Non-govt Universities Act 2009: Some suggestions
Mr. Abul Quasem Haider
Government of Bangladesh has already given approval to the 56 private universities of Bangladesh under the Non-Government Universities Act-1992 and Revised Non-Government Universities Act-1998. At present 52 private universities are running their operations. More than 1 lac 90 thousand students are getting higher education in these universities. In the mean time, the government imposed ban on four universities a few years ago. These universities are also trying their best to reopen under the law.
The government took various measures since 2004 to make the present Act in force, as void. In 2008 the then Caretaker government has promulgated the Non-Government Universities Ordinance 2008. Afterwards the present nationally elected Government made the Ordinance of 2008 as void. But the present minister for education and the chairman of University Grants Commission are taking manifold initiatives to ratify a new Non-Government Universities Act. A rough Non-government Universities Act was given to different level of representatives to have a consensus. But on behalf of the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh (APUB), I thoroughly protested on various contradictory issues of the Act. APUB has already submitted a written statement regarding the non-acceptability of this Act. But the government has shown its autocratic attitude and it has under evaluated this major issue of public interest. Within this process of under evaluation, the government has approved on principle the said Act in the Cabinet with many contradictory issues on the 19th October 2009.
I now want to focus on some contradictions in the sections of the proposed Act and make some suggestions on the same.
1. In the Definition Section (Section-2), the Private University Authority has been divided into two. According to the Acts of 1992 & 1998, Board of Trustees, Regency Council, Board of Governors were working together. But two different authorities have been created under this Act. One is the Syndicate and the other is the Board of Trustees, which will create administrative conflict.
2. In the Section 6 and the Section 7 respectively, awarding of two kinds of charters have been stated; one is the interim charter and the other one is permanent charter. No university can be allowed to run its operation through interim charter.
3. In the Section 8, it has been stated to allow 5% full free studentship. 5% is quite a large proportion. Government does not give private universities any kind of grants. All the expenditure is born privately. So the proportion can be shifted to 1%. Also this issue can be resolved by the universities themselves. It has also been stated that this proportion (5%) of full free studentship should be submitted to the University Grants Commission (UGC). This is just a simple process of intervening on the autonomy of the private universities.
4. It has also been stated in the Section-8 that the lands of the private universities cannot be made liable or be transferred to any person or organization. Thus private universities will not be allowed to take any loan by mortgaging lands and fixed assets. Thus the development works of the private universities will be threatened. Moreover, some universities are still doing some development works by mortgaging their fixed assets.
5. Under the Section 10 Private Universities have to form an authority called Board of Trustees. In the Section 14 of the Non-Government University Act 1992, an indication regarding the most effective committees has been inserted. In this case, there is no reason to establish any other authority.
6. In the Section 13, the level of officials in the Private Universities has been determined. Here a proposition has been made to appoint excessive officials in a number of 13. The appointment of officials should be the sole responsibility of the university itself. There is no reason to insert this issue in the Act. This type of compulsion will create an extra load on the university administration.
7. In the Section 20, it has been stated that private universities must have a syndicate of its own. But the vice chancellor has been proposed as the head of syndicate. In the Act of 1992 & 1998 the syndicate and the trustee were the same authority to act on the interest of the university. But in the recent proposed Act, it has been mentioned that the members of syndicate will be 9. Out of them only one will be the representative from the trustee. One member will be nominated by the government and the other will be nominated from the University Grants Commission. So we may have the presence of supervision from the government and the UGC. But in a 100% private organization, there is no right to these two to make any kind of representation. Moreover, the chairman of the syndicate should be selected through the consensus of the members of the syndicate. The government cannot decide autocratically that the vice chancellor will be the head of the syndicate. Above all, there must be at least 7 members from the trustees who will represent the syndicate.
8. In the Section 21, a proposition has been made to establish an academic council. This council should be controlled by the statutes. There is no need to incorporate these into the Act.
9. In the Section 26, it has been stated the vice chancellor should be the head of finance committee. Of course very rationally, the founder or the trustee should be the head of the finance committee, not any appointed vice chancellor. Without the liability of the founder or the trustee, no banks will ever finance the private universities.
10. In the Section 33, by a heading like Education Programme, etc. private universities have got the form of any M.P.O listed schools, colleges and madrashahs. By the approval of the curriculum committee and the academic council, any university can open new faculties and departments which are universally admitted.
11. In the section 35, a proposition has been made to cancel the charter of the private universities by the recommendation of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to the government. This proposition will make the private universities completely unsecured. But in the revised Act of 1998 and as stated in the Act of 1992, the cancellation of charter of any private university can be done by the Justice of the Supreme Court in case of any special irregularities. The arrangement of appeal in these situations is also impressive in the existing Acts. But by promulgating the proposed Act, the existence of the private universities will be under a threat.
12. In the section 37, a proposition has been made to form an accreditation council only for the private universities. But no proposition has yet been made to form any accreditation council for the public universities of the country. Standard of quality cannot be ascertained only in the private universities. So this section is very distinctive. Accreditation council must be very independent, neutral and free from the government control and above all belong to both public and private universities.
13. In the Section 38, a new opportunity has been made to approve the foreign universities. Though government has opposed to open foreign universities, about 60 institutions are still selling their certificates in the name of foreign universities. Now new avenues will be created to legalize these kinds of dishonest efforts. A unique law should be established for both local and foreign private universities. There is no need to establish any different law.
14. In the Section 41, a new clause has been inserted named as student fee. If any private university has to get an approval for the student fee structure from the UGC, then it would be better never to call it a private institution. Because when government can take autocratic decision on the management of the private university by the UGC, it would be better to call it government controlled institution.
15. In the Section 42, by a given heading Salary Structure and Service Regulations, it has been decided that every private university has to take approval from the UGC by preparing a suitable salary structure and service regulations of all its faculties, officers and staffs. That a privately run institution cannot make its own salary structure and service regulations is really very ridiculous.
16. We believe that the honourable prime minister has not yet got an opportunity to have concept on this proposed Act. Our opinion was just ignored in the cabinet. As a result the proposed act has been approved on principle in the cabinet. This is our earnest request to the honourable prime minister she should be kind enough to listen to our Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh's opinion before the enactment of the same.
17. UGC was established under the no.10 of the Presidential Order in 1973. As far as we are concerned it should just be involved in sanctioning the grants to the public universities according to the quality of their education and research. But intervening on the operation or autonomy of universities by rule of any law can not be their responsibility.
Observing all the facts of this proposed Act we find that the Act is just a malpractice to make the private sector higher education in the country unnecessarily fall under the category of institutions run on the principles and compulsions of the government. This Act is just opposite to the worldwide effort to the privatisation and decentralision of the higher education. In this case I would like to highlight a very significant speech of Mr. Kapil Sibal, central minister for human resource of India from the chronicle of higher education, USA, published in June 12, 2009, "There is not such a thing as University Grants Commission. All India Council of Technical Education and Medical Council of India in West and these Indian regulatory institutions 'What can I say, destroyed our entire efforts to take education forward, it is extremely important "to release" higher education institutions from the control of government to promote a competitive environment, we have to allow our universities to float their own degrees' in a competitive environment, only good universities will survive." We all know that the quality and expansion of higher education is much better in India than Bangladesh (In Bangladesh 7% and in India 12%). India is trying its best to move forward from their old nationalization concept and trying to flourish private sector higher education, while we just getting backward by consuming time in promulgating this kind of Act.
(The writer is Founder Chairman, Eastern University & Vice Chairman, Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh)