The University Grants Commission (UGC) has recommended private universities adopt a cluster admission test system similar to the centralised entry exam hosted by public universities to mitigate sufferings of examinees.
In its 47th annual report to the government, the UGC suggested formulating a policy to introduce a unified test for students vying for a seat at the private universities in Dhaka.
A delegation, led by UGC Chairman Professor Kazi Shahidullah, presented the report to President Abdul Hamid at Bangabhaban on Sunday.
Cluster admission system to mitigate hassle
Maria Akter, an admission seeker, told UNB that she plans to study at a private university if she fails to get into a public one.
She explained that going to every private university and sit for separate entry tests would be a waste of time and money.
"The cluster system will help me find a private university easily. It’ll save a lot of hassle," she said.
Admission seekers as well as their guardians welcomed the UGC recommendation.
Rabbil Bhuiyan from Rangpur, whose daughter is an admission seeker, told UNB that it is a matter of relief for people like them.
“It’ll be really helpful if the recommendation is executed,” he said.
“I’m not in a position to roam around the city going from one university to another for my daughter’s admission nor can I leave my daughter on her own in the city since it’s not safe. I hope the authorities concerned will consider the issue very seriously," he said.
Integrated test system to help universities
Chairman of the Association of Private University of Bangladesh (APUB) Sheikh Kabir Hossain told UNB that this will be a very welcoming initiative for the private universities, if it works properly.
"We haven’t been formally informed about this. But it’s a positive approach from UGC. It’ll help all universities to get students proportionately. Students can also admit themselves considering the standard of the universities," he said.
Hossain hoped the UGC would sit with them to set the forms and formalities of the cluster system before introducing it.
“It’ll be fruitful if most of the universities participate in the system. The UGC will have to come up with an acceptable formula," he added.
UGC Chairman Professor Shahidullah told UNB that the 47th annual report made some recommendations on the current situation, problems and solutions at public and private universities.
The introduction of cluster system in private is one of them, he noted.
Prof Shahidullah said UGC has been trying to arrange cluster system admission test for a long time to put an end to the suffering of admission seekers and their parents. “This time, it was possible for coronavirus outbreak,” he said.
A centralised admission test will come as a relief to the aspirants and their guardians. “We made the recommendation considering these issues,” the UGC chairman said.
Not all roses
The UGC sat with public universities in March and decided to go with cluster admission test system for the academic year 2020-21 even after top universities refused to accept the uniform admission system.
The decision was taken at a meeting between UGC Chairman Shahidullah and vice-chancellors of 34 public universities, at UGC office in Dhaka.
But VCs of Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University and Rajshahi University did not take part in the meeting.
In a handout on Dec 1, the UGC said 19 general, science, and technology universities are scheduled to hold admission tests for the 2020-2021 academic year under the cluster system.
The decision was taken at an exchange meeting with the VCs of the respective universities held at Jagannath University.
Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Jahangirnagar University, Rajshahi University and Chittagong University will not join this cluster admission system because of their previous refusal.
Jashore farmers had been worrying at the sharp fall in cabbage price, but the recent initiative to export the winter vegetable to Singapore has brought smile to their faces.
According to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), an export firm, ‘City Impex’, collected cabbage from the farmers recently and started exporting it to Singapore after processing.
The first consignment of 20,000 pieces of cabbage was exported to Singapore from the field of Shahbazpur in Sadar upazila last week.
Jagoroni Chakra Foundation, a private organisation, named and Solidaridad Network Asia are working with the farmers, the DAE and the export farm through a project named ‘SaFaL project’ took the initiative to export vegetables.
‘Safe vegetables’ weighing 74,314 kgs, including bottle gourd, green papaya, snake gourd, pointed gourd, raw banana, bean and eggplants were exported to Europe and Middle Eastern countries from September to December under their initiative.
A temporary processing zone was built along the Bhairab River where people are seen passing busy time in packaging the cabbage, scheduled to go to Singapore, in a tent.
During a recent visit, a UNB correspondent found the cabbage being taken to the tent from fields directly and then the workers were wrapping those in white newspaper and then keeping those in nylon bags.
Shamsul Alam, deputy director of Plant Quarantine Wing of the Department of Agricultural Extension, inaugurated the export activities recently in presence of local DAE officials.
Shafiqur Rahman, an exporter, said, “The cabbage will be taken to Chattogram port by a covered van and then it will be shipped to Singapore. The shipment will take four to five days to reach Singapore. We’ve taken the initiative for the first time.”
Usually, potatoes and dry food are exported to various countries from Bangladesh.
“If we can ensure the quality of our product and satisfy the customers, then it’ll be possible to export two consignments of cabbage in a week,” he said.
Mobin, a farmer in Shahbazpur, said, “I’ve brought seven bighas of land under cabbage cultivation. On the first day, I sold 3,000 pieces of cabbage from my land at Tk 8-9 per piece. We get Tk 5-7 from local market for per piece. We’re making profit and that’s important.”
Rezaul, another cabbage grower, said, “The cultivation process of the cabbage is different as only vermicompost and organic fertilizer is used for cultivation. Farmers use vermicompost for cabbage cultivation as it’s safe and poison free. I’ve cultivated 48,000 pieces of cabbage and managed to sell cabbage, worth Tk 5,000, on the first day.”
Touhidul Islam, director of ‘SaFaL Project’ said, “We’ve created direct link between farmers and exporter so that farmers can make profit without any hassle of middlemen. The DAE is supervising the whole process.”
Badal Chandra Roy, a deputy director at DAE, Jashore, said, “Some 16,400 hectares of land have been brought under vegetable cultivation in Jashore and 75 hectares of land used for cabbage cultivation. Now the vegetables of Jashore are being exported after meeting the local demand.”
Vegetable production on the rise
Vegetable production marked a rise by 35.24 percent over the last five years (from2013-14 to 2017-18 FY) in Bangladesh.
According to officials at the (DAE), some 26,230,927 metric tonnes of vegetables were produced in 2017-18 fiscal year from 1,169,326 hectares of land, while 19,396,755 metric tonnes in 2013-2014 fiscal year from 9,68827 hectares.
Additional 26,47,786 metric tonnes of vegetables were produced in 2017-18 fiscal year compared to 2016-17 FY. 19,984,334 metric tonnes produced in 2015-2016 fiscal year, while it was 21,041,406 metric tonnes in 2014-15FY, according to annual data of the department.
Besides, 7,30,991 metric tonnes root-crops/vegetables (excluding potatoes) were produced in 2017-2018 fiscal year against 5,72,946 metric tonnes in the previous year, the data revealed.
Already reeling under COVID-19 woes, the outbreak of the Razor disease has dealt a crippling blow to cattle farmers in Khulna. The disease is spreading rapidly among cattle and has significantly hit the production of milk and meat in the five upazilas of the district, the farmers say.
Razor is an infectious disease that affects cattle, causing decreased appetite and weight loss, and thus reducing their ability to produce milk. Calves can become diseased by drinking the milk of an infected mother, which is also considered unfit for human consumption.
The outbreak of the disease was first reported in August last year, soon after the Eid al-Azha festival. Since then, the farmers claim that the production of milk and meat has been tapered by 3,000 and 2,000 metric tonnes, respectively, a month, despite the local Livestock Service Department continuing to provide antidotes to resist the transmission of the disease.
Officials of the Livestock Department attribute the outbreak of the disease to Haryana spices cattle illegally brought from India during the Eid al-Azha festival. Around 1.18 crore bovines had been sacrificed then.
"The transmission of the disease also accelerated in the Khulna City Corporation areas, Terokhada, Phultala, Dumuria and Dighalia upazilas as many farmers had tied their animals in waterlogged areas during the monsoon. Anyway, our prompt measures prevented the outbreak from developing into an epidemic," district Livestock Officer SM Awal said.
Last year, the Fisheries and Livestock Ministry urged the authorities concerned to stop the entry of cattle from neighbouring countries like India and Myanmar, on the grounds that Bangladesh had sufficient numbers to cater to domestic consumers.
Normally the district produces 2.5 lakh metric tonnes of milk and 1.54 lakh metric tonnes of meat every year, but in the past year, the disease has reduced the production to 36,000 and 24,000 metric tonnes of milk and meat, respectively, officials said.
Though the local administration has decided to compensate the affected cattle farmers, the latter claim "the stimulus is inadequate". Moreover, only 616 are likely to get the government aid of the 7,500 poultry, dairy and cattle farmers in the district, they say.
Though Bangladesh has made substantial strides in overall power generation over three terms of the Awami League, the government's efforts to meet its own target for power generation from renewable energy have failed to keep up.
The Power System Master PLan (PSMP) 2016 had set a target to reach the renewable energy’s share to 10 percent of total power generation capacity (2470 MW) by 2021 - a major focus was supposed to be on exploiting the potential of solar energy to achieve the goal.
Available data shows the country now has generating capacity of 20,595 MW from conventional sources while power from renewable sources is lagging far behind at 700.61 MW, which is around 3 percent of the total generation capacity.
Numbers from the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (Sreda) show that among different renewable energy sources, PV solar leads the sector with 466.68 MW generation capacity, while it is followed by hydro with 230 MW capacity, 2.9 MW from wind, 0.63 MW from Bio-gas and 0.4 MW from Biomass.
Bangladesh is far behind Pakistan and India, among its South Asian neighbors in utilising renewable energy resources for electricity generation.
The statistics show while Bangladesh generates 3 percent from renewable energy, the corresponding share in India is 24.16 percent with 90,399 MW generation capacity against its total installed power generation capacity of 374,199 MW (not including hydro capacity).
Pakistan generates 5 percent (1,870 MW) from renewable sources (solar and wind) against its total installed power generation capacity of 37,402 MW.
Experts and stakeholders in the energy sector attributed the poor renewable energy situation to the lack of commitment in policy level, scarcity of land, lack of coordination among state entities and rigid bureaucratic mindset in favour of conventional fuels.
Official sources said after the framing of the PSMP 2016, the government planned to implement a total of 36 grid-connected solar park projects with a total 2110.65 MW in public and private sectors in the last 5-6 years.
Only 5 projects were implemented so far although contracts were awarded for some 26 projects.
The five implemented projects having total capacity of about 88.5 MW, are 50 MW Gauripur, Mymensingh, 7.5 MW Kaptai, 8 MW Panchagarh, 20 MW Teknaf, and 3 MW Sharishabari solar parks.
Official sources said the grid-connected solar power plants need huge amounts of land for installing panels and other equipment, leading to large capital requirements, that has to be also supplemented by efficient management for timely implementations of solar power projects.
But most of the sponsors in grid-tied solar projects failed to arrange adequate free land while many of them also failed to arrange the required fund as banks are not found to be interested in financing non-conventional power projects, despite a refinancing scheme on offer from the central bank for supporting green energy projects, according to industry insiders.
They, however, said there is only a success area for Bangladesh—the Solar Home System for remote localities—where it had earned global recognition with installing 5.8 million SHSs for the off-grid households.
The world’s single largest project illuminated more than 20 million people to improve their socio-economic condition, said Munawar Moin, the President of the Partners Forum (PO), an association of non-government bodies working dedicatedly for the SHS programme.
Commenting on the poor progress in grid-connected large-scale solar power plant projects, he, also senior Vice President of Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association BSREA, said there is still a lack of policy-level commitment in setting renewable energy as a priority sector.
He also said fulfilling the large land requirements without running into litigation is a big challenge in Bangladesh and only the government can bypass the bottleneck like its move for creating economic zones.
Echoing Munawar Moin, Power Cell Director General Mohammad Hossain said most private sector entrepreneurs cannot arrange a litigation-free land to implement a large solar project which appears to be a major obstacle in scaling up green energy’s share in total power generation.
Green industry insiders also said that while there is land scarcity, there is huge potential for rooftop solar. The rooftops of government-buildings alone can generate huge solar power.
A study by Sreda shows Dhaka city can alone generate 1,400 MW electricity from rooftop solar if the free spaces are utilised for green energy.
Without a mandatory provision for public buildings to provide their rooftops for solar power projects, Bangladesh is missing out on the opportunity, said a top official of Power Division.
Admitting the poor progress in renewable energy in reaching the national goal set by PSMP, Mohammad Alauddin, chairman of Sreda, said renewable energy is now passing its take-off stage. During this phase, Sreda is acting as a facilitating body for different sectors interacting in the industry, to strengthen coordination and overcome the challenges.
“Any sector has to face huge challenges in the taking-off stage,” he said
In 2016, she started small -- out of the same premises she lives with her family -- more of an experiment than a business. Today, Nasrin Sultana, a resident of Jhikorgaccha upazila's Barbakpur village, is a successful woman entrepreneur who owns a vermicomposting unit.
And by funding her own studies and supporting her parents financially, thanks to her successful vermicomposting venture, Nasrin has clearly shown that a daughter should never be considered a burden, "but the pride of the family". After earning a degree in social science from Jhikorgaccha Women's Degree College, she has also completed a diploma in agriculture. "My vermicomposting business has made it all possible," says the entrepreneur.
Vermicomposting is a process based on earthworms and microorganisms through which organic waste is converted into fertilisers.
But how and when did Nasrin throw her hat into the entrepreneurial ring? “I started my business with just two big clay pots, cow dung and 100 grams of earthworms. An agriculture officer of the area provided the earthworms to me in 2016. After producing my first fertilisers, I used them on our farm land," she says.
At the beginning, her neighbours and classmates used to laugh at her. "Now they admire me," says Nasrin, who has recently constructed a shed by shelling out an additional Tk 14,000-15,000 for making vermicompost.
In Nasrin’s unit, some 195-200 kg of fertilisers are produced in each pot as there are 130 of them. "Each big size clay hole needs 200 grams of earthworms and one basket of cow dung from which 195-200 kg of vermicompost can be easily produced within 20-25 days. In the local market, a kg of vermicompost is sold at Tk 10-12."
“Vermicompost improves the fertility conditions of soil by increasing the availability of nutrients for plants, in turn increasing the farm production," she adds.
The use of vermicompost is also gaining popularity in the upazila and farmers from neighbouring areas of the district also flock to Nasrin's unit regularly for buying fertilisers. Some 2,000 farmers of the district are said to be using vermicompost on their land for producing poison-free vegetables.
Also read:The story of a self-made man
Each month, Nasrin earned around Tk 12,000-15000. "I have also built an organic agriculture farm on the roof of my house using my fertilisers," says the youngest daughter of Lutfur Rahman, a farmer.
Hirak Kumar Sarkar, upazila officer of the Department of Agriculture Extension, feels that all women in the sub-district should take inspiration from Nasrin and script their own success stories. "Many women have already shown interest in setting up small vermiculture units in the area," he says.