Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | ePaper

Public money spent in public universities

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Md. Atikur Rahman :
A large portion of higher education in public universities, colleges and other institutions in Bangladesh is still subsidized. Public money spent on students often leaves the country after valuable education. In this backdrop should higher education be subsidized or students should at least bear the cost? Every year the Government spends a lot of money on public universities, medical colleges and engineering universities. But the deteriorating standard of education in majority of public institutions is a perennial challenge for society as a whole. The handful of talented graduates they produce often leave the country for higher education or better life denying the contribution of people's Tax money. Against this backdrop, I thing that the public institutions should offer education at a market price in a competitive environment where the demand and supply will play their role.
Public institutions often lack of accountability and commitment on teacher's part. Nonchalance to student's need or absence of research and development are pushing majority of public institutions to backseat. In a lax environment, students are often failing to appreciate the value of education they get from these institutions as it doesn't cost them dearly. Some major public universities and medical colleges are exceptions.
Subsidy can be justified, firstly, if the subsidy money was targeted to needy students or public institutions were catering to only poor-but-talented students. But majority of the students in public institutions are from well-off families. There is no such policy that favours only the low income groups.
Secondly, subsidy could be justified if it was helping national development. But these institutions seem like developing talents only to serve countries other than Bangladesh. Some many argue that public institutions are highly competitive and only a handful of talented students succeed in getting in the reputed public institutions. As a developing country, the philosophy of education should be developing human resource by catering the best talents. If the public universities levy high tuition, talented students will be attracted by private universities and development oriented Government's objective to retain national talents will be further undermined.
In a poor country, affordability is definitely a big question. Talented students can be awarded generous scholarships on need basis. And students who can afford, why shouldn't they pay for their education, when they can spend money on so many other things and luxuries? In public institutions, once students get in, the expensive medical and engineering degree can be completed at a nominal expense. I suppose, able students should bear at least a portion of their expenses. This will improve the quality of education and level of accountability in those institutions.
On the other hand, throughout the world, education from a renowned institution is valued more than the education from a less-known institution because of the quality difference. It's not the amount of money spent to earn a degree, instead the quality of graduate outputs are considered are valued by the employers. At every level of education, private educational institutions are generally more costly compared to public educational institutions. There is a growing consensus that public university students should share a portion of the cost Government incurs on them and I agree to this view.
Quality of education varies from institution to institution. Same degrees (M.Sc, B.Sc, MBA, BBA & MBBS) from different institutions are often valued differently in the job market. Employers often favor good result and reputed universities' graduates and offer higher salary at the entry level. Sought-after employers offer attractive remuneration package with career prospect and often attract best graduates. Many graduates coming from costly private educational institutions perform poorly vis-à-vis graduates from high quality public system. Salary difference is particularly visible at the entry level. As the incumbents grow-up professionally, the difference generally diminishes and on-the-job performance becomes important.
As part of the government's developmental objective, higher education in public universities and colleges are generously funded by government. Public higher education system is experiencing quality deterioration and development stagnation primarily due to scarcity of resources available to them. In one hand, government is unable to meet the ever increasing demand for fund for the public universities, and on the other, the universities are not generating much revenue from the students. To break this stagnation trap, the proposition of raising students' fees is gaining grounds.
The proposition that public university graduates should bear the cost of their education has justification. Firstly, not all the public university students are poor. Secondly, the revenue generated from the students' tuitions could be spent on facility development and quality improvement purposes. Thirdly, higher revenue will attract better academicians and researchers and enhance greater accountability.      
Information source from the daily newspaper, "Bangladesh continues to spend less on education in terms of percentage of gross domestic products than other South Asian countries although it says that improvement of quality of education is a priority. A government's education spending should be 4-6 per cent of the GDP or 15-20 per cent of the total budget but Bangladesh spends 1.9 per cent of the GDP and about 13 per cent of the total government expenditure, said 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring Report the UNESCO unveiled in Dhaka. The report said that Bangladesh's spending on education in terms of percentage of GDP was less than that of other South Asian neighbours.
Campaign for Popular Education executive director Rasheda K Choudhury said that they did not understand why spending on education was not increasing even to South Asian level. 'For quality education we need extra resources, higher pay for teachers, reduced class sizes or improved facilities,' she said.
Many pledges to give priorities to education are made in budgets but it is not realised. Even allocation for education in budget decreased from 15 per cent in 2010-11 to 11-12 per cent in 2017-18, she added. 'It is true we are still lagging behind when it comes to spending a certain proportion of the GDP on education,' said education minister Nurul Islam Nahid. Education is a priority for the government but it has other priorities too, Nahid said.
The 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring Report compared the spending of GDP of 205 countries in 2015. The report said that Bangladesh spent 1.9 per cent of GDP while war torn Afghanistan spent 3.3 per cent, Bhutan 7.4 per cent, India 3.8 per cent, Maldives 5.2 per cent, Nepal 3.7 per cent, Pakistani 2.6 per cent and Sri Lanka spent 2.2 per cent of their GDP. UNESCO recommends allocation of at least 4-6 per cent of gross domestic product or 15-20 per cent of public expenditure for education sector. In 2015, median global public expenditure on education was 4.7 per cent of GDP. Median South Asian expenditure was 3.3 per cent. By income group, expenditure ranged from 3.7 per cent in low income countries to 5.1 per cent in high income countries, the report showed.
Bangladesh now spent less in terms of percentage of total expenditure, when number of students in the past one decade increased significantly. Nahid said that although education sector got less budget allocation, they emphasized the need for proper utilization of the allocation. 'We try to prevent wastage and misuse of money,' he said. 'Currently ensuring quality of education is a challenge for us and we are working on the issue,' he added."
Various plans of development activities are formulating in a developing country for further development of the country. Transformation of the country's population to skilled manpower deserves more importance. And this is being done through the public universities of the country. We don't know that how much money is being spent every year on each public university student to create the manpower. Responsibilities to built the country, nation and own self may worked more in the students of our country if they know the country's expense on each student.
Expenditure on each student has calculated based on the annual expenditure for 33 public universities at the 40th annual report of University Grants Commission (UGC) Bangladesh. The average cost is always more for science, medical, engineering and agricultural universities than the general universities. Let us assume the cost on per student at the universities from Tk. 25,000 to 80,000/- only.
Now the question is when in public universities, when people spend their hard earned money, making a student as a qualified educated person. The person will utilize his acquired education for the betterment of the country and the people. But we are looking at the best results at the university and for the higher education at the public cost abroad and they remain there. As a result, the people's money was spent on spending behind him. It is important to end this situation. For this reason, the appropriate attention should be given to those who are suitable for them, work environment, laboratories, and also for the sake of higher education, the government will have to pay attention to anyone who can not stay abroad after completing his higher education if he goes abroad. 

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