Curricula and accreditation
of higher education
by Professor Saifullah Khandker
EVERY year, more than half of the higher secondary certificate holders in Bangladesh are left without any access to higher education. Seats available in the 82 universities in Bangladesh (of which 51 are private and 31 are public) are very limited compared to the number of students completing Higher Secondary Certificate examinations every year (Fig. 002)
Private and public universities saw a combined enrolment of about 140,000 students in 2009, whereas roughly over 500,000 students show interest in pursuing higher education after the HSC exams every year (Fig. 001).
The government allowed the establishment of private universities through the Private University Act, 1992, Amendment, 1998 and 2010. The act provides guidelines and criteria for private universitiesâ€”mostly concerning their organisation and structure. The Private University Act, 2010, stipulates that private universities must have a balanced and intensive syllabus to be approved by the University Grants Commission. It also gives a syndicate of private universities the power to make statutes concerning syllabuses, teaching methods, etc.
However, these provisions are proving to be inadequate in maintaining the standard of higher education as particular groups exploit their loopholes to turn educational institutions into business enterprises. A few of the new private universities are delivering below-standard performance. Consequently, not one of the countryâ€™s 82 public and private universities can be found in most top-500 lists in the global ranking of universities.
In Bangladesh, everybody talks about â€˜quality educationâ€™. In the electronic media, talk-shows and news programmes emphasise on educational quality and ads on admission stressing the quality of education are placed every day. But the reality is very different.
Dhaka University is considered to be the best educational institution in the country. Yet, the best student from this institution (say, a student with A in HSC and SSC and first class first positions in both honours and masterâ€™s exams) would have to complete at least four or five semesters (depending on the department) before starting the PhD courses in most of the reputed foreign institutions. In other words, the best student with the highest degree from the finest educational institution of the country merits less than any student with a good honours degree from a foreign university. The amount of money the parents and the country are wasting and the number of valuable years the students are losing for such a degree is easily imaginable.
In my observation, the present education system does not teach how to work in a team to reach a compatible solution. Products of this system, even the individuals harbouring an ambition to contribute to the betterment of the country, fail to work together to achieve their dreams. The inability to overcome oneâ€™s own ego derives from a social and moral lacking that stems from a lack of what we may call â€™proper educationâ€™.
Educationists, who are part of this system, must work together to come to a solution not for their own egoistic benefit but for the sake of the country. They must collaborate to build a strong education system, comparable to an international standard, in order to compete in the globalised world.
Development of university curricula
EVERY country requires a certain proportion of the population to go for higher education in order to contribute to the creation of knowledge and research. But it needs many more graduates with sound technical knowledge and job-oriented skills. The education system in Bangladesh is designed to teach basic theories rather than help understand the applied use of them.
The University Grants Commission is the only body to supervise both the public and the private universities in Bangladesh, except for a specific role played by the education ministry. The power of the commission in controlling private universities, as accorded by the Private University Act, has proven insufficient in maintaining the standard of education vis-Ã -vis todayâ€™s globalised world.
Today, education of an international standard is highly sought after. Young graduates are expected to be internationally skilled. Authorities responsible, namely the ministry and the commission, must modernise their guidelines and their method of curricula development aiming at achieving the following:
The objectives of this process should be to improve the quality of higher education and harmonise the system at a national level (between the zones or divisions) and at the international level (at the level of South East Asian Credit Transfer System or the European Credit Transfer System). The main issues to be addressed are:
â€¢ Curricula reforms aimed at improving competence and skills requirements;
â€¢ Flexibility among courses, modules and lecturers
â€¢ Student mobility
â€¢ Changes in the field of quality assurance and accreditation
Coordinated regulatory framework
It is the prime responsibility of the commission to provide the regulatory framework on the basis of which universities prepare their curriculum. The curricula framework includes guidelines for the structure and contents of courses, examination regulations, etc. It lists individual classesâ€”including the number of teaching hoursâ€”required for the successful completion of a course of study at the basic and advanced stage, outlining which subjects are compulsory, elective and optional. The study regulations also indicate the form of certificate earned by attending specific classes.
The examination regulations should specify the standard period of study, requirements for entry to examinations, credit of specific courses and examinations taken, time allowed for completion of a dissertation, examination standards, procedures and subjects.
