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Classes to resume after two-month strike

Political tensions cripple Bangladesh universities

Classes to resume after two-month strike
Students protested against two senior administrators (Photo by Shahdat Hossain) reporter, Dhaka

September 11, 2012

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Classes are expected to resume on Saturday after a two-month boycott at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Protesters were demanding the resignation of two top administrators, amid allegations of payments for promotions, doctored exam results and nepotism. Pro-Vice Chancellor Habibur Rahman was removed on Sunday, after an agreement made by Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid during a meeting with protesters. Vice Chancellor Nazrul Islam will remain in office for now. “The VC and pro-VC have turned BUET into their autocratic empire. We can’t tolerate them any more,” said Ashraful Islam, secretary of the the university's Teachers’ Association. In April, Nazrul Islam sparked the protests by promoting teachers into the registrar’s position and into the newly created Pro-Vice Chancellor post. Other staff claim they were unqualified. In July, the heads of all the faculties, departments and institutes resigned en masse in a show of no confidence in the administration. Students also joined the protests, boycotting classes. The administration has filed criminal cases against protesters for allegedly attempting to vandalize BUET administrative offices, a move which fueled further anger. Nazrul Islam, the beleaguered Vice Chancellor,  claims that teachers are deliberately inciting students to protest against him. “I’ve done nothing wrong and I won’t resign if the government doesn’t order me to,” he said. Protesters insist that he should also be removed and the criminal charges against them must be dropped, to ‘create a favorable atmosphere’ at the university. Despite the teachers' announcement that classes would resume, it was not clear if students would comply. “The issue remains unresolved. We will go back to class if our demands are fully met,” said a senior. Some prominent educators say poor administration, lack of democratic practice and partisan attitudes are the causes of the current unrest and clashes in the higher education sector. Last week, activists from the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, attacked protesting students, highlighting the political tensions between student groups. “Student politics had a golden age in this country, leading to its independence in 1971, but that is gone now,” said Dr. Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, a Dhaka University English professor. "Without the historic political student unions and democratic processes, party influence on both teachers and students is fueling unrest at campuses around the country." Chowdhury added that Vice Chancellors are often appointed for political reasons by the Ministry of Education. But an Awami League spokesman said the unrest at public universities is rooted in personal gain, not political strife. “Some people are destabilizing campuses for personal gain; there is no political influence or meddling. We hope things will be solved soon,” he said. Related reports: Med school admission plan sparks protests Education row leaves Dhaka students in limbo
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