been proven to enhance the quality of research output and foster innovation, and it is a common practice among top-ranked universities worldwide. However, Bangladeshi universities have yet to fully embrace this approach. The absence of a strong culture of research collaboration and the exchange of ideas can lead to stagnation and limit the scope of research. Therefore, increasing research funding and promoting a culture of collaboration could significantly improve the research output of these universities, thereby improving their global rankings.

The Need for Curriculum Modernization and Industry Alignment

The curricula of many universities in Bangladesh are often outdated and not in sync with rapidly evolving global industry trends. This disconnect between academia and industry can result in graduates who are ill-prepared for the job market, thereby affecting the employability rate, which is a key factor in university rankings. Furthermore, the lack of emphasis on practical, hands-on learning and critical thinking in the curriculum can hinder the development of skills necessary for innovation and research. Therefore, modernizing the curriculum to incorporate current industry trends and fostering a learning environment that encourages practical application and critical thinking could significantly enhance the quality of graduates and research output. This, in turn, could improve the global ranking of universities in Bangladesh.

The Challenge of Faculty Development and Retention

The quality of faculty is a crucial determinant of a university’s ranking, as it directly impacts the quality of education and research output. However, many universities in Bangladesh grapple with the issue of attracting and retaining high-quality faculty. This is often due to factors such as inadequate remuneration, a lack of professional development opportunities, and limited research funding. Furthermore, there is a significant brain drain, with many talented academics leaving the country for better opportunities abroad. This not only depletes the pool of quality faculty but also affects the mentorship of students and the overall academic environment. Therefore, addressing these challenges through competitive remuneration, opportunities for continuous professional development, and creating an enabling environment for research could significantly improve faculty retention and, consequently, the global ranking of universities in Bangladesh.

Establishing a university is merely the first step towards securing a place in the global rankings. It is equally important to maintain educational standards and foster a culture of research among faculty members. The government has taken commendable steps towards modernizing higher education and promoting research in universities. These include the formation of an Accreditation Council, the implementation of an annual performance agreement, the establishment of an institutional quality assurance cell, and the launch of an outcome-based education system, among others.

However, to ascend in the aforementioned international rankings, a concerted effort under the leadership of the University Grants Commission is required to address the challenges faced by universities. This includes modernizing academic infrastructure and course curricula in line with international standards. The establishment of smart and virtual classrooms, well-equipped laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, high-speed internet, and resource-rich libraries is essential for enhancing the quality of higher education and facilitating fundamental research.

Universities can bolster their academic reputation by fostering a culture of research and innovation, increasing research funding, and incentivizing faculty members to conduct research. The global standing of a university can be enhanced by fostering international collaborations and partnerships, including signing Memorandums of Understanding with renowned universities.

Attracting foreign students can be achieved by creating joint research programs, offering credit transfers, scholarships, and student exchange opportunities with top-tier universities. In addition, the formulation of education and teacher-friendly policies, separate pay scales, and budgets for university teachers can significantly improve the quality of higher education and research.

The recent inclusion of university teachers in the universal pension scheme has been perceived as undermining the self-esteem of teachers, potentially deterring future talent from pursuing a career in teaching and higher education. By considering these overarching issues and coordinating with all relevant stakeholders, the UGC and other government agencies can expedite the realization of the grand vision of a golden Bengal by achieving high scores in the international ranking of universities. This will undoubtedly contribute to the nation's progress and prestige on the global stage.

In conclusion, the struggle of universities in Bangladesh to improve their global rankings is a multifaceted issue that requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. Addressing the disparities in resource allocation, enhancing research funding and collaboration, modernizing the curriculum, developing and retaining quality faculty, enhancing governance structures, promoting international exposure, investing in student services, and fostering visionary leadership are all critical steps in this journey.


References:

Kanya, Promila & Islam , Ariful Mithu. (2023, October 2). Why do Bangladeshi universities fare so poorly in global rankings? The Business Standard. https://www.tbsnews.net/analysis/why-do-bangladeshi-universities-fare-so-poorly-global-rankings-710426

Wadud, Mushfique. (2029, November 19). What’s wrong with our universities? Dhaka Tribune. https://www.dhakatribune.com/ opinion/ op-ed/ 193703/ what% E2% 80% 99s- wrong-with- our-universities

Hossain, Sazzad. (2024, April 30). Quality higher education a must for Smart Bangladesh. The Daily Messenger. https://www.dailymessenger.net/opinions/news/18301

A Karim, Mohammad. (2023, October 4). What's in a university ranking? The Dainik Shiksha. https://www.dainikshiksha.com/en/what-s-in-a-university-ranking/260884/

Hassan, Farheen. (2022, July 26). A look into the higher education landscape in Bangladesh. Dhaka Tribune. https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/291089/a-look-into-the-higher-education-landscape-in

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Md Sazzadul Islam
Md Sazzadul Islam is expert in national politics, education, and social issues
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