Education ministry blocks foreign university branches

Bangladesh’s Education Ministry and its higher education regulatory body the University Grants Commission, or UGC, do not see eye to eye on foreign university branches in Bangladesh. While the UGC wants to allow foreign university branches, the ministry has blocked approval in at least two known applications – from a United Kingdom branch campus and from Monash University in Australia.

The regulatory body sent letters to the ministry with recommendations for approval after a number of foreign universities applied to the UGC to open up branches in Bangladesh. However, the Education Ministry wrote back last month with a decision not to allow foreign university branches.

“Considering all matters, we have decided that the ministry would not approve foreign university campuses at present,” said the Ministry’s Additional Secretary Helal Uddin. “We have conveyed our decision to the University Grants Commission,” he said last week.

UGC sources said the London School of Commerce-affiliated Asian Centre for Management and Information Technology recently applied to the UGC to open a branch in Bangladesh. The private institution which delivers degrees from Cardiff Metropolitan University in the UK already has a campus in Malaysia – Westminster International College – as well as campuses in Bangalore in India, Sri Lanka, Belgrade in Serbia and Malta.

The UGC said it had formed a committee to scrutinise the capacity and infrastructure of the campus and UGC representatives had visited the campus before recommending approval to the ministry, which has been turned down.

UGC sources said other universities including Australia’s Monash University also applied to set up a branch campus in Bangladesh and the UGC sent a recommendation to the ministry to approve it, but this was also not accepted by the ministry.

UGC officials declined to comment on the rejections. Although it oversees universities, the UGC cannot take the decision on its own but provides recommendations to the ministry, which takes all the decisions on issues related to education.

Monash University in Australia has already been involved in capacity development of Bangladeshi civil servants delivering short programmes on leadership, infrastructure management and management in the energy and power sector, with funding from the Australian government. At least 50 Bangladeshi public officials have also been sent for special one-year masters in management degrees to Monash in Australia.

The decision not to approve branches of foreign universities for the time being has been made despite the fact that in May 2014 the Education Ministry formulated regulations to enable foreign universities to open branches in Bangladesh.

The rule titled “Foreign university, its branches or study centres operating Rule 2014” allows foreign universities, or their local representatives, to set up joint venture initiatives with any local university or for investors to apply to operate branches or study centres in Bangladesh.

Before the rule, it was illegal for foreign universities to establish branches or run academic activities or distance education in Bangladesh under the Private University Act 2010.

Private university owners have routinely opposed government moves to allow foreign universities to open branches in Bangladesh, and have been influential. Sources suggested lobbying by these groups may have been behind the refusal by the ministry to grant approval to foreign branch campuses.

Private universities have claimed in the past that an influx of foreign universities would “lower standards” in the private sector. The Association of Private Universities declined to comment on these cases.