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Higher education and the role of private universities

Mohammed Hossain

It is no doubt a positive aspect in our country that the government has been putting increasing emphasis on the education sector in general and higher education in particular. In addition, development of the IT sector is a plus point to improve our education system by way of strengthening support services. As an academician having gained some experience in working in overseas universities, I have a feeling that the way the private universities in Bangladesh are going ahead does not reflect an ideal setting in terms of quality of learning, curriculum and learning environment. We understand that ministry of education (MoE) and the university grants commission (UGC) are working together to bring private universities in a disciplined shape as seats of higher learning. Based on my personal experiences, I would like to point out some key issues which must be addressed or implemented in order to provide and ensure quality education in the private universities. The issues involved include teaching and learning environment, curriculum, blended learning environment, scholarship of teaching and learning, hiring of quality teachers, defining of workload, compliance and auditing of degrees awarded.

Creation of teaching and learning environment is the most important factor in as much as it has a direct bearing on the academic setting. A study of Pascarella and Terenzini's (1998) meta-analysis of research on the effects of university education concluded that learning and cognitive development occur when students are closely engaged and involved with the subjects they are studying. Therefore, in order to achieve this, the university must provide resources and activities to allow students to develop their interests beyond the experiences provided within their courses. It includes classroom environment, course design, blended learning, and teaching quality including enthusiasm for the subjects taught.

Most of the private universities in Bangladesh have business degree(s), such as BBA and MBA. There is much inconsistency with regard to the course designs and setting of syllabi among the universities. We need to build up the concept of course design in general. My personal view is that we need some core courses in the 1st year or freshness year. The MoE and UGC can work together with private universities to determine some criteria for a common curriculum design.

If every stakeholder comes forward to maintain quality education in order to help our students in the competitive environment, de-emphasising maximisation of profits from education business, I think it is the right time to build a philosophy for Bangladeshi university education system, and here curricula should be the key concern.

One of the models that can substantially enhance the academic base in the universities is blended learning system. It is model that brings together e-learning in on-campus learning and teaching activities. The government has given high emphasis to use IT at all levels by introducing 3G, online banking, e-applications, e-tickets, e-results, e-tender and so on. Therefore, we can introduce a combination of face-to-face and online blended learning. Actually, blended learning is an approach to learning and teaching which combines and aligns learning undertaken in face-to-face sessions with learning opportunities created online. If universities implement blended learning, there will be the following types of blend with a complete learning environment for our students. These are (not limited to):

* Course profile/module in the electronic format;

* Course lecture slides and related documents in electronic format;

* Online assessment (quizzes, assignment) and submission;

* Opportunities to learn from each other collaboratively;

* Checking students from cheating and plagiarism;

* Opportunity to record lecture (audio and video) and uploading facilities;

* On line grade and marks, plus feedback.

In the western world, a popular blended learning software called Blackboard is used in almost all the universities. Private universities in Bangladesh should use Blackboard or similar types of software to facilitate and enhance the level of learning and teaching in the classroom. It is a communication platform and an academic resource centre for the students. Since IT in our country is now at an advanced stage, MoE and UGC can work together to plan a strategy for implementing blended learning approach without any delay.

The scholarship of teaching and learning is also equally important here. It is a board concept implying systematic inquiry, critique, research and development in teaching, which provides educational benefit to students. This can be adopted as an innovative teaching approach for seeking and obtaining peer recognition among the students for their ideas and practices. Sometimes, quality and output of research into teaching & learning or publications on teaching & learning practice could be an evidence of scholarship. This approach is totally absent in our country and concerned authorities should arrange workshops/seminars on scholarship of teaching and learning issues with foreign educational bodies such as the British council.

The qualifications of the faculty of the universities are closely related with the output of the quality of education. Here faculty means all personnel who carry academic rank in the university (such as professor, associate professor, assistant professor, and lecturer/instructor). In the western concept, university faculty at the ranking of assistant professor must hold a PhD. There may be exceptions in case of those having research experience or important publications. MoE and UGC should have a clearly defined principle in this regard to be strictly followed by the private universities.

There is the need for introduction of workload model in the universities. Workload modeling is the process of identifying one or more composite application usage in respect of performance testing. For example, in the universities, usually we have a balanced workload model, i.e., teaching 40 per cent, research 40 per cent and service 20 per cent. Within this criterion, the university will set a required minimum target for each faculty (based on rank) for performance evaluation at year-end. The criteria may change depending on the rank of the academic. We have to keep in mind that the policy for work load model should be designed to encourage principles of equity, transparency and flexibility for the academics to manage their workload in a way that is most effective for them and beneficial to the students and the University as a whole. Also, special consideration should be given to new and early career faculty in the university.

Finally, the MoE and UGC should audit the compliance of requirements for degree(s) awarded, course design, teaching and learning environment including blended learning and quality of education programmes.

As public universities in our country are not in a position to accept all aspiring students, private universities are playing a vital role in the education sector. The government is also encouraging the growth of private universities. However, we have to ensure the quality of education in private universities as the students are paying higher tuition and other fees than public universities. Moreover, we have to build up quality human resources so that they can contribute efficiently to our economy in the long run.

