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Education row leaves Dhaka students in limbo

College warns new admission rules will favor the rich

The dispute at Notre Dame could disrupt the academic career of thousands The dispute at Notre Dame could disrupt the academic career of thousands
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • August 1, 2012
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Masud Hasan was due to start studying at Notre Dame College, which regularly records the highest grades in the country.

But after passing the strict admission tests to gain entry to Notre Dame College in Dhaka, the business studies major has now discovered his academic career is under threat, due to a dispute between the Catholic college and education authorities.

The college  continued using its established admission system this year, including a formal test, which the government and the city's education board insist is no longer valid. They made a rule change in May, requiring all admissions to go through a new online system, including the payment of entry fees, and entrance exams are no longer required. Instead, admissions are based on results in exams after the 10th grade.

The bodies have now said the college's new intake will not be recognized, which places the university careers of more than 2,500 new students in jeopardy.

“I’ve heard there is a row over admissions and I’m confused as to whether I can even sit my public examinations [in 2014],” said Hasan.

When the education department insisted Notre Dame follow the rules, as it has done with every college in the country, a parent of a newly admitted student filed a lawsuit with the High Court.

On June 14, it found in favor of Kadam Ali Mallick, a lawyer. But the decision only granted Notre Dame a six-month stay on admissions. After that, it remains unclear what will happen.

“What does the board want the college to do in six months? This is completely ridiculous,” said Mallick. “If it becomes necessary, I will again challenge the board decision in the High Court.”

The chief argument against the new system is that it weakens admission standards.

Holy Cross Father Benjamin Costa, the college principal at Notre Dame, says it takes admissions control completely away from colleges and places the entire system in the hands of the education board.

The main danger, he says, is that corruption will undermine the admissions process and poor, intelligent students will become the main victims as richer students will be able to afford the necessary fees, both official and unofficial.

“The board rules are not laws passed in parliament – they can’t be revised easily,” said Fr. Costa. “Furthermore, we had a court order to back up our process.”

As the dispute rumbles on, he said that negotiations were continuing and he hoped “to resolve it soon.”

Meanwhile, uncertainty means Notre Dame’s reputation - built over 63 years - has been damaged, says Fr. Costa.

On Friday, about 1,000 parents, former students and prominent professors held a meeting at Dhaka University to protest against the education board’s stance.

“There is a conspiracy to destroy Notre Dame,” said Biblob Faruq, a former student and secretary-general of the Committee for Protection of Notre Dame’s Educational Traditions, a new group set up to defend the school.

Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor Doctor Arefin Siddique told those gathered at the meeting that the new admissions process was “a farce.”

“The government needs to look at Notre Dame seriously and must ensure that it enjoys independence, as it did in the past,” he said.

Dr Fahima Khatun, the chairman of the Dhaka education board, said her department was not responsible for the tensions. She had no interest in destroying Notre Dame’s reputation, she added.

“The college could have invited us to attend the meeting last Friday and explain our position,” she said. “We don’t want any damage done to its good name.”

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