Of the 28,000 or so universities in the world, the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2022, in its 18th edition, released on June 8 last, has come up with 1,300 top such institutions. There are certainly those that are more equal than the rest. Even the Ivy League members, except the Harvard University, of the United States of America have not been placed in the list of the top 10, although most of them have found a place among the top 100. Recognised highly and most consulted among university analysts, this UK-based ranking body uses six metrics for deciding the status of a university. These are academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty ratio and international student ratio.
Now can these six metrics comprehensively capture the level of higher studies at its fullest? Definitely the world's overwhelming emphasis on science and technology to a large degree of offering a cold shoulder to liberal arts and philosophy has much to do with the current trend of ranking. The last two branches of knowledge have little practical or material value unless some geniuses produce literature and political, social science or didactic treatises of epoch-making kind. Scientific researches, discoveries, technological inventions proving integral to explaining materialistic mysteries and/or influencing and improving human lives in myriad forms are certainly of practical values. Even employability of students completing higher studies at a highest seat of learning counts very much in practical terms.
So it is not difficult to spot how higher studies at its best and worst are evaluated. But nothing to complain about as long as universities serve practical need alongside exploring the furthest reaches of knowledge to meet the challenges the present civilisation is facing. Now that a most virulent pathogen is stalking the entire length and breadth of the globe, it proves to be the number one enemy and challenge not only because it takes lives in unprecedented number but also because it has disrupted living and livelihoods.
However, this may not be the only pandemic the world is now getting ravaged with, there may be still deadlier to follow. Even then pandemics may not prove the planet's deadliest threat, the climate change may. Here no other discipline of knowledge except science and technology can be of the ultimate help. Universities producing genius scholars alone can show the way. Universities may also find an effective solution to many of the critical issues by establishing a network of higher education where such scholars can share ideas, knowledge and research findings.
The fact that the best highest seats of learning have the most acclaimed faculty scientists and scholars and the greatest number of them is in the USA is not for nothing. The primary reason is infrastructure and higher fund allocation not only for research and experiment but also for attracting best brains from home and abroad for creation of a pool of highly talented scholars. Cooperation and collaboration between the corporate world and university faculties give their strength. Such undertakings of joint ventures prove mutually highly beneficial as well.
In this context, second position holder the Oxford University can be a very good example of responding to the critical need for saving the humanity against the scourge of a pandemic. In collaboration with a Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, it has developed an anti-Covid-19 vaccine now being widely used. The university has also developed rapid testing technology for the disease and even a convenient type of ventilator.
In collaborative ventures, universities in the USA always enjoy an edge over the rest in the world. With 177 universities ---the highest for any country including 19 new entries ---America unsurprisingly is the pole position holder in the shape of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the index. What is most enviable is that the MIT tops the list for 10 years running. Even in other prestigious university ranking indices, the MIT invariably takes the leading position.
It is against such a backdrop, the placement of the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) should be analysed. The research bases of universities here are outrageously weak. With the economic progress Bangladesh is now making, the fund allocations for research and innovation by varsities are too meagre to be consistent with. What is bewildering, though, is that the DU cannot even spend the poor allocation for research. This points to the reluctance of university faculties to encourage, promote and advance research works.
The BUET, on the other hand, has to its credit some technological inventions and developments. Even its students are proving their merit by capturing enviable positions in international competitions including a robotic challenge of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA. The message is that this country has no dearth of talents but for the facilities and infrastructure. Students and teachers working at universities abroad have high achievements in this regard.
So here is an area that begs for far greater investments and capacity building of both infrastructure and human resources. There are many other ways how improvement can be brought about in the six metrics of the QS ranking. Let universities set their sight on a higher benchmark. If Saudi Arab's King Abdulaziz University can jump 34 steps up in a year to 109th position in the world, there is no reason why Bangladesh's premier university and the BUET cannot do equally well.