It is no doubt a positive aspect in our country that the government has been putting increasing emphasis on the education sector in general and higher education in particular. In addition, development of the IT sector is a plus point to improve our education system by way of strengthening support services. As an academician having gained some experience in working in overseas universities, I have a feeling that the way the private universities in Bangladesh are going ahead does not reflect an ideal setting in terms of quality of learning, curriculum and learning environment. We understand that ministry of education (MoE) and the university grants commission (UGC) are working together to bring private universities in a disciplined shape as seats of higher learning. Based on my personal experiences, I would like to point out some key issues which must be addressed or implemented in order to provide and ensure quality education in the private universities. The issues involved include teaching and learning environment, curriculum, blended learning environment, scholarship of teaching and learning, hiring of quality teachers, defining of workload, compliance and auditing of degrees awarded.

Creation of teaching and learning environment is the most important factor in as much as it has a direct bearing on the academic setting. A study of Pascarella and Terenzini's (1998) meta-analysis of research on the effects of university education concluded that learning and cognitive development occur when students are closely engaged and involved with the subjects they are studying. Therefore, in order to achieve this, the university must provide resources and activities to allow students to develop their interests beyond the experiences provided within their courses. It includes classroom environment, course design, blended learning, and teaching quality including enthusiasm for the subjects taught.

Most of the private universities in Bangladesh have business degree(s), such as BBA and MBA. There is much inconsistency with regard to the course designs and setting of syllabi among the universities. We need to build up the concept of course design in general. My personal view is that we need some core courses in the 1st year or freshness year. The MoE and UGC can work together with private universities to determine some criteria for a common curriculum design.

If every stakeholder comes forward to maintain quality education in order to help our students in the competitive environment, de-emphasising maximisation of profits from education business, I think it is the right time to build a philosophy for Bangladeshi university education system, and here curricula should be the key concern.

One of the models that can substantially enhance the academic base in the universities is blended learning system. It is model that brings together e-learning in on-campus learning and teaching activities. The government has given high emphasis to use IT at all levels by introducing 3G, online banking, e-applications, e-tickets, e-results, e-tender and so on. Therefore, we can introduce a combination of face-to-face and online blended learning. Actually, blended learning is an approach to learning and teaching which combines and aligns learning undertaken in face-to-face sessions with learning opportunities created online. If universities implement blended learning, there will be the following types of blend with a complete learning environment for our students. These are (not limited to):

* Course profile/module in the electronic format;

* Course lecture slides and related documents in electronic format;

* Online assessment (quizzes, assignment) and submission;

* Opportunities to learn from each other collaboratively;

* Checking students from cheating and plagiarism;

* Opportunity to record lecture (audio and video) and uploading facilities;

* On line grade and marks, plus feedback.

In the western world, a popular blended learning software called Blackboard is used in almost all the universities. Private universities in Bangladesh should use Blackboard or similar types of software to facilitate and enhance the level of learning and teaching in the classroom. It is a communication platform and an academic resource centre for the students. Since IT in our country is now at an advanced stage, MoE and UGC can work together to plan a strategy for implementing blended learning approach without any delay.

The scholarship of teaching and learning is also equally important here. It is a board concept implying systematic inquiry, critique, research and development in teaching, which provides educational benefit to students. This can be adopted as an innovative teaching approach for seeking and obtaining peer recognition among the students for their ideas and practices. Sometimes, quality and output of research into teaching & learning or publications on teaching & learning practice could be an evidence of scholarship. This approach is totally absent in our country and concerned authorities should arrange workshops/seminars on scholarship of teaching and learning issues with foreign educational bodies such as the British council.

The qualifications of the faculty of the universities are closely related with the output of the quality of education. Here faculty means all personnel who carry academic rank in the university (such as professor, associate professor, assistant professor, and lecturer/instructor). In the western concept, university faculty at the ranking of assistant professor must hold a PhD. There may be exceptions in case of those having research experience or important publications. MoE and UGC should have a clearly defined principle in this regard to be strictly followed by the private universities.

There is the need for introduction of workload model in the universities. Workload modeling is the process of identifying one or more composite application usage in respect of performance testing. For example, in the universities, usually we have a balanced workload model, i.e., teaching 40 per cent, research 40 per cent and service 20 per cent. Within this criterion, the university will set a required minimum target for each faculty (based on rank) for performance evaluation at year-end. The criteria may change depending on the rank of the academic. We have to keep in mind that the policy for work load model should be designed to encourage principles of equity, transparency and flexibility for the academics to manage their workload in a way that is most effective for them and beneficial to the students and the University as a whole. Also, special consideration should be given to new and early career faculty in the university.

Finally, the MoE and UGC should audit the compliance of requirements for degree(s) awarded, course design, teaching and learning environment including blended learning and quality of education programmes.

Higher education and the role of private universities | VIEWS & OPINION | The financial express. (2017). Print.thefinancialexpress-bd.com. Retrieved 13 March 2017, from http://print.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2014/05/01/31653

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