As the United Nations called for fresh elections following a violent and dubious poll in Bangladesh, a government move to open up the country’s higher education market to foreign universities and branch campuses faced strong opposition from private universities.
More than 150 people have been killed ahead and in the aftermath of last weekend’s election, which swept the ruling Awami League back into power amid street protests, large-scale arrests and deteriorating security.
More than two-thirds of parliamentary seats were uncontested as the major opposition and other parties boycotted the poll, claiming that it could not be free and fair.
Private universities are opposing the government’s pre-election plan to allow in foreign universities or branch campuses, saying that they fear low quality universities from neighbouring countries will flood Bangladesh’s higher education market.
However, people who want to open branch campuses said private university owners were resisting the move mainly due to fear of facing strong competition from good quality foreign institutions.
Leading educationists believe that except for 10 to 15, most private universities are not up to scratch.
There are 34 government and 78 private universities in the country. According to the Bangladesh University Grants Commission, a total of 511,987 students are enrolled in the institutions – and the number of students is growing every year.
Policy and the law
Under present law, foreign universities, branch campuses or study centres for online learning cannot operate in Bangladesh.
The Private University Act 2010 banned the operation and conferring of degrees by foreign institutions or branch campuses, but it also said they could be enabled through a different policy.
In September 2013, Bangladesh’s Education Ministry drafted a policy to allow foreign universities, branch campuses or joint venture universities. After the ministry finalised the policy, private university owners began lobbying against the move.
Private university owners in Bangladesh are mainly top businessmen and have strong influence over policy-making.
On 16 September the Association of Private Universities Bangladesh, or APUB, issued a strongly worded statement urging the government not to enact the draft policy on foreign university entry. Since then, the process has been in limbo.
Speaking to University World News, Abul Quasem Haider, vice-president of the APUB, said: “We will welcome [it] if any top-ranking foreign universities open branches here, but we fear that low quality universities from neighbouring countries would enter the market and harm the quality of education.”
He said the draft policy contradicted the Private University Act 2010 and was against national interests and standards in the education system.
But speaking to a local newspaper recently Muktadir Rahman, principal of the London School of Commerce’s Dhaka Centre, said: “The Association of Private Universities is opposing the government decision fearing tough competition from foreign counterparts.”
He argued that allowing foreign universities into the market would help improve higher education quality.
University Grants Commission chair AK Azad Chowdhury told University World News that the policy was nearing completion: “The Education Ministry is working on it and I hope that the policy would be enacted soon.” He could not, however, give any specific time.
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters