Study of corrupt university practices sparks anger
The study released on 30 June and titled Private University: Challenges for good governance and ways to overcome them, looks at 22 private universities in Bangladesh and scrutinises their activities between 2012 and 2014.
Private higher education was a commercial venture and there were various kinds of financial malpractice involved, said Transparency International Bangladesh, or TIB.
“A section of the education ministry, a section of the University Grants Commission and a section of the universities are involved in…illegal transactions,” said TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekhar Zaman – known as Iftekharuzzaman – at the report’s launch.
“Many businessmen are entrepreneurs of private universities at present. They consider this sector to be a source of profits even though this sector should have been a non-profit one. As a result, higher education has become a commercial commodity,” Zaman said.
The study found that amounts ranging from BDT50,000 to BDT200,000 (US$643 to US$2,570) were changing hands to get vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors and university treasurers approved for appointment.
It could cost BDT10 million (US$130,000) for approval for private universities to be set up, BDT100,000 (US$1,260) for inspections of universities and smaller amounts such as BDT10,000 to BDT20,000 for settling complaints, BDT100,000 for preparing illegal audit reports and so on.
Other alleged irregularities included the use of fake PhDs by a university vice-chancellor, submitting fake receipts for reserve funds, discriminatory salaries for teaching staff (different salaries for the same position) and lack of transparency in this regard, and providing certificates without adequate teaching and learning in exchange for money.
The report also claimed that university funds were used by trustees for personal use without informing the University Grants Commission, and bank loans were taken out and funds embezzled using false documents and signatures in the name of the university.
But the report has angered officials.
The Education Ministry, the regulatory University Grants Commission, or UGC, and private university groups – who have all been named in the study – moved swiftly to deny allegations of corruption and asked TIB to withdraw the report if it failed to provide specific evidence.
The day after the report’s publication the ministry issued a strongly worded statement denying the allegations. The claims were “untrue”, it said.
The UGC issued a similar statement calling the study “sweeping, motivated and baseless” and adding that it would “tarnish the image” of higher education in Bangladesh.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, during a speech in parliament on 3 July, called on TIB to come up with proof of monetary irregularities in private universities – or apologise.
“They have made some allegations without giving any specific examples. Either you have to show instance or withdraw the report…Nobody has the right to mislead the people,” he told parliament.
Last week the minister held a meeting with vice-chancellors and sponsors of private universities about the report. Briefing the media afterwards, he said they regarded it as baseless.
Transparency International Bangladesh has said it had enough proof and there was “no scope” for withdrawing the report. The data had been collected through interviews and discussions with stakeholders, it said.
TIB’s Zaman told a local daily that the study was done following “international standards” and if necessary the organisation would provide proof of the claims to concerned authorities.
Can’t name names
Rafique Hassan, lead researcher of the study, told University World News that it was against TIB policy to name names.
“According to the ethical standards TIB maintains, we can't name any specific institution or individual. We follow a policy of ‘not naming or shaming’,” he said.
Hassan declined to say whether Bangladesh’s private universities were more prone to monetary irregularities than institutions in other countries, as no comparisons were made in the study.
In a previous report in 2013, TIB said Bangladesh's education sector was less corrupt than some other South Asian countries. Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid referred to this often in his speeches, despite disputing the current report’s contents.
Not all bad
Bangladesh has 79 private universities with some 314,640 students.
There have been allegations again some private universities in terms of low quality teaching and lack of facilities, but others are doing well – which Transparency International Bangladesh acknowledged.
“There are some positive aspects of private universities in Bangladesh...Private university graduates from Bangladesh are now going abroad for higher studies, working as teachers at local universities, are being recruited by renowned employers of the country,” Hassan said.
But he added: “Quality teaching-learning may not always be associated with good governance.”