New semester system forced on private universities

Bangladesh’s private universities are opposing a government move to reform the existing academic year, ostensibly to streamline the curriculum and reduce tuition costs for students.

At present, private universities run their academic activities over three terms in a year, unlike publicly funded universities, which have a two-semester system. However, in April Bangladesh’s University Grants Commission, or UGC, sent letters to private universities directing them to introduce the two-semester system.

UGC Chairman Abdul Mannan told University World News that private universities have been asked to introduce the two semester system, changing by the end of this year. “We hope that all private universities can introduce two semesters in a year in phases by 2018,” he said, adding the UGC has already prepared a standard syllabus and curriculum suitable for teaching over two semesters.

Abdul Mannan said the move was to lessen pressure on students and reduce their educational expenses. The UGC notes that under the three-term system, students often do not have enough time to complete the syllabus and must pay extra fees for the additional third term.

However, last week the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh, or APUB, said in a statement the new semester system will hinder the progress of private universities.

The statement said private universities have been following the three-term system for the past 25 years and a change to the existing system would create ‘indiscipline’ in academic activities. It added the new semester system would not reduce educational costs but increase them.

Association president Sheikh Kabir Hossain told University World News the UGC did not consult them before taking the decision to change the system. “We want a solution to this problem by discussions with the government,” he said.

He added the private universities would have to pay more to teachers under the two-semester system as the vacations would be shorter. It also enables universities to charge more administrative fees on a three-semester basis. He did not have any figures on what the changeover could cost private institutions.

Other APUB members argue that the three-term system sits more closely with international universities and also enables students to more easily study while they work.

However, many private university teachers and students support the government move. Students say teachers sometimes cannot complete the syllabus in four months – the duration of current terms – but they still have to sit for end of term examinations.

“Sometimes we have to take tests even when most parts of the syllabus are not completed,” said Arafat Rahman, a BBA student at a private university.

He said that students will benefit from a switch to two semesters.

However, a government minister also sided with private university authorities. Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said 25 April in a meeting to exchange views with private providers, that imposing directives is no solution and it does not result in better outcomes.

Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairman of the board of trustees of BRAC University, a private institution in Dhaka, said under the new semester system students would be required to take more credits. In four years, they have to complete 130-150 credits, each consisting of three hours, while there is less credit pressure in the trimester method.

At present, there are 94 private universities in Bangladesh.