Improving Higher Education in Bangladesh: A National University Ranking System?

The current state of higher education in Bangladesh is at a crossroads, often seen as below the expected level of research results and the creation of new knowledge. Existing universities performed poorly in the Web Ranking of Universities, Bangladesh from July 2021 and the World University Rankings 2022 from Times Higher Education. The continued proliferation of public and private universities less focused on the quality of their education has only added to widespread national and international concerns. It is against this background that this short article purports to offer a suggestion for establishing a national ranking system for universities to improve the quality of higher education and competition among universities in Bangladesh. Why this proposal is important and promises to be rewarding is explained below.

The modern progression of identity and prosperity is driven by knowledge. Unprecedented advances in the production and dissemination of scientific, communication technology, socio-economic and infrastructural knowledge around the world have designed a global knowledge-based economy contributing to improving living standards in many countries. A dominant method of assessing this knowledge is the quality of higher education generally provided by universities. There are few international university ranking bodies, including the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, which ranks universities around the world, including universities in Bangladesh. This system of periodic ranking of universities is widely regarded as the setting of standards for higher education, a dominant factor in increasing the prestige, reputation and prospects of universities, their staff and students. In accepting the evaluation of these ranking bodies, it must first be borne in mind that these bodies are mostly from wealthy Western countries, whose superior educational resources, both material and financial, needs and Societal values, and especially the metrics of measurement are markedly different, if not contrasting, from that of developing and least developed countries, including Bangladesh.

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Historically, some elite Western universities have succeeded in spreading their credentials around the world and have monopolized the global knowledge market since the colonial era. These institutions enjoy their hierarchical status through access to cutting-edge technology, a large budget, and control over the English-only research publications that they dominate. Peer review of research publications is not always determined on merit and at arm’s length, often influenced by the preconceived mindset that presupposes the research excellence of academics / researchers at top Western universities . Research, publications and the commercialization of knowledge as dominant ranking criteria also favor Western universities. Most of the research carried out and the knowledge produced are listed in Western citation databases. Knowledge produced and propagated in southern journals and published in languages ​​other than English does not appear on the radar of western databases. The combined effect of these factors gives Western scholars and researchers the advantage over their Southern counterparts. These differences notwithstanding, the current international university rankings influence the minds of the people and authorities of Bangladesh to see university performance through the prism of Western rankings and the standards set by them. This does not necessarily reflect a fair appraisal and appraisal of research carried out at universities in Bangladesh.

Taking the ranking of Western organizations as a universal standard has serious implications for academic / academic research in Bangladesh. This Western perception of the norm has put enormous pressure on Bangladeshi academics / university researchers to produce and produce new knowledge at a level worthy of recognition by Western ranking bodies. It is this pressure that can apparently be responsible for several incidents of plagiarism and predatory publications (publications in lieu of money) by university academics to demonstrate their research quality and quantity of publications, a pressure that often becomes a race. to survival called “publish or perish”. This race at all costs and in all circumstances is a perfect recipe for the weariness of publications among academics / researchers, militant against a real contributory creation of knowledge.

The above differential factors and implications are highlighted not to assert that the expectations of the Western higher education level are wrong, but to underscore the nature of international rankings and to stress that the escalation of this ranking cannot be achieved. overnight. It should be planned and carried out in a gradual and incremental manner. Higher education authorities in Bangladesh should recognize and facilitate appropriate social impact and technological research, support digital platforms and educational websites, encourage knowledge generation and promote dissemination through publications and marketing, and adhere to depoliticized and merit-based recruitment procedures. The aim is to launch a holistic national environment for academics / university researchers to engage in the creation of competitive knowledge through research excellence, the quality and contributions of which must be verified. A formal and authoritative national university ranking system, free from political influence, would go a long way in managing and evaluating the quality and contributions of research.

The crucial question is who will administer this national ranking system and what will be the parameters for determining the ranking. Ranking can be carried out cost-effectively by the existing university regulator, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which can entrust the management of the system to a qualified group of officials and experts and articulate the ranking criteria with their weights (the figures may be preferable) to be easily and publicly available to all universities in advance. This arrangement is consistent with other countries of the South. Including Nigeria, Kenya, Libya and Egypt, ten African and Arab countries have introduced their respective national university ranking system and have assigned the task of ranking to their university commissions made up of similar higher education experts. at UGC. While publications in high-ranking, impact-oriented international journals remain the predominant yardstick for measuring research excellence, the broader social contributions of research, such as publications in place and language with an emphasis. Maximum accessibility of the target readership, relevance to the Sustainable Development Goals, national needs and interests, partnership with local organizations and community engagement and inclusion are no less important to measure quality and the value of a given research and its talent.

The current international ranking system may seem intuitively appealing, but it masks the inherent conundrum that Bangladeshi scholars / researchers are judged internationally and nationally according to systemic criteria and evaluation procedures that are deeply rooted and evolved in the West for create the knowledge necessary for the economy of the North and invest in the development of its universities developed over the centuries. This ranking system and its metrics are anything but universal. The proposed university ranking system in Bangladesh should articulate a fair model for measuring and judging the social value of research supported by evidence of excellence, promoting the creation and preservation of knowledge relevant to the local community and culture, and adopt alternative approaches to disseminate and use knowledge in national public and private arenas and beyond. Collaborative research with relevant stakeholders on cross-border issues cannot be denied. In this endeavor, the establishment of a neutral national university ranking system that inclusively recognizes indigenous indicators and process to measure research excellence would be a national research capacity building experience, which is strengthening itself. every year. And perhaps it is this experience that will serve as a stepping stone towards improving research performance and competitiveness in knowledge creation and dissemination, thus leading Bangladesh universities to move up the international rankings.

The author is Emeritus Professor of Law, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

About Clara Barnard

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