"What good did a PhD do me?" bemoaned an instructor from a nursing college in Dhaka, who asked not to be named.
They entered the job after a four-year diploma course in nursing before spending another two years doing a BSc and two more for a Master's degree. They then completed their PhD from Thailand to be prioritised for the lecturer position.
"I'd rather have continued nursing. I'll never become a lecturer if the new law [introducing direct recruitment] is enacted. I opted for higher education to be promoted from instructor to lecturer. The new law in the works will make the students I'm instructing lecturers while I languish behind them. I will not be able to become a lecturer through promotion."
After spending nine years studying for the job, the government's "plans" to scrap the usual practice of promoting instructors to lecturers in the field cast dark clouds over his dreams.
The 2016 recruitment policy of the health ministry's nursing section had no opportunity for direct recruitment for lecturer positions. The ninth-grade position requires five years of experience as a senior staff nurse, staff nurse, or public health nurse, or a graduate degree in nursing.
However, a recently discovered document from the finance ministry revealed that the government was considering making direct recruitment the only path to becoming a nursing lecturer.
WHAT IS THE DOCUMENT?
In September 2018, the Finance Division of the Ministry of Finance authorised determining the salary grade of 188 positions at Sher-e-Bangla Nursing College in Dhaka and Manikganj Nursing College. It instructed the direct recruitment of nursing lecturers and lecturers in English and Computer Science.
The health ministry, however, reminded the finance ministry about the provisions of recruitment through promotions in positions for nursing as per the 2016 policy and requested the instruction be amended.
The following year, the finance ministry sent a letter to the health division stating senior staff nurses and those from equivalent positions could not be recruited as nursing lecturers through promotion.
In February 2020, a letter from the implementation subdivision of the Finance Division instructed an amendment to the recruitment policy to facilitate direct recruitment.
Responding to a question over the matter, Mohammed Habib Ullah, senior assistant secretary at the finance ministry, who signed the 2018 notice, said:
"I can only make a statement after a look at the fine print, but I am not the relevant official to speak to on the matter as I work in unit-4 of the implementation subdivision. Maybe I signed it due to the absence of a unit-4 official."
He then advised bdnews24.com to speak with unit-3 official Deputy Secretary SM Abdullah Al Mamun.
Mamun said: "These decisions are made at many different levels. When we receive a proposal about any position, a decision is made after going through all the related documents, the recruitment policy, and proposals from the public administration and expenditure management department."
"You'll often notice that the posts in our ninth grade are for direct recruitment, whereas sometimes they are done through promotion… The public administration ministry sets recruitment conditions for different positions based on different qualifications."
"Another thing is that the government aims to create job opportunities. There are many unemployed people in the country. If only those with jobs apply, where would those without them go?"
However, Nasima Parvin, deputy secretary of the Finance Division, who signed the instruction for amending the policy to facilitate direct recruitment, failed to specify the reason for the instruction three years ago.
"I can't make a direct comment at the moment as the documents are from a long time ago. I have to check them before speaking," she said.
In the meantime, bdnews24.com has received an internal document of the Medical Education and Family Welfare Division signed by Deputy Secretary Parvin and dated Feb 19, 2023.
The document instructs the direct recruitment of nursing lecturers. It presents qualification requirements of a first-class Master's degree or second-class Bachelor's (honours) degree and a second-class Master's degree.
Asked about the document, Parvin said: "We submitted the document upon receiving the instruction from the finance ministry. The finance ministry instructed the recruitment of lecturers directly, not through promotions. The senior nurses or staff nurses have opportunities for promotion in other avenues. Still, it has not been finalised."
"We gave the instruction only because the finance ministry asked us to do so. We didn't want (direct recruitment) either and sent a letter to the ministry about this. We have made certain points, as has the ministry, so we're exchanging letters. [We want] at least 50 percent to be recruited directly and the other 50 percent through promotions."
NURSES WITH HIGHER EDUCATION CONFUSED
Nurses with higher education think they will be unable to apply for government jobs due to age restrictions if the direct recruitment method is implemented.
One such nurse, who asked not to be named, said the country has only 41 nurses with PhDs, around 3,000 with Master's degrees and around 10,000 with BSc degrees.
"Around a thousand nurses like me are working as instructors at different nursing colleges. All of them are working as senior staff nurses in the 10th grade. We had the opportunity to be promoted to the ninth grade according to the recruitment policy that stipulated promotion to lecturers. But the new law won't have provisions for those teaching nursing to rise higher in the profession," the instructor said.
The instructor added that changing the existing policy might cause humiliation among many and cause them to "lose interest" towards work and higher education.
He said that if nursing graduates can be appointed as lecturers directly after passing, it will increase the demand and make private nursing education more commercial.
