Private universities' increased focus on research, in terms of both funding and publications, has seen those leave their public counterparts far behind in the area.
The annual report of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of 2020 shows that out of 46 public universities, 38 have spent a total of Tk72.91 crore on research and out of 107 private universities, 77 have spent Tk111.73 crore.
The top four universities of the country in terms of research expenditure in that year were all private institutions, with Brac University topping the list with a research spending of Tk55.23 crore.
Not only that, the top researcher of the country last year was a private university faculty member.
Dr Talha Bin Emran, associate professor of the pharmacy department at the BGC Trust University Bangladesh, located in Chattogram, obtained the top position last year with 92 article publications, according to the Scopus database.
The focus on research has seen private universities climb high in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, which provides the definitive list of the world's best universities, with an emphasis on the research mission along with impact and teaching.
Both Dhaka University and North South University took position in the 601-800 bracket among 1,799 universities across the world.
Despite private universities not having permission to offer PhD degrees, they are gradually doing better than public ones.
Stakeholders say if qualified private universities get a chance to enroll PhD researchers, more research publications would be published there.
"The engine of research is the PhD programme. In private universities of the country, where there are qualified teachers to supervise PhD, there must be an opportunity to admit PhD researchers," Dr Saleh Hasan Naqib, a scientist and professor of physics at the Rajshahi University (RU), told The Business Standard.
"Even the private universities which are lagging behind in this regard should be gradually made capable of awarding PhD degrees. There is no alternative for a higher education institution than to become a full-fledged university," added Dr Naqib, who was one of the top researchers of RU in 2021 according to Scopus database.
Stating that the course load of teachers in private universities is high, he said, "The teaching load is high due to the admission of students in three semesters a year. In such a situation, it is difficult for teachers to concentrate on research. Therefore, there is a need to balance research and teaching load."
According to the latest UGC report, the number of teachers in 50 public universities is 15,426 while 107 private universities have 15,277 teachers. The teacher student ratio (1:22, 1:21) is higher in private universities than government ones.
Public universities, however, have 4,528 professors, compared to 1,873 in private institutes.
Besides, the number of PhD holders among teachers is 5,661 in public and 2,950 in private.
Thus, the number of publications by private universities was 5,142 in 2020, while it was 12,590 for public ones.
Engineering, pharmaceutical science, public health, life science, business and economics, accounting and finance, architecture, law, social science, arts and humanities are the major research areas in private universities.
Both in the undergraduate and masters programmes, the top private universities are encouraging students to carry out research.
Public universities are getting funds for research on science and technology, arts and humanities, social science and business studies, according to UGC sources.
However, plagiarism in research papers and PhD thesis is a very common phenomena in public universities.
The syndicate of Dhaka University has taken disciplinary actions against three teachers over such practice in academic papers and PhD thesis in January last year.
"Plagiarism in research papers cannot be defined as there is no policy on it. Therefore, a specific policy on plagiarism is necessary," read the 46th annual report of UGC.
How privates are spending more on research
The Business Standard selected the top 10 universities from both public and private sectors on the basis of the amount of investment in research in 2020.
The volume of investment in research made by the top 10 private universities was over Tk28 crore more than that of the 10 public universities.
Ten reputed private universities invested Tk101 crore in research; it was Tk43 crore for the ten public ones, said the UGC annual report.
Professor Vincent Chang, vice chancellor, Brac University, told TBS, "Student centricity, internationalisation and impactful research are the three core pillars of Brac University's current focus and initiatives. The university is leading in research investment among all the universities of the country."
After Brac University, the UGC data show that Daffodil International University (DIU) placed second position, followed by American International University Bangladesh (AIUB), University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, Dhaka University and North South University.
Capacity-building leads to research atmosphere
The VCs of the private universities said they are trying to build a research atmosphere by establishing well-equipped labs. However, they need more professors and funding.
If capacity building occurs, the private institutions will do better in the coming days, they opined.
"Firstly, most private universities do not have well-equipped labs, which is why we have to take help from public universities and research institutes. In many cases, the desired support is not taken due to feelings of inferiority," Dr Talha Bin Emran, associate professor of the BGC Trust University, told TBS.
"Furthermore, the funding is very low. To publish an article in a journal with a Scopus indexed impact factor, one has to pay a fee of over a lakh taka. That is why we are forced to publish many articles in collaboration with foreign researchers to save costs," he added.
"Since last year, private universities are also being allocated some research from UGC," he said, adding, "If adequate funding is provided, the flow of research will increase a lot."