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The existence of 78 private and 35 public universities in Bangladesh does not see any central body to ensure the quality of higher education. America’s higher education is unique because of its reliance on accreditation to ensure quality and to foster a culture of continued improvement. The United States has no federal ministry of education or other centralised authority exercising single national control over postsecondary educational institutions. Our University Grants Commission has recently felt the necessity for setting up an accreditation council by the end of 2015, to oversee the quality of higher education and accredit academic programmes and education institutions. It is good news indeed, if the implementation can be ensured within the stipulated time.
An independent and autonomous accreditation council has been suggested through provision 38 of the Private University Act 2010. Nothing has been done so far in this connection. The grants commission has now taken the initiative, claiming that the council would oversee the quality of both public and private universities. According to the commission, a draft law has been prepared on the issue. It is likely to be sent to the ministry by March 15, for further action on forming an act for the accreditation council. The accreditation council will comprise a chairman and four other full-time members. The chairman would have to have 10 years of experience in the educational field. Of the four members, three would be academics and the education ministry will select another member. None of them would be below the status of additional secretary.
Accreditation council in other countries usually verify an institution, whether it is meeting the established standards, assists prospective pupils in identifying acceptable institutions, assists institutions in determining the acceptability of transfer credits, creates goals for self-improvement of weaker programmes and stimulating a general improvement of standards among educational institutions. It involves the faculty and staff comprehensively in institution evolution and planning and establishes criterions for professional certification and licensure for upgrading courses. Again, there are two types of accreditation councils available in the countries where higher education sees much more importance. These are institutional accreditation and specialised accreditation. Institutional accreditation is granted by regional and national accrediting commissions. In evaluating quality, the accrediting agency looks at the entire institutional unit, such as state universities or private institutions. Accreditation is awarded based on overall compliance with the criteria. The college or university may have institutional accreditation without seeking accreditation from any of the specialised accrediting agencies. Specialised accreditation is awarded to professional programmes within institutions, or to occupational schools offering specific training skills and knowledge. Specialised accrediting agencies define standards of excellence in educational preparation programs for recognised professions.
It is not clarified what sort of accreditation council the University Grants Commission is going to institute. It is only known that the chairman, along with the full-time and part-time members, would be selected for a period of four years. The accreditation council would be an autonomous body and the government would provide a separate budgetary allocation for the body to carry out its functions independently. Separate committees would be formed to facilitate the work of the council ‘The accreditation council will be an august and independent body and people will have trust on it. The council would follow recognised international methods to assess the quality of education at the tertiary level,’ Professor Mesbauddin Ahmed, head of the quality assurance unit of the grants commission commented. ‘We have prepared a draft, which would be sent to the education ministry for further action,’ he added. According to him, the accreditation council is desperately needed for quality improvements and to make graduates competitive with their counterparts in the global arena. ‘Most countries have accreditation councils to assess the quality of education, but we could not set it up for a long time. Now we do not want to lag behind,’ he went on to say.
‘Reputable universities that care for quality education are eager for such a council. They want their graduates to be assessed. Students who qualify would then have easy access to job markets, both at home and abroad. Our students are very bright. If we can ensure quality for them, they will contribute to socio-economic development with the expansion of higher education,’ Mesbauddin said.
Professor M Shamsul Haque, vice-chancellor of Northern University Bangladesh, said, ‘I welcome such an initiative, but the council should not be politicised. It should not impose anything on the universities then the purpose would be defeated.’ We also apprehend whether the whole noble intention might be destroyed by the touch of politics. If politics comes in contact with it, the grants commission’s dream may not be fulfilled. UGC member Professor Dr Abul Hashem said, ‘Very often we talk about the quality of higher education. We have about 31 lakh students at the tertiary level. We need quality at this level. The Accreditation Council will fulfill the necessity to improve the quality of education at the university level. It is the demand of time. We talked with the authorities of both public and private universities. They have felt the need for a council and have made some recommendations. We would send the recommendations to the education ministry for further steps.’
The US assumes varying degrees of control over education, but in general institutions of higher education are allowed to operate with considerable independence and autonomy. Higher educational institutions must enjoy this autonomy otherwise the research activities cannot gain its own momentum. But autonomy itself has a prestige which must not be killed by abusing autonomy. Today we see such examples. Abusing autonomy also contributes to a lower level of teaching standard. The proposed accreditation council must provide a measure of educational quality and help facilitate a student’s academic progression, including transfer credit from one institution to another. Giving thoughts to establishing an accreditation council for measuring and enhancing the quality of higher education is a timely thought and we expect to see its implementation on time with the promise to really bring about changes in the higher educational arena both in the private and public Universities.