"Government colleges already suffer from a lack of teachers and libraries, and the situation is likely worse in the private sector. They (private institutions) may simply admit students and award certificates to people who may then be hired to teach in government colleges. This practice may cause a decrease in skilled personnel and a decline in the quality of education."
According to a senior female nurse, both theoretical and practical knowledge are essential for nursing.
She mentioned that instructors need experience in nursing to be able to align their teaching with the practical aspect of nursing.
She also noted that internships are mandatory for doctors and educators, yet the proposed rule fails to account for practical knowledge.
WHAT DO PEOPLE RELATED TO THE SECTOR THINK?
Current graduating students have differing views on the recruitment of nursing lecturers. Some believe that nursing lecturers should have prior nursing experience. In contrast, others argue that the practical knowledge gained during their studies makes direct recruitment of nursing graduates to the position of lecturer more preferable.
Lata Akhter, who completed her nursing degree in 2022 from a private university and is currently preparing for the nurse licensing exam, believes that after completing four years of undergraduate studies, one should pursue a Master's degree and gain at least two years of experience in a hospital.
In her opinion, teaching nursing without field experience should not be allowed.
On the other hand, Khyber Hossain Akash, a graduate of Mymensingh Nursing College, disagrees.
He believes those pursuing a BSc and a Master's degree in nursing obtain four years of clinical experience during their BSc programme and then complete a six-month internship.
Furthermore, during their two-year Master's degree, they gain additional field-level experience by working in NGOs or hospitals. In his opinion, the requirement to work as a nurse for five years before becoming a lecturer is unnecessary.
"The BSc-Master's programmes provide six to seven years of clinical experience. While I support the direct recruitment method, I believe only experienced nurses should be recruited to teach in nursing colleges."
However, Akash also has objections to some issues of direct recruitment. He expresses concerns about subjects like English and Computing, which may allow outsiders who have not studied in nursing colleges to be recruited. He worries that they may eventually become nursing principals, leading to chaos.
Jamal Uddin Badsha, secretary general of the Bangladesh Nurses Association, told bdnews24.com, "We have previously discussed this matter, and we must ensure that only qualified candidates are appointed to these positions. The ministry is considering direct recruitment, but they should have consulted with us, the stakeholders, before making any decision."
"However, they made this decision without consulting us. Now that we have a new director general in nursing, we need to have a discussion with him. Only after that discussion can we decide what to do and how to proceed," Badsha added.
Prof Debabrata Banik, the dean of the Faculty of Nursing at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said that individuals who are promoted to the position of lecturer must possess a BSc degree and serve for at least five years. Conversely, those directly hired must have prior experience and an MSc degree.
"Also, there is a concern regarding individuals currently employed and possess an MSc degree. If they recruit directly, will they not be eligible for promotions?"
"While it may result in fewer experienced hires at the ninth grade, it's unacceptable to entirely disregard the significance of prior experience."
The government nursing colleges in the country provide the opportunity to obtain a BSc degree in nursing and public health, and some places offer the chance to pursue a Master's degree. Government nursing institutes also offer diploma degrees. Private institutes, medical colleges, and universities offer diploma, BSc, and Master's-level programmes as well. However, there are concerns regarding the quality of education provided by many private institutions.
According to Prof Banik, nursing colleges have been established in various locations, but there are no qualified teachers or established curricula.
He believes that it's unfair for some students to work hard and achieve a ninth-grade position through university education while others can easily obtain the same position without much effort.
MH Choudhury Lelin, a public health expert, believes that introducing a direct recruitment system could lead to dissatisfaction among the employees currently working in this field.
He told bdnews24.com that there is a shortage of skilled personnel in the nursing field in the medical sector, and the existing structure is not robust enough.
He expressed concerns that any attempts to introduce unconventional rules could result in dissatisfaction in the sector. Consequently, this could potentially harm the relationships among the workers in the field.
"Consequently, the medical sector will suffer in the long run. It is essential that nursing educators possess practical experience, as teaching nursing with only theoretical knowledge is not recommended."
OPINIONS OF EXPERTS
Mosammat Suraiya Zebin, an assistant director of the Directorate General of Nursing and Midwifery (Education), said that recruitment should follow the promotion guidelines outlined in the 2016 recruitment rules, and direct recruitment should not be implemented.
Maksura, an additional secretary and also the director general of the directorate, suggested a balanced approach, utilising the experience of those with degrees and providing opportunities for talented new graduates.
However, there have been no updates regarding direct recruitment, and recruitment is currently proceeding through the previous process, she said.
[Writing in English by Syed Mahmud Onindo and Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Shoumik Hassin]