Students will have the chance to obtain an international-standard higher education in Bangladesh as the government is going to allow foreign universities to open their branch campuses in the country.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) believes that foreign universities can impart a quality education for local students, allowing them to better compete in the international arena.
UGC Chairman Professor Dr Kazi Shahidullah told The Business Standard, "The commission has been finalising a draft amending the 'Foreign university, its branches or study centres operating Rule 2014.'
Hopefully, we will soon be able submit the draft to the ministry.
"Many foreign universities, such as the UCSI University and Monash University in Malaysia, Lovely Professional University and Techno India University in India, and Mahidol University in Thailand have expressed their interest in opening branches in Bangladesh."
He added that the UGC does not see any problem with quality foreign universities opening branches in the country.
"We will benefit from getting an international standard education and certificates," the UGC chairman said.
Bangladesh approved its first private university in 1992. There are currently 105 private universities in the country and almost half of them were approved after 2007. There are also 50 public universities in Bangladesh, set up to cater to the demand for higher education.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Institute for Statistics data shows that 60,390 Bangladeshis pursued higher education abroad in 2017.
Among them: 34,155 Bangladeshis enrolled at universities in Malaysia, 5,441 in the United States, 4,652 in Australia, 3,599 in the United Kingdom, 2,028 in Canada, 2,008 in Germany, 1,099 in India, 870 in Saudi Arabia, 810 in Japan, and 637 in the United Arab Emirates.
According to the US' 2017 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, the number of Bangladeshi students studying in America increased by 53.5 percent over the past five years.
UGC officials said that Bangladesh could save a large amount of money if high-standard foreign universities opened their campuses in the country.
"Usually, Bangladeshi students from the affluent class and English medium background go abroad to study. Now, students from the upper-middle class are also going abroad for world class degrees," Omar Farukh, director research and publication of the UGC told The Business Standard.
Sources said that higher education in Malaysia is cheaper than in many countries. Per semester, the tuition fee for international students at the University of Malaya ranges from $1,270 to $3,580. The fees are around $2,000 to $2,410 at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, also known as the National University of Malaysia.
Tuition fees for University of Nottingham Malaysia hover between $8,140 and $14,120. Meanwhile, they are between $9,280 and $25,800 per year at Monash University Malaysia.
Sources from the UGC said that Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni in April last year asked the commission to prepare a draft titled "Foreign university, its branches operating Rule 2019."
A three-member committee was also formed during that time, headed by UGC member Professor Dr Akhtar Hossain, to amend the previous rule.
According to UGC sources, there will be some changes to the amended policy. Foreign universities will only be allowed to run branch campuses, not study centers.
Some mandatory conditions for opening a branch campus are that it must have a minimum of 5,000 square feet space of rented premises or its own building, enough space to accommodate every student, and a fixed deposit of Tk5 crore in a bank.
According to sources concerned, around 100 study centers are currently operating across the country. Despite repeated orders from the UGC to shut them down, most centres have not complied.
The UGC had ordered the closure 56 study centers over the last few years.
Several UGC officials said that the existing study centers of foreign universities will be banned after the issuance of the revised policