A breath of fresh air

Published on Thursday, March 27, 2014

On my recent trip (Feb/March, 2014) to Bangladesh, I came across a moderately new university by the name Khwaja Yunus Ali University (KYAU), which gave me a renewed hope and confidence in the propriety of educational establishments and academic excellence in Bangladesh. But before I go into the details of this university, let me set out the prevailing situation in the higher education system in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh inherited a good higher education system from the then East Pakistan. In fact, the system was so good and the products the system had been producing were so excellent that the brutal Pakistani military junta realised that to break the backbone of an aspiring nation it must eliminate the intelligentsia and the system that produces such intelligentsia. But unfortunately what the Pakistani military junta could not achieve even by killing top intellectuals at that time, the independent Bangladeshi nation's political masters succeeded over a period of time by corrupting the system. The 1973 directive that the chairmanship of a department in public universities would be rotated among the teaching staff and the professorship would be available on a democratic basis and on the length of service, not on academic excellence or intellectual achievements. This short sighted populist stunt killed off any aspiration of utopian academics for academic excellence in the independent country. Politics and partisan views took over the reign of the public universities – with the result now is that a university professor identifies himself or herself not by the subject he or she teaches or is supposed to be an expert of but by being a supporter of either the BNP or the AL! There are numerically more professors in any department than all the other teaching staff put together. While teachers were engaged in such nefarious games, students were not left far behind. Altogether the academic life in public universities is now nothing short of contemptible and derisory.

However, the higher education in Bangladesh survived because of the advent of private universities - which realised that there is money to be made out of the collapse of public universities. The private universities sprang up here, there and everywhere charging exorbitant tuition fees and admission fees. In the melee and out of the competitive pressures, some good quality universities sprouted up where students could get good education in a good environment and end up with degrees worthy of its titles. But, nonetheless, the profit motive is the driving force in almost all the private universities.

A relatively new university, by the name KhwajaYunus Ali University (KYAU), brings a new dimension to the existing landscape of Bangladeshi higher education system. It was established just over 10 years ago by the son-in-law and a devoted follower of Late Khwaja Yunus Ali, Dr. M.M. Amjad Hussain by utilizing his own resources from his business empire. It was located on the bank of river Jamuna. The exact location is at Enayetpur, within the district of Sirajgonj, which is about 130km north of Dhaka. There are a number of laudable objectives this university upholds and these are:

  1. The core value of the university is academic excellence and the trustee members of the university emphasise that this university is a not-for-profit organisation. (However, how far these aims can be pursued remains to be seen). They had acquired nearly 107 acre of land on the banks of Jamuna river, built departmental buildings, administrative buildings, student accommodation and landscaped the whole site with various fruit and flower trees. Another 10 acre plot is being negotiated in order to expand the university.

  2. At that stage, the university had started with 12 departments which included Pharmacy, Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Microbiology, Medical Physics, Business Administration, Islamic Studies, Textile Engineering, Library and Information Science, English and Law.

  3. Before establishing this university Dr. M.M.Amjad Hussain had established a medical College Hospital, Khwaja Yunus Ali Nursing College, Khwaja Yunus Ali Laboratory School & College. This complex is built on a land of 107 acres of land. A cancer treatment facility had been set up some six or seven years ago, which is already ranked as the foremost facility in the country. Even the Singapore cancer treatment facilities - Mount Elizabeth Hospital and National Cancer Centre, Singapore - advise their Bangladeshi patients to go to KYAU Cancer Centre for follow-up treatment. Along with this Cancer Centre there is a general medical hospital where medical students get in-house training. It may not be out of place to mention that this is the only tertiary level hospital outside the capital city where a complete cardiac centre has been established.

  4. Few other departments have been established and key personnel have been appointed in preparation for the admission of students in the coming sessions. The university adopts the attitude that expertise from home and abroad will be brought in, even on a temporary basis, as and when required to offer courses and conduct research. This is truly remarkable in the context of Bangladeshi education system which morasses on the outdated job-for-life academic tenure.

  5. The tuition fees for medical students are very reasonable and there are no exorbitant and punitive admission charges, as are prevalent in most of the other medical colleges in Bangladesh. Needless to say, students are coming in large numbers and already the medical department is oversubscribed by as much as three times.

  6. There are no political activities or affiliation with national political or religious organisation among the students. Students, teachers and administrators enjoy friendly and cordial relationship at the moment. But this is the early stage of the university. How far in future this cordiality and 'we are all in it together' attitude can be maintained remains to be seen.

Altogether the university has had a good spell in its life and so far performed remarkably well. But these are early days. The strategic direction of the university, the attitude of the owners of the university and the dedication of the administration and staff all indicate a bright future and bring a breath of fresh air in the stifling and commercial atmosphere of the Bangladeshi higher education system. Let's hope that this university succeeds where others have failed.

The author had been given a tour of the Cancer Centre and a group photo in front of the Centre is shown below.

A group photo

From left to right: Prof. Abdul Quadir (University VC), Dr. A Rahman (author), Prof. Akram Hussain (Head of Oncology), Prof.Samad (Registrar) and Mr Alam (Asst. Prof. Management Information Systems).

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