To ensure that the various institutions of higher education throughout Bangladesh provide a comparable standard of scientific and academic training and degrees, the commission, the ministry and the university rectors should set up a joint commission for the coordination of the study and examinations regulations and set up a common framework of regulation.
New study programmes
Higher educational institutions should be allowed to develop new programmes within their respective roles. An accreditation commission will evaluate the quality of each new programme and submit essentially binding expert standpoint to the ministry which would award accreditation. The ministry should encourage and financially support the development of high-priority programmes through long-term planning negotiations.
The initiative of developing new programmes should be left to the department, which will make a proposal and ask the faculty council for advice. An executive board will make a final decision by taking into account the following aspects of the course:
â€¢ evolution in science and relationship with research,
Â·â€¢ use of new learning and teaching methods,
â€¢ teaching load of the staff and
â€¢ distribution of credits.
The main procedure of evaluating and ensuring the quality of education is accreditation. Accreditation certifies, through a formalised and objectively verifiable process, that a course of study fulfils the minimum standards in terms of structure, subject and content, as well as professional relevance.
An accreditation council should be set up for the obligatory accreditation of all study programmes. The tasks of the council and the guidelines for accreditation would be defined by the universities act. This body should be formed in affiliation with credible foreign counterparts, and in total independence of any government agency. An accreditation council will be helpful only if it is free from political and other forms of manipulation.
Accreditation decisions would be made on the basis of the report produced by the international commission and the decision should be approved by the University Grants Commission and the minister of education and research.
The main responsible body for quality assurance would be the â€˜higher education quality assessment councilâ€™. Structural guidelines, amongst others, must refer to the structure and length of study. They specify that Bachelorâ€™s and other study courses that lead to a first degree qualifying for the entry into a professional field, must provide the academic foundation, methodological skills and related qualifications.
Furthermore, structural guidelines distinguish between the research-oriented and the practice-oriented masterâ€™s study courses. Bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degree courses should be provided with a standard credit point system based on the Bangladesh Credit Transfer System or the South East Asian Credit Transfer System or the European Credit Transfer System.
Besides external evaluation, an internal accreditation scheme can be established by which the quality of the entire institution is assessed. The responsibility of quality assurance is thus transferred to the higher education institution. The subject of assessment is whether the institution provides for a quality management system. System accreditation aims at reducing the administrative burden of the higher education institutions and to accelerate certification. Each faculty has the opportunity of fine-tuning the process according to its specific situation. Yearly, an overall report can be discussed at several councils (education, research) and at the board. The major aspects of quality assurance would be:
â€¢ Quality of faculty
â€¢ job description for the staff (teaching, research, services),
â€¢ evaluation of the staff,
â€¢ evaluation by students and
â€¢ measuring work load for students.
Universities should set their own procedures for continuous internal quality assurance. To compare the quality indicators (e.g. quality of masterâ€™s and PhD thesis or criteria for electing a professor) and ensure transparency, all the universities can sign an agreement and form a commission to implement it.
Next point will be to introduce a formal ranking system among the departments of different universities, which would reflect the educational and research standards of each department, which is very important for the proper evaluation of the degrees of candidates during job recruitment.
TO SUM up, for a better higher education system, we need:
â€¢ Standardisation of the institutions of higher education, introducing an international-standard Credit Transfer System
â€¢ Upgrading of the curricula of all study programmes in Bangladesh
â€¢ Development of practical and job-oriented curricula with close coordination with the industry
â€¢ Accreditation of all the study programmes in Bangladesh
A strong supervisory role from the University Grants Commission is much required. The universities themselves have a duty to house a proper environment for the pursuit of advanced education, fully equipped with a competent and globally accredited curriculum. There should be ample room for teaching ethics, morale and social responsibilities while maintaining a breathing space through sports and creative activities in order to produce a healthy and complete human being.
With a better higher education system, students will be able to receive internationally recognised degrees from Bangladesh without wasting two to three years of time trying to get admitted to institutions overseas. The country will save a substantial amount of foreign currency as students will no longer seek a degree from foreign universities.
Professor Saifullah Khandker is chairman, IGUB, Technische UniversitÃ¤t Berlin, Berlin, Germany