Higher Education in Bangladesh: Problems and Policies

By Muhammad Masum.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The paper examines selected issues of access, equity and efficiency, both internal and external, of higher education as imparted in degree colleges and universities of Bangladesh, and makes certain policy recommendations. Degree colleges that account for the lion’s share of enrolment at the level of higher education in Bangladesh suffer from inadequate infra-structural facilities (libraries and laboratories), and lack of qualified teachers. The poor pass percentage and high incidence of unemployment amongst the graduates indicate to low levels of internal and external efficiency respectively. Because of limited number of seats in public universities, and high tuition fees charged by the private universities, access to university education is rather limited in Bangladesh. Private universities with inadequate full time faculty members depend heavily on part- time teachers drawn primarily from public universities, which adversely affect quality of education in those universities. With a few notable exceptions, most private universities impart education of uncertain quality, and high tuition fees charged by such institutions make them accessible only to the affluent sections in the society. Public universities, primarily dependent on limited government funding shrinking in real terms, unable to generate additional resources by raising tuition fees due to political constraints, are hardly in a position to improve their quality of education through greater investment in libraries and laboratories. Many democratic provisions of the University Acts not only encroach upon the limited teaching time of the faculty members by engaging them in active politics, but also fail to ensure accountability of the teachers, that contribute to lengthening of session jams, quite often accentuated by unscheduled closures of universities due to violent inter and intra-party clashes of student fronts of major political parties. Moreover, as it happens quite often, ‘voters’, not ‘teachers’ are recruited that adversely affect the quality of university education. As there hardly exists any linkage between public universities on the one hand, and employers and the job market on the other, many university graduates, produced at considerable cost to the society, have to remain unemployed for a considerable period of time before they find employment often in areas outside their fields of study. Private universities on the other hand remain confined only to a few disciplines that have high market demand. The paper concludes with a few policy recommendations for improving equitable access to, and efficiency, both internal and external, of higher education in Bangladesh.

Keywords: Higher Education, Bangladesh

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 1, Issue 5, pp.17-30. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 593.178KB).

Dr. Muhammad Masum

Adjunct Professor, Department of Economics, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, USA

Professor Muhammad Masum has been teaching in the Department of Economics, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh, since 1979. On leave from his university, he served Towson University as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Economics in 2006-07, and is currently serving as an adjunct professor in the Departments of Economics of Towson University and Morgan State University, USA. He obtained his Ph. D. in Economics from Delhi School of Economics in 1977, and served as a Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellow at Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford in 1983-84. He started his professional career as an Assistant Director of Bangladesh Education Commission in June, 1973; joined Dhaka University as a Lecturer in Economics in Sept. 1973, became an Assistant Professor in February, 1978, and moved to Jahangirnagar University as an Associate Professor in Jan. 1979, where he became a Professor in April, 1988. Professor Masum served as a Visiting Fellow in Heidelberg University (1990), as a Consultant on Education , Manpower and Employment to Banglash Planning Commission (1989); as a Thomas Jefferson Fellow in the University of California, Riverside (1993-94); as an ILO adviser in Ghana (1994-95), as the Executive Director of UCEP-Bangladesh, a large NGO implementing an integrated program of general, technical and vocational education and job placement services for underprivileged urban children of Bangladesh(1998-99). He is a development economist by traing with considerable research and consultancy experience at home and abroad. His research interests include education, poverty and employment. He also served as the Member Secretary to the National Task Force on Education formed by CPD to prepare policy brief on education. Professor Masum published two books, co-authored one, published a number of journal articles and research reports.

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