Why do Bangladeshi universities fare so poorly in global rankings?

The Business Standard spoke to academics to find out why our universities lag behind foreign institutions, where we need to improve and how credible these rankings are in the first place

Four Bangladeshi universities, Brac University (BracU), University of Dhaka (DU), Jahangirnagar University (JU) and North South University (NSU), have made it to the 800-1000 bracket in the recent World University Rankings 2024, released by Times Higher Education (THE).

THE evaluates institutions across five key domains: teaching, research environment, research quality, industry engagement, and international outlook. 

No Bangladeshi universities made it to this year’s top 800, which includes 24 Indian universities and eight Pakistani universities.

Moreover, while on one hand, some of the country’s universities jumped ahead in ranking compared to last year – such as BracU; others, such as DU and NSU, who were ranked in the 601-800 last year, have fallen behind. 

In total, nine universities in the country, including Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) and Rajshahi University (RU), made it to the list. Khulna University (KU) and Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) made it to the 1201-1500 bracket this year. 

The Business Standard spoke to academics who explained why our universities are lagging behind foreign institutions, where we need to improve and where we have actually developed over the years – and also the credibility of the rankings. 

‘There is a lack of good governance in our universities’  

Professor Nazrul Islam

Former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC)

One of the indicators the rating agency puts more emphasis on is management. The activities of the management are reflected in the recruitment of faculties and admission of students. 

In our country, nothing is standard and transparent. We often see different types of anomalies and corruption in the newspapers, and when these things happen often, it is difficult to improve the quality of higher education. 

Another reason [behind the low rankings] is the lack of good governance in universities. The recruitment of faculties and staff and the admission of students are supposed to be transparent. If the quality of the faculty is not good, nothing good will happen.

[Additionally], fund allocation and teachers’ salaries are also barriers to improving our world rankings.  

There are some basic things in higher education. For example, fund allocation. The fund crisis is still a big problem in Bangladesh. The country is supposed to spend at least 6% of its GDP in the education sector, but the allocation has come down to less than 2%.

Professor Nazrul Islam, former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC)

Professor Nazrul Islam, former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC)

University teachers’ salaries should be increased. Many public university faculties go abroad and never return because of the lack of facilities. On the other hand, only a handful of private universities provide decent salaries and facilities. 

With these kinds of weaknesses, how can one expect to compete with internationally renowned universities? We are lagging behind in research and publication as well.

‘The global criteria do not apply to us’

Professor Dr Ainun Nishat

Former vice-chancellor of Brac University 

Our examination and education standard are quite good and those who evaluate, their method fails to capture it. 

[These rankings] look at the employability of a graduate. Will you recruit someone from a Bangladeshi university instead of an MIT, Harvard or Stanford graduate? They ask questions like how many foreign students and teachers are there – these questions are applicable for American universities.

Questions like how big is the lab space, how much lab equipment is there, how much money is spent on research etc are applicable for Master’s or PhD levels, but our universities are undergraduate dominant. 

DU has MS, but that is more like an extension of BA Hons. DU MA exams have no connection with research. BUET has some focus on research, as do Brac and these days, DU; so the global criteria are not applicable to us.

We are on the right track. MIT gets the best students from all around the world, India’s IITs get the best students from all over India. So, we should compare with institutions which get the best students from all over Bangladesh. Most private universities do not have any such system.

Professor Dr Ainun Nishat, former vice-chancellor of Brac University

Professor Dr Ainun Nishat, former vice-chancellor of Brac University

Instead of comparing our universities with MIT and Harvard, why not draw comparisons with regular American universities? These two institutions and their likes provide many facilities for their students and also receive huge donations for research from their alumni. 

Our talented students are going abroad for research and America is taking credit for their contributions. They are taking credits for talented Indian students, Chinese students etc.

‘Our websites should be updated so that agencies get the latest info’ 

AAMS Arefin Siddique

Former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University

We lack many things to fulfil the requirements for a good ranking worldwide. We lag behind in some of the indices in the ranking. For example, our universities cannot provide all the facilities for foreign students; we may have a limitation of funding for that. The ratio of foreign students and facilities is also important for scoring well, and it is a big obstacle for our universities. 

However, this is lacking in both public and private universities.  

We have improved to some extent in terms of laboratory facilities and other facilities. But I believe we have to go a long way because there are some universities that did not even make it to the list of top 1,000 universities around the world.  

AAMS Arefin Siddique, former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University

AAMS Arefin Siddique, former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University

With time, we will progress. Another important issue is that the agency that does the ranking collects the information from the internet. Public university websites are usually not updated with the latest information. 

Research, publications and qualifications of our faculties should be updated regularly. Our faculties are strong in qualifications, as many of them now hold degrees from different foreign universities. It is vital for us to provide updated information to the agency which does the ranking and let them know of our universities’ progress.    

‘Just because the ranking changed, does it mean DU has fluctuated?’

Dr Fakrul Alam

Director, Sheikh Mujib Research Institute for Peace and Liberty, DU

These rankings are not the same all the time. And the same university is ranked differently. For example, DU had a different ranking last year; this year it has another ranking etc. I am not against rankings, but we have to know who is doing these rankings and what is the validity of these rankings. Are they being done objectively or are they done just by feeding data? We have to know all these. 

Dr Fakrul Alam, director, Sheikh Mujib Research Institute for Peace and Liberty, DU

Dr Fakrul Alam, director, Sheikh Mujib Research Institute for Peace and Liberty, DU

There is no doubt that DU needs to do better and they must work harder on improving the ranking criteria, but I also believe that just because the rankings are changing, it does not mean the quality of Dhaka University is also fluctuating.  

DU is doing a lot of good work but like I said before, we have to be much more aware about the kind of information we are feeding [to the ranking agencies]. However, we have to understand that these rankings are variable. Will their ranking determine our future? I do not believe their ranking is the last word. But we still need to improve, no doubt. 

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