University education, traditionally known as higher education, is getting lower in quality day by day, but the reasons behind this are often misinterpreted in the absence of any unanimous definition of the true nature of a university. The scholars are, however, divided into two main schools: one defines universities as teaching institutions, and the other considers them to be research organizations.
Ideally, research is the primary aim of any university, educating and training students being its secondary objective; but, in reality, most of the universities in the less developed countries like Bangladesh are primarily performing their secondary function, with almost no emphasis on original research, mostly due to unavailability of funds.
Thus we need to develop a pragmatic model of higher education that practically addresses the issues of continued fund crisis, particularly meets the needs of the society and the demands of the stakeholders, and is implementable in our current socioeconomic context.
A true university primarily aims at the creation of new knowledge through pure research, which requires huge funds. But who will bear the expenses of this apparently unproductive research: universities, industries, students and their parents, or the state?
Traditionally, the state or the trustees provide the universities with necessary funds both to conduct research and to run their academic programmes; some industries often donate funds to universities, as part of their corporate social responsibilities; but no industries seem to be interested in funding any large scale research project that does not directly contribute to their corporate growth.
Interestingly, all these industries have benefited from university education, as they are all managed and monitored and have expanded with the help of university graduates.
Then, isn't it a great irony that the universities which are making the world industries larger and richer are themselves very poor? Why should the universities, with huge skilled and semi-skilled manpower readily available, continue to beg for funds?
Thus, the most practical strategy for the universities should be to establish their own industries so that they may earn and acquire the funds required to conduct original research.
However, the fundamental concerns in this regard may be that the universities will change their true nature and compromise higher education with motivated training.In fact, there is also huge pressure from different stakeholders, namely students and their guardians, firms and industries, and the state, who all want the universities to produce skilled graduates.
But we must keep in mind that universities are not machines to produce skilled engineers, lawyers, administrators, and so on because the type of training needed to produce them can never be given properly through any university: a brilliant engineer, just down from Harvard, is not capable of performing well unless he is on probation for a certain period of time in an engineering firm; even the most talented graduate with a first-class LLB degree from Dhaka University will not be able to defend a case unless he first practices under a good lawyer; and an MBA with an excellent academic record from Cambridge may not be capable of managing a small branch of a bank unless he works there for a few years and gathers sufficient experiences.
But why must a graduate have experience to get a job for which he was educated for four years at a highly reputed institution? And why should our universities provide education that is not applicable in the real world?
The harsh reality is that the current system of higher education can neither meet the demands of the stakeholders nor address the particular needs of the society only because it does not establish any clear link between education and its practical fields; therefore, we must either establish industries under every university, if it has sufficient capital, or at least link it to the relevant firms, if it has no funds to have its own industries, in order to make university education pragmatic.
And the students enrolled at these universities will be considered appointed at the linked industries at the same time; they will not only learn theories and concepts in the classrooms but also apply them instantly at the industries so that they can either help the industries to grow larger and richer or give feedback to the universities to modify the old theories and develop new ones.
Thus the universities will not change their true nature, but rather they will conduct more research; and, in addition, they will also provide education that will effectively meet the needs of the society.
Both private and public universities in Bangladesh may successfully execute this model. We know that a few private universities have acquired huge funds over the last few years, and so they can easily establish their own industries; and most of the others, which have no funds, may at least develop a direct link to the industries founded by their industrialist trustees.
Though the public universities may find this model difficult to implement because they do not get funds sufficient enough to run even their normal academic activities, there is no doubt that a university like Dhaka, if properly turned into a pragmatic one with one-time large funding, will earn money which will enable the government to fund two other universities within a few years, eventually saving a huge amount of public money every year. Thus this model is easily implementable and will be enormously cost-effective in our current socioeconomic context.
In short, the proposed model will enable the universities not only to fund their research but also to provide education free of cost in accordance with the spirit of the constitution of Bangladesh; it will also ensure the quality of education, as the universities will surely not produce graduates whom they will find unqualified to work for their own industries; and finally, it will rapidly industrialize the whole country, creating jobs and earning huge amount of foreign exchange, eventually helping the government to sustain its development activities.
The writer is a Lecturer in English, Presidency University, Dhaka.