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The changing role of the university over time: Impact in Bangladesh

31 October 2021
The changing role of the university over time: Impact in Bangladesh

M. M. Shahidul Hassan :
Just as the current state of industrialization has been achieved through several industrial revolutions, universities have had to overcome many challenges and hurdles to reach their present state. There is even disagreement among academics and historians about the world's first university. Although many believe that the University of Bologna in Italy is the world's first university, many recognize Ez-Zitouna University in Tunisia as the first university according to Erudera. Started as a madrasa in 737, it was subsequently established as a university in 1956. Anyway, if we adopt the definition of a university as an institution that grants undergraduate and postgraduate degrees (Rashdall, 1895), the University of Bologna founded in 1088 can be considered the first university in the sense of (i) being a high degree-awarding institute; (ii) having independence from the religious schools, although conducted by both clergy and non-clergy; (iii) using the word university and (iv) issuing secular and non-secular degrees. However, the university culture developed differently in northern Europe than it did in the south, even though they did have many elements in common. At that time, there existed two different university models. The rediscovery of ancient Greco-Roman knowledge (e.g. Aristotle's works and Roman law), led to the development of a student-controlled university model and was used in universities in Southern Europe. Another structure that dominated northern universities was modeled based on the faculty governance system developed at the University of Paris.
Because of the advancement of science and arts, many universities in Europe smartly revised their curricula taking science and arts into consideration. But there were universities that were reluctant to change their curricula developed on the works of Aristotle and defied contemporary advancements in science and the arts. However, the faculty governance model was getting more and more popularity and acceptance. There were some universities that had a system of faculties whose teaching addressed a very specific curriculum; this model tended to train specialists. Also, there was a popular model known as the tutorial model of the University of Oxford. In this model, teaching and organization both were decentralized, and knowledge became a generalist nature. However, towards the end of the early modern period (c. 1450-1750), the change in the structure, and the orientation of university education, had occurred in ways that can recognizable in the modern context.  Aristotle was no longer becoming a driving force providing the epistemological and methodological focus for universities, and a more mechanistic orientation was emerging. The transfer of theological knowledge by the humanities had become a fixture, and a new openness began in the construction and dissemination of knowledge that had become essential for the formation of the modern state.
Until the 19th century, the curriculum was mainly designed for religious subjects. However, the role of religion in research universities decreased during that century.  In the 19th century, the German university model known as Humboldt's model proposed by Wilhelm von Humboldt gained widespread recognition worldwide. The central Humboldt's principle was based on the 'union of teaching and research in the search for impartial truth' in the work of the individual scholar or scientist. The four key pillars of Humboldt's university were (i) free person, (ii) free research, (iii) free education, and (iv) free knowledge (Savvina 2016). Universities focused on science in the university program in the 19th and 20th centuries and became increasingly accessible to the public. In the United States, Johns Hopkins University was the first to adopt the German Research University model, and most American universities were pioneers in adopting this model. In the UK, a shift from the Industrial Revolution to modernity opened the door for the creation of new civic universities with an emphasis on science and engineering.  Sir Keith Murray who was the chairman of the University Grants Committee and Sir Samuel Curran initiated a movement for civic universities in 1960 and as a result civic university were established in the UK. Since then the focus gradually shifted from teaching to both teaching and basic research. However, the research was curiously driven, without any consideration of the application of such research results.  And teaching was for students from elite families. In recent years, there has been a reform from basic research to applied and entrepreneurial research (Marginson 2006). In the early twentieth century, the world noticed a significant change in the goal of a university. The purpose of a university has begun to change from an elitist philosophy to an egalitarian one.  
In the 21st century, the world has begun to experience an unimaginable application of high technology in the industry, huge job opportunities in the IT sector, and a rapidly changing labor market. This century is called the Information Age or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum (2018) reports that about 65% of children entering primary school today will find jobs that are not yet available. To succeed in this type of labor market, graduates must be smart lifelong learners, comfortable with consistent adaptation, and willing to go across the industry. If one profession becomes obsolete, happening virtually overnight - workers need to be able to change smartly to another profession. Therefore, today's graduates must have the competencies like critical thinking, innovation, collaboration and communication, and lifelong learning.
By far, the Outcome-Based Education (OBE) system proposed by William Spady (1994) is the most popular in the higher education system. According to this model, each academic program determines certain observable and measurable outcomes, and students must be shown that they are 'knowing and able to do whatever the required outcomes are.' According to this model, the role of a university should not be confined to providing state-of-art classrooms and academically excellent faculty members.
Universities in Western countries have also experienced significant changes in the way they teach. The traditional teacher-centric teaching paradigm is called the instruction paradigm. In this teacher-centric teaching, knowledge is transferred primarily through lectures, and here students are expected to learn from just listening to it. This passive role of the student in such classroom settings ultimately leads to memorization, often without internalization of materials, and thus this instruction paradigm is not considered effective. The research finding is that it is impossible to teach if a student does not want to or is not able to do so themselves. In order to involve students in learning, teachers must play the role of a facilitator rather than imparting knowledge through a variety of means such as lectures, blackboards, multimedia, video clips, etc. to their students. However, at best only, a portion of class time can be spent on lectures, and the rest of the time teacher work to create an interactive learning environment by allocating time for group discussions and Q&A sessions. In fact, the active participation of the student in the learning process is the answer to effective learning in classroom settings. Encouraging group study, assigning real-life projects, and challenging problems are some of the means to ensure active participation.   
In this age of globalization, Bangladesh cannot ignore the changes of the Industrial Revolution in achieving its economic growth. The type of work is changing rapidly, and the work skills of the graduates are changing and changing. Therefore, universities in Bangladesh need to produce graduates that can adapt to the rapidly changing job market. However, universities in Bangladesh have still been following the old educational aims mainly set to produce students for public service, advance knowledge through research, and develop leaders for various areas of the public service. Now is the time to change these goals to prepare a student for the demands of a modern labor market. Therefore, the education system needs to be moved from traditional education to OBE. Universities also need to change the instruction paradigm to the learning paradigm. It is good to know that the Government of Bangladesh has taken initiatives to revamp the education system and teaching method. University authorities and teachers need to prepare themselves for adopting changes.  
(Dr. M. M. Shahidul Hassan is Vice Chancellor, East West University).

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