Private universities gripped by politics
Quality education at private universities is at risk as the regulatory body cannot compel the powerful and politically influential owners to abide by the rules and regulations, University Grants Commission (UGC) top officials have said.
The UGC has been assigned to look after the private universities, according to the latest act formulated in 2010. However, the education ministry takes the executive decision.
The act has not specified the qualification for the members of Board of Trustees of the universities.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, two top officials said anybody can launch universities.
About half of the private universities were approved in the last ten years, during the rule of Awami League. Fifty per cent of these universities are owned by ministers, members of parliament, government-backed student and teacher leaders.
Prothom Alo investigation finds many businessmen, who have connection with the ruling party, were allowed to launch private universities. Non-government organisations were also allowed to run several universities and family members were included in the Board of Trustees. Relatives dominate activities of the universities, too.
In 2014, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) conducted a study on private universities. At that time, one third owners of the universities were businessmen, the same as educationists while one fifth owners were politicians. The rest owners were physicians, retired government officials and NGO officials.
Ex-TIB official Nina Shamsun Nahar was involved in the study. Speaking to Prothom Alo, she said businessmen and educationists, who owned the universities, also had political links. The study found owners took benefits in many ways from these ‘non-profitable’ universities.
There are various allegations against most of the private universities. These include flouting rules and regulations, non-submission of annual audit reports, low quality of education and willful collection of fees.
A total of 105 private universities have been established in the last 27 years. One among them was later shut down. In the beginning of 1990, the decision was taken to launch private universities as public universities had limited seats. The university was first approved in 1992. A total of 21 universities were there till August 2001.
According to Prothom Alo investigation, the approval of universities on political consideration began during the BNP-Jamaat alliance government in 2001. At that time, a total of 34 universities were approved. Ministers, leaders or close relatives owned eight universities. In the last two working days of the government, two universities were approved. The then minister Abdullah Al Noman got arrival of one university and non-government organisation ASHA got another.
Random approval of private universities began in 2012. Since then, a total of 50 universities have been approved during the Awami League rule.
According to the education ministry, UGC and universities, the owners of at least 25 universities are directly linked to the ruling party. Of these, 16 are owned by current or former members of parliament, ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers.
Officials concerned said applications have been submitted for another 100 universities. AL leaders, Jatiya Party (JaPa) and businessmen are behind this.
Universities of ministers, MPs and leaders:
Global University is located at a rented house adjacent to Nothulla Bus Stand of Barishal town. There are about 1,300 students under four faculties. No vice-chancellor has been recruited in three and half years. Full laboratory and library were not established either. Registrar AKM Enayet Hossain said efforts are on to recruit a VC and land has been bought for campus.
Chairman of the Board of Trustee (BoT) is Syeda Arjuman Banu. She is the wife of former state minister and AL joint general secretary Jahangir Kabir Nanok, who is a secretary of BoT while his daughter and daughter-in-law are also Trustee members.
University of Brahmanbaria was approved in March. AL central leader RAM Ubaidul Muktadir Chowdhury owns the university located at Chinair of Sadar upazila. CHT affairs minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing owns Bandarban University which was approved last year.
A total of 16 universities were approved in 2012. Port City International University was established in Chattogram. According to the website of the university, AL organisation secretary and deputy minister AKM Enamul Haque is the chairman of Board of Trustee. He was the president of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), student wing of ruling AL.
European University of Bangladesh was also approved at that time. Former home minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir is the chairman of Board of Trustee of this university. First Capital University of Bangladesh was established in Chuadanga. District AL unit president Soleman Haque Joardar is chairman of this university.
Former minister and Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon is one of the owners of Sonargaon University in Dhaka. Former BCL general secretary Nazrul Islam Babu is one of the other owners while his wife is the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Exim Bank owners established Exim Bank Krishi University in Chapainawabganj. Vice chairman of the Board of Trustee is AL former organising secretary Abdul Mannan. Former state minister and mayor of Khulna Talukdar Abdul Khalek is chairman of Board of Trustee of North Western University in Khulna.
Feni University was established in 2012. Chairman of its Board of Trustee is Alauddin Ahmed Chowdhury who was the former BCL president of Chattogram University unit. He became assistant personal secretary of prime minister Sheikh Hasina after he had joined admin cadre. According to the website of the university, AL MP of Feni Nizamuddin Hazari is also in the Board of Trustees.
Former information minister and JSD president Hasanul Haq Inu is chairman of the Board of Trustees of Rabindra Maitree University in Kushtia. His wife Afroza Haq is also in the Board of Trustees. AL presidium member and former law minister Abdul Matin Khosru is chairman of the Board of Trustees of CCN University in Cumilla.
According to the website of Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib University in Jamalpur, former state minister for textile and jute and AL central leader Mirza Azam owns the university. Ruling party MP of Lakshmipur Anwar Hossain is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Anwar Modern University in the capital’s Uttara area.
Iqbal Ahmed Chowdhury is chairman of North East University in Sylhet. He is Gopalganj upazila unit AL president and also upazila parishad chairman. Cox’s Bazar former AL general secretary Salauddin Ahmed is chairman of Cox’s Bazar International University.
Sonar Bangla Insurance Limited chairman Sheikh Kabir Hossain owns Dhaka Fareast University. He is the chief adviser of Tungipara unit AL of Gopalganj. He is the president of Private University Owners Association. AL information and publicity secretary Afzal Hossain, AL central committee member Sujit Roy Nandi and BCL former leader Showkat Hossain Khan are in the Board of Trustees of University of Global Village in Barishal. Four former BCL leaders are with Port City International University. Two former BCL presidents are AKM Enamul Haque and HM Badiuzzaman. Two former general secretaries are MP Saifuzzaman Shikhor and Mahfuzul Haidar Chowdhury.
NPI University of Bangladesh was approved in 2015. BCL former general secretary Ishak Ali Khan owns it. It is heard that more than one BCL leaders are involved in the Board of Trustees of Barandra University of Rajshahi.
Family members at the helm of universities
Members of the same family are leading the Boards of Trustees in at least four universities. They are also holding posts of VC, treasurers and registrars. All of them are supporters of the ruling party.
Rasheda Khalek is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of North Bengal International University in Rajshahi. VC of the university is her husband Abdul Khalek who is the presidium member of AL. Their daughter is a member of the Board of Trustees. Son-in-law Riaz Mohammad is registrar as well as another Trustee. Professor Khalek is former VC of Rajshahi University.
The university is housed on two floors at a building in Rajshahi town. The building has also housed a bank, a coaching centre, and other establishments. Riaz Mohammad said they have bought land for a campus.
AL-backed businessman Joynul Haque Shikdar is chairman of ZH Shikdar University of Science and Technology in Shariatpur. His wife Monoara Shikdar is the vice chairman. Their daughter Parvin Haque, who is AL member of parliament from reserved seats for women, is also in the Board of Trustees. Several members of the family are also with the university. World University of Bangladesh was established in Dhaka in 2003. Dhaka University former professor Abdul Mannan is VC of this university. He is one of the founders of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee. His wife Morsheda is the treasurer. Son Shafiq Mannan is acting chairman of the Board of Trustee. Besides, members of same family are in the top posts of Uttara University in Dhaka.
Teacher leaders and others
Professor Mohammed A Aziz, who is the founder of Rajshahi Science & Technology University founded in 2013, was a teacher of Dhaka University’s Faculty of Science and the convener of pro-Awami League teachers’ Blue Panel. In a recent visit, it was found that the university is troubled with many problems.
Durgadas Bhattacharjee, former vice chancellor of National University and member of AL’s advisory council founded Ishakha International University in 2012.
Former leader of pro-AL DU teachers’ Blue Panel and Jagannath University’s ex-VC, Mesbahuddin Ahmed is a member of the Board of Trustees at German University Bangladesh located in Gazipur.
Dhaka’s Northern University authorities have started Northern University of Business and Technology in Khulna. Abu Yousuf Md Abdullah is its VC. He sought nomination from ruling AL from Satkhira-3 constituency in the 30-December election.
Rupayan AKM Shamsuzzoha University, an initiative of business group Rupayan, has been approved to run in Narayanganj’s Fatullah. The university has been named after AL leader Shamim Osman’s father.
Pro-AL business leader Sharif M Afzal Hossain is the founder of Time University located in Faridpur.
The founders of private universities who do not have political connections are around 38 in number. Majority of them are businessmen, three belong to army and the rest are owned by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Dhaka Ahsania Mission., Bangladesh Diabetic Samity, Notre Dame College and Kumudini Trust.
Ownership gets changed
Atish Dipankar University of Science and Technology got approval in 2004 during the BNP-Jamaat alliance government. Later president Iajuddin Ahmed’s wife Anwara Begum was the founder of the university. But in 2009, a conflict began between Anwara Begum and former acting VC M Abul Hossain Sikder. Later, Anwara was removed from her post and four former Bangladesh Chhatra League leaders were made members of the university’s Board of Trustees.
They are Iqbal Hossain, former joint general secretary of BCL and Shariatpur MP, president Liakat Shikder, vice president golam Sarwar Kabir and Syed M Hemayet Hossain, former BCL president of DU’s Ziaur Rahman Hall unit.
When Anwara died, ruling AL member of parliament (MP), Israfil Alam became chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees.
The same thing happened in two more universities.
Hossain Zillur Rahman, former education adviser to the 2007 caretaker government, said that the main concern is how the universities are being run, not the way they got approval.
“The initiators show eagerness for getting the universities approved but they act differently when it comes to improve the standard of education,” he added.
No question arises when a university approved through political connections does well. And so, the initiatives which can ensure quality of education should be approved,” he also said.
*The report published in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Imam Hossain