What's in a university ranking?

Mohammad A Karim |

It's an awful time for many universities in Bangladesh, both public and private, that are struggling with their reputation. Over 49,000 students left Bangladesh last year for a whole host of reasons, the biggest being that the local higher education institutions (HEI), with a few exceptions, have either failed or are failing in their teaching and research missions. Focus for most students in the publics is to get into the Bangladesh Civil Service; studying the actual subject they enrolled in comes second. Opening new departments typically benefits teachers and their vote bank. In effect, too many institutions function more like teaching factories, with many of their faculty teaching at other institutions, typically private ones, to make a quick buck. The folks who are busy running between campuses have no time for teaching at either place and, surely, no time for conducting any substantive research.

A large number of our students are leaving for Australia, EU and North America, majority of whom may never return. Others are studying in countries not too far from Bangladesh as a first try. A large majority of them will then seek destinations far away from our immediate neighbourhood, where they will be valued for their academic and technical prowess and not for their political affiliation and connections. Many students of Bangladeshi institutions will find that the programmes are neither rigorous nor have ever been subjected to any real global accrediting bodies. Such students, to their regret, will have little choice but to repeat their degrees yet again overseas.

Ranking data pertaining to Dhaka University, in particular, was documented first in Dhaka University: Can It Turn Around? (BDNews24.com, December 24, 2011). A group of DU's faculty members did a follow-up with the book University of Dhaka: Making, Unmaking, and Remaking. It articulated and hoped "if a generation of humans got involved in making the university and sadly another generation in unmaking it, then surely there is hope that, yet another generation of humans will engage themselves in remaking the university." Unfortunately, those who are driving the HEIs in Bangladesh are more often in denial; a few use universities, typically privates, as cash-cows; and others are either unwilling or unequipped to interpret data and take necessary corrective actions to prevent the downfall.

The ranking matrix of Times Higher Education (THE), which has garnered attention recently, assigns weights to the following major areas: academics (30 percent), research (27.5), citations/faculty (32.5), industrial support (2.5), and internationalisation (7.5). In the latest ranking, one institution from Brunei, 24 from India, 21 from Iran, eight from Pakistan, 11 from Malaysia, 15 from Saudi Arabia, and eight from Turkiye were recognised as Top 800 global HEIs, but not even a single university from Bangladesh, public or private, could be part of that list.

The ranking matrix of Times Higher Education (THE), which has garnered attention recently, assigns weights to the following major areas: academics (30 percent), research (27.5), citations/faculty (32.5), industrial support (2.5), and internationalisation (7.5). In the latest ranking, one institution from Brunei, 24 from India, 21 from Iran, eight from Pakistan, 11 from Malaysia, 15 from Saudi Arabia, and eight from Turkiye were recognised as Top 800 global HEIs, but not even a single university from Bangladesh, public or private, could be part of that list. Four universities – two private and two public, namely Brac University, Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University (JU) and North South University (NSU) – were ranked between 801 and 1,000.

According to THE data, Bangladeshi universities didn't provide institutional data to THE until the start of 2019. Dhaka University, the country's first university and so-called "Oxford of the East," emerged in the 2020 THE ranking between 1,001 and 1,200. In the 2021 ranking, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) joined DU in the bracket. Six universities from Bangladesh tried for 2022 THE ranking, and three were successful; DU gained ground and was ranked between 801 and 1,000, and Buet slipped to the 1,201-1,500 bracket. Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) was ranked for the first time between 1,001 and 1,200.

Writer: Mohammad A Karim 

 


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