Public universities in developing countries play an important role in empowerment of their citizens in various means. Like other developing countries, Public universities have been shaping the middle class of Bangladesh since earlier decades of the last century.
Dhaka University, the oldest and the largest public university in Bangladesh, was established in 1921 and has been contributing immensely in the self determination of Bangladeshis and still in driver's seat to shape theoretical and practical understanding of generations. The quality of the education is claimed to be declined though, still the university produces the best minds, particularly in the arena of social sciences and humanities. Hence a degree from this university is a dream and passion for many aspirants countrywide.
But relevant question to ask: Does it able to accommodate the best aspiring students in the country? I would argue that it doesn't. Despite having many drawbacks of the university, I would attempt to shed some light on one crucial aspect of it which is applicable to all public universities. Although the public universities offer Honours and Master's Courses, they don't have provision to conduct separate entrance test for Master's programmes, even no provision to enrol Master's students apart from their honours students. I contend that the system is not justified from two grounds: efficiency and equity.
The efficiency of any system is modestly evaluated in terms of input cost and output benefit or outcome. In any system, private or public; efficiency is concerned with the technique in making the best use of the available inputs. Equity is rather a distributional notion which is again related to allocation efficiency. Equity question asks the ethical ground of any distribution. Any public expenditure is ideally being expected to fulfil these two primary features.
As the public universities are mainly funded by the public pockets, the expenditure should consider the aforementioned two notions. The intake of University of Dhaka is based on the aggregate score of an admission test of 120 points and the past academic records for 80 points. The admission test follows an MCQ manner with the time duration of 60 minutes. So, anyone in Bangladesh has the opportunity to gain a lifetime windfall in only 60 minutes! Well, this rule is acceptable considering a huge numbers of applicants and the cynic feasibility of designing a second best method with higher optimality right now.
But, should this test be enough to be qualified to achieve two highly subsidised degrees from the most desired university of the country? I think; No. The university has the ability to provide some excellent professionals in the respective fields considering the infrastructure and faculty setups it has. But it is giving low quality inputs by choosing the lower grade students from its own Honours course where it could have asked for high quality inputs by relaxing the barriers to entry. But it is not doing which is applied by all public universities in Bangladesh. As a result the high profiled professors are not getting the best desired students in their classroom and thus compromising with their course curriculums. The ultimate impact is on the low quality of public university Master's degree which is creating inefficiency in higher education in public sectors.
We see the secondary impact on this efficiency in the job market where a Master's degree can rarely give any strong signal due to having enormous low quality Master's degree in the market which was not supposed to be so.
Secondly, the equity ground deserves a distributive justice among the citizens of the state. Public investment in a comparatively lower grade or less capable or less motivated individual instead of an accomplished individual is not justified from the equity ground. A 60 minute test for a 12th standard graduate can be the basis of entering a first university degree but should not be the basis of getting a specialised degree in a particular discipline. The criterion to have specialisation in a particular discipline should be based on the knowledge and interest of that discipline for which a separate entrance test is needed. In that aspect the reasonable question is how a public authority can curb a citizen in getting into her desired opportunity from the state despite having adequate qualifications? What are the justifications of restricting the top 5th percentile student of Chittagong University, Rajshahi University or North South University to enter Dhaka University while the university is providing the same degree to its 95th percentile student? Why not making a level ground for the public before offering each single degree in public universities? This is utterly an inequitable distribution of public opportunity which is required to be revised. This obstructive decision is one of the responsible factors of gradual deterioration of the quality of University of Dhaka as well as public universities in Bangladesh. It also disrupts the intensive structure of the higher education system. In this context, the public universities in Bangladesh should change their intake rules and place entrance test for each regular degree. That will encourage the undergraduate students to dedicate more time in studying and help in achieving a strong command in their respective discipline. On the other side, the high qualified faculties of public universities will get enthusiastic and sincere scholar in their classroom which may contribute in changing the current gloomy scenario of higher education in public universities of Bangladesh.
Alauddin Mohammad is an Economics Graduate of University of Dhaka and currently perusing MA in Development Economics at South Asian University, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]