I am standing here, today, at this juncture of our journey, with feelings and emotions that are deep in the heart, but with no words to express them. Waves of countless memories, sweet and sour, abstract and clear, are pouring into my mind. Distracted by busy schedules of hard work, time passed by until twenty-five years went by in the blink of an eye.
This is the silver jubilee of Asian University of Bangladesh (AUB). This university has been a long-cherished dream of mine, formed over time from experiences drawn from my childhood, maturing with my own growth and learning at home and overseas, leading to a immense desire and effort before arriving at the destination – the establishment of AUB.
The need to reach out with education to the masses of rural population was seriously felt through the struggles of schooling in the rural Bangladesh during my childhood, and thereafter I was inspired through the years by experience gained overseas of taking education to the doorsteps of the masses instead of confining education within the boundaries of four walls. This led to the design of an institution of higher learning that can cover not only the whole of Bangladesh but can go beyond with dual mode of education: campus based and distance education. Although it was a life-long dream, active efforts continued for a decade for materializing the dream through its formal shaping, its approval and establishment. The efforts led to the attempt to form a legal educational institution in the late eighties through affiliation of the University of Dhaka, and then through that of National University. It must be remembered that there was at that time no legal framework for establishing private universities in the country. However, efforts at affiliation did not succeed because dual mode of education, as proposed, could not be supported by the existing laws of the existing universities of that time, nor those of the country. Thus the initiative of AUB was probably the first effort for establishing a private university in Bangladesh. Then, upon the enactment of Private University Act 1992, Asian University of Bangladesh was established in 1996.
This historical fact has been recognized and documented by the higher education authorities of Bangladesh:
“Inspired by the concept of dual mode of education overseas, Professor Dr. Abul Hasan M. Sadeq made efforts in late eighties to establish a dual mode university in Bangladesh for providing quality education to as many people as possible in the country from an interdisciplinary integrated ethico-human approach reflecting our values, heritage and principles. He could not succeed to accomplish this goal at that time since no legal framework existed in the country for establishing such a venture in the private sector. After enactment of Private University Act,1992. Professor Sadeq took initiative again for establishing a dual mode university. Finally, Asian University of Bangladesh was established in 1996. Professor Dr. Abul Hasan M. Sadeq is the Founder and Founder Vice-Chancellor of the university. At present it is managed by Asian University of Bangladesh Trust”. (University Grants Commission of Bangladesh, “Handbook of Universities of Bangladesh 2009”, page 203).
Asian University of Bangladesh was established with Government approval on 4 January, 1996, and inaugurated on 10 September 1996. The dual mode university started in both modes: campus mode and distance mode. The following are the distinguishing features that motivated and inspired us to have such a dream and that made the struggles with sacrifices seem worthwhile.
Firstly, my dream was of providing quality education with affordability. Unlike many other private universities organized by socio-economic elites of the country, AUB was established by the efforts of a single academician and proposals to get involved through financing was rejected by me in order to avoid any possible commercial motive or any hidden agenda. I wanted to ensure that AUB had a true academic character. Thus I needed to resort to all my life-long savings from working overseas and hence we started our journey in a humble manner. This was documented as follows: “AUB was solely financed by the Founder of both AUB Trust and AUB, Dr. Abul Hasan M. Sadeq, during inception of AUB.” (Clause 6 of the Memorandum of Association of Asian University of Bangladesh Trust).
Today I remember sleeping on the floor of the office, spending long strenuous days and countless sleepless nights, going through innumerous challenges and struggles to start a new breed of higher educational institution with dual mode of education. We started our university with three departments under two schools and 295 students. We depended mostly on part-time teachers in the beginning, and tried to recruit the best possible academicians, which created good-will an enabled us to attract knowledge seekers so much so that our building could not accommodate the admission seekers at the admission test, and hence we rented an exam hall of Dhaka University (Arts Faculty Building) for the purpose. In administration, I was the Vice Chancellor (Honorary), appointed by the Ho’ble Chancellor, who is also the Hon’ble President of Bangladesh; my father was the Acting Treasurer (Honorary), and there were some salaried administrative staff. This small team worked day and night to make my dream a reality. Now we have 13 departments in five schools. Several other departments are in the process of approval.
We bought a piece of land in Sector 7 of Uttara Model Town, Dhaka, and constructed a multi-storied building for AUB. This is probably the first building constructed by any private university on its own purchased land in the capital city of Dhaka. This building housed the head office of AUB and it was used for academic purposes as well.
We decided to procure land suitable for a permanent campus in Ashulia, Dhaka, and hence we started buying it, piece by piece, and we succeeded finally to purchase about ten acres of land in one place. Thereafter we started construction of the first building with a master plan of academic and administrative buildings. The first ten-storied building measures 22,500 sft per floor plus a basement. AUB is presently fully operational in its permanent campus.
The vision was to bring higher education to the doorsteps of the general masses at affordable cost and hence we started distance education along with campus-based education. The methods of our distance education were made so effective that these were highly appreciated at the 17th Annual Conference of The Association of Asian Open Universities, held on 12-14 November 2003, in Bangkok, Thailand, where I presented a paper on distance education in Bangladesh. I feel proud that graduates of our distance education are presently holding very high positions in both public and private sectors including civil service, defense, education, corporate sectors, overseas jobs, and so on. We could cover the entire country by such effective distance education. However, distance education was discredited by some others who received government approval by showing the effective distance education model of AUB but could not maintain quality so much so that the authorities decided to discontinue distance education for the time being, including that of ours. That was a partial death of a vision for causes originated elsewhere. As a result, the distance education throughout the country was closed down, and thus the number of knowledge seeking beneficiaries fell down by about 70%. AUB was the first and only dual mode institution of higher learning in the country, the kind of institution that has been enlightening general masses in all developed countries. AUB was established with that vision which had contributed a lot to human resource development of the country. Anyways, we hope that it will revive as soon as possible for human resource development of the general masses at affordable cost.
Thus we are left with campus-based education alone at the moment. In campus-based education, two branch campuses were established in Rajshahi and Khulna at the request of the local elites and academicians and with the consent and support of the UGC and the Ministry of Education. Besides, there were two teaching complexes in Dhanmondi and Motijheel in the capital city of Dhaka. These were also closed down after the enactment of Private University Act 2010, which requires a university to operate in only one place. Finally, we were required to close down our original city campus of Uttara, too, to shift the campus fully to our permanent campus at Ashulia This affected student enrolment further since road infrastructure was not so developed there.
Our uncompromising emphasis has been on quality education first. In quality education, our efforts have been multi-dimensional. Obviously, the first important issue is curriculum. The curriculum of AUB was prepared by a group of academicians and scholars from home and aboard. Then it was sent to foreign experts at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign, USA. According to them, the curriculum was of world standard. We are getting the best results because of this world-class curriculum. This integrated curriculum is bringing the best out of the students and they are competing globally. Secondly, quality education requires good quality teachers. In this, we tried to recruit the best possible teachers with local and foreign degrees. Besides, we tried to hire the best teachers and professors from the local public universities on part-time basis. In order to guarantee accessibility of teachers to the students for guidance and consultation, full-time attendance of the teachers from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm was made compulsory.
Third, the library has been made very rich as compared to other private universities. In some of the years, the UGC reports show that AUB has the largest collection of books. Besides printed books, a vast collection of digital books and journals were made available for the students. Students can borrow books from the library and we arrange book reading competitions to encourage students to spend more time in the library. Fourth, education has been made technology-based, so students of general and arts subjects are also exposed to technology. The computer labs facilities have been made sufficient for the use of students. We arrange training sessions and workshop for the students to equip them with the knowledge to technology. We teach them to search their required contents from the web. Students are made very competent and skilled in information technology so that they can cope up with the fast-moving world. Fifth, students give feedback about the quality of education and performance of each of their teachers for each course through the teaching efficiency rating (TER), through a survey form designed for this purpose. This TER is then assessed and evaluated and is used in training and evaluation of the teachers. Therefore, each and every teacher remains alert about his/her performance and is motivated to develop his/her quality. Sixth, the students are exposed to the real-life situation in various ways. They are required to take some inter-disciplinary courses that cover all major aspects of human life including social life, political life, and economic life, equipping them with basic knowledge about these aspects of life. Additionally, students are exposed to the industry when corporate leaders are invited to give lectures on different topics. Corporate leaders also industry- related courses on part-time basis. Finally, some programs have internship where students are attached to some corporations, companies or institutions and thus get exposure to the real world. Seventh, AUB places a great emphasis ethics and morality. At AUB, we differentiate between literacy and education. Literacy refers to professional knowledge and skills, while education refers to knowledge and practice of both professional skills and ethics and morality. The AUB curriculum integrates some courses on ethics and morality in different dimensions of human life. These courses are made compulsory for students of all programs and all departments. Furthermore, students engage in activities related to ethics and morality. Eighth, AUB provides affordable education to general masses of Bangladesh, through various mechanisms. AUB maintains a low fee structure considering the income level of the general masses of the country. AUB also provides 100% free studentship to the top performers at the SSC and HSC levels. Poor students also receive waivers on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, AUB provides scholarships to students who perform well in the semester final exams. Meritorious and skilled students have opportunities for part-time employment as teaching and research assistants. Siblings and spouses studying together are also entitled to discounts at AUB. Moreover, children of freedom fighters are exempted from all tuition fees. All of these facilities are being given to our students in addition to the previous efforts of taking education to the door steps to the rural masses through distance
education, but this latter method of supporting the students has been discontinued due to the change in the legal framework in this matter. As a result of the above features of AUB, its graduates are doing very well in the job market at home and abroad. They are holding very high positions in both the public and private sectors in education, civil service, defense, corporate sectors and so on. They are also doing very well overseas including teaching in foreign universities. Another important feature of AUB is its student activities. There are student activities in every university but many of these activities are not formalized or institutionalized. However, in AUB, there are four formalized and institutionalized student activities.
Firstly, for academic activities, the students will have to be involved in seminars, workshops, debates, software competition, hardware competition, quiz competition and so on. Secondly, students are involved in activities related to ethics and morality, including organizing events that develop their understanding and practice of ethical and moral behavior. Thirdly, students are involved in social and community services to help the needy, through activities such as collecting and distributing winter clothes for the poor, helping the victims of natural calamities like floods, drought and fire, etc. The purpose is to give the students a feeling that they have a responsibility beyond themselves to the society and the nation at large. Fourthly, the students are involved in indoor games and outdoor sports. Unlike many other private universities, AUB has wide and spacious fields for games and sports. In this way AUB intends to produce graduates who are professionally skilled, morally upright and physically fit. In addition, AUB’s alumni association networks graduates who are scattered all over the world. The association is an avenue for new and existing students to get exposure to the real-world through the experiences of their seniors. At present, the whole world is suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic, causing lockdown of all kinds of activities, including educational institutions at all levels. The visionary foresight of the initial dream of AUB’s distance mode helped us in gaining the strength to cope with this situation. So, even in this COVID-19 pandemic, AUB is successfully continuing the educational activities using online platforms very successfully, so much so that almost 70% of the students are connected with virtual classes, seminars, workshops and meetings. Besides, all the administrative and academic activities are going on smoothly. As economic support to the affected students, we have given special tuition fees waiver in this pandemic. Resulting from its desire to reach the masses of the population of Bangladesh, AUB is an inclusive university of Bangladesh as a whole, rather than a city-based university, such that about 70% of its students come from every nook and corner of the country including the remote areas of rural Bangladesh, and this is in contrast to many other established private universities in the country. Obviously, this has a positive role in the human resource development of a country like Bangladesh that has a large rural population. AUB’s reach has extended beyond Bangladesh to, such that institutions around the world are seeking cooperative understanding with AUB, and it has also received requests to open its branches overseas.
There is still room for growth. AUB is planning to open new programs to cater to the changing demands of the society. In parallel, the campus, though fully functioning, can be developed further to provide many facilities that are available at world-class universities. AUB is also seeking ways of providing education beyond the borders of Bangladesh, as requested by several interested parties from overseas. In conjunction, AUB continues to attract more and more foreign students, and the foreign student services of the university is growing to cope with the demand. Finally, AUB dreams to be recognized worldwide for its research, and so AUB is imposing strict quality criteria on the publications of its faculty members. This is already beginning to bear fruit, with an AUB paper winning best paper award at an international conference in Malaysia. I hope that for your best wishes and support on our journey.
Please accept my best personal wishes for your success.
PROFESSOR ABULHASAN M SADEQ, PH.D.
Vice - Chancellor (In-Charge)
Asian University of Bangladesh