55-year old Belayet Sheikh is determined to take the Dhaka University entry exam for D-unit come 11 June.
In 1983, he was unable to take his Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination due to his father's sickness. Nearly four decades later, he mustered the courage to press on with his education. He readmitted himself for SSC under Alim Madrasa in 2019 and in 2021 for his Higher Secondary School examination (HSC).
Dhaka University has no age limit to take an entry exam. The number of times one can take the exam, however, is restricted.
Belayet satisfies all the criteria to take the exam, and many have praised his efforts to complete his education at such a late stage in life. Nonetheless, reacting to the news, the Vice Chancellor (VC) of Dhaka University Professor Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman expressed some reservations.
"We will look into how the individual got a chance to apply for the admission test. If he fulfilled our exam condition, it's good. We need to change our conditions of taking an entry in the future. Having no age limit for candidates has created a negative impact," the VC was quoted as saying.
"We knew that there is no age for learning. But now I think age is a factor in formal education. We follow some basic structure for formal education. Therefore, we cannot say age is not a factor. There needs to be interaction among the students. All our students are of the same age," he added.
What can we infer from his statement?
In light of what the DU VC said about Belayet's ardent attempt, we reached out to three academicians about their take on the subject.
'Belayet's wish merits acceptance, without judgement or prejudice'
Professor Nazrul Islam
Former Chair, University Grants Commission
12 year olds get into universities or PhD programmes. These are exceptional cases. And so is Belayet. If there is no lower age limit to get in, an upper limit is void too.
If someone says Belayet will occupy another student's place, that would be presumptuous. Belayet will benefit society with his degree – even if not in the corporate or academic spheres – just as much as the young applicant would. Different people use their degrees to do many different things in life.
Only a very few will ever walk out of their comfort zone to enrol in education that late in life. But why do they? Their drive to learn is why. One can learn till death; an age limit is pointless to keep a few like him in check.
If they really want to continue education later in life they can enrol in evening programmes. These evening programmes are under Dhaka University' supervision and surveillance as well. That way they would not stand in the way of young applicants.
And since Belayet is an exception, his wish merits acceptance without judgement or prejudice.
'18, 48 or even 78 years of age are just numbers'
Dr Md Abdus Salam
Associate Professor, Institute of Education and Research, Dhaka University
People don't get educated to only do Government jobs or get promotions. That form of thinking is archaic. The modern average person has stepped away from such ideas.
The only metric by which applicants should be judged is merit. The meritorious have to be facilitated. They cannot be judged solely by age, or about what they plan to do with their education.
Beside serving their country or the greater good, one is allowed to employ their education to improve their own lives or of their families. They only need to be given an opportunity.
The only rule that applies to take an entry exam at Dhaka or any other public university is they have to pass their SSC and HSC in quick succession and right before the entry exam. If the rule is complied with, no age limit or any criticism about it should desist an applicant.
The age of 18 or 48 or even 78 are just numbers and education can be and should be availed whenever possible to.
'The beauty of a university is that everyone is welcome'
Dr Sumon Rahman
Professor, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
When I was doing my PhD at the Queensland University, I studied alongside people well over 70. One of them was supervised by one of his own students who he taught in primary school.
Provision has to be created to keep such people in education, otherwise the basic purpose of education is lost upon us.
The beauty of a university is that everyone is welcome. Challenging Belayet with bureaucratic terms and conditions is equal to discouraging them to get education. The university should be liberal and not be like the Cadet College.
We have to look at the particularity of Belayet's case. A university is supposed to ensure how to accommodate cases like his within the legal paradigm. All Belayet should worry about is how he is preparing himself for his entry exam.
The actual terms and conditions should be there to help applicants seek knowledge and not turn them away or desist them in any way.