Private universities have mushroomed in the country over the past 30 years since the institution of the Private University Act in 1992, but most of them have been operating academic activities, flouting rules and regulations in the absence of appropriate punitive action by the government.
People concerned say some of these universities have scant regard for the law and are being run as per the whims of their authorities.
For instance, it is mandatory for private universities to obtain a permanent certificate from the government within 12 years of starting operations. But only 5 private universities out of 51 that were established before 2008 have secured the documentation by fulfilling all conditions including having permanent campuses.
Besides, most of the private universities are reluctant to even submit their annual audit reports to the authorities concerned.
Only 11 out of 104 private universities that are currently operating in the country have all the required top officials. Of the rest, 73 have vice-chancellors, 22 have pro-vice-chancellors, and 54 have treasurers, according to the 47th annual report of the University Grants Commission, published last year.
The law also makes it mandatory for every private university to hold meetings of the board of trustees, syndicate, academic council, and finance committee regularly, but 12 universities did not hold any meeting of the board of trustees, 24 did not hold the syndicate meeting, 19 did not hold the academic council meeting, and 22 did not hold the finance committee meeting in 2021, says the UCG report.
Moreover, most of the private universities, including reputed ones, hired a greater number of temporary professors compared to permanent faculties, flouting the condition set in the law.
On top of these, the UGC has flagged the names of 13 private universities that are running unapproved campuses and programmes.
Educationists have said it will be tough to ensure quality education and stop irregularities of private universities, if the government does not take punitive action against the educational institutions that have breached the law.
Surprisingly enough, the education ministry is yet to take any action against the non-compliant private universities. The UGC has also apparently failed to play its role to bring the private universities under discipline.
Professor Dr Syed Anwar Husain, former teacher of Dhaka University's history department, told TBS the government does not want to streamline the education system in the country, which is why the present situation of the private universities is not good at all.
Running without permanent certificates
According to the Private University Act, 2010, a private university is given temporary permission to run its academic activities.
Within seven years of getting the temporary approval along with a five-year grace period, the university should have its permanent campus and meet other conditions to carry on academic and administrative activities. Otherwise, academic activities, including enrolling new students, will be automatically closed. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is entitled to take punitive actions against the institutions that have failed to comply with the law.
So, as per the law, 46 private universities that have not obtained the permanent certificate within 12 years of their establishment are operating academic activities unlawfully. Currently, there are 108 private universities in the country and 57 of them have been established over the last 10 years.
The universities that have permanent certificates are Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, City University, AtishDipankar University of Science & Technology, East West University, and BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology.
Meanwhile, the tenure of temporary approval has ended for 18 universities, including Brac University and Prime Asia University.
Asked, Professor Biswajit Chandra, member of the UGC, told TBS that the commission is working to make a list of the private universities that have already lost their temporary approval. The UGC will take stern actions against them, including shutting their activities, as per the law, he added.
Sources at the UGC's private university wing told TBS that about 35 universities have started operations on their permanent campuses either fully or partially.
Omar Farooq, director of the Private University Division of the UGC, told TBS that they will advise the education ministry to provide permanent certificates to universities if the commission is satisfied with the documents they have provided.
Reluctance to submit audit reports
According to the Private University Act, each university has to submit the previous year's financial report to the UGC and the education ministry by 30 September every year. They are also supposed to submit the financial reports prepared by a ministry-designated audit firm to the UGC and the ministry every year.
But no university submitted its financial report within the stipulated time frame last year.
UGC officials said universities always show reluctance to submit their financial reports and audit reports as the authorities concerned are yet to take any punitive action against them.
According to the 47th annual report of the UGC, only 24 private universities had their financials for the year 2019-2020 audited by a ministry-designated audit firm.
Professor SelimRaihan, executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem), told TBS that an audit report is a must for ensuring transparency and accountability in an institution, and, therefore, the private universities which are not abiding by the law must be held responsible.
Nine officials to monitor 108 universities
The Private University Division of the UGC is suffering from an acute crisis of manpower, resulting in a sloth in its activities. Only nine officials are working to monitor and provide directions to the private universities.
With only nine officials to monitor 108 private universities, the private university wing of the UGC finds it difficult to properly complete its routine work and can hardly get times to take new initiatives, said officials concerned, adding, "This is why many private universities remain untouched even if allegations of massive irregularities are brought against them."
The UGC's top management said they have a plan to increase the manpower of the division.
According to the 47th annual report of the UGC, the Private University Division has to work in 13 areas, which include ensuring academic, administrative and financial discipline, ensuring quality education, inquiring the overall conditions of proposed universities, approving curriculum and syllabus for each programme, and conducting physical inspections regularly.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus at Brac University, told TBS that the UGC was basically set up to control and monitor public universities. Later, it started work to monitor the private universities.
But the government did not take any initiatives to increase its capacity, he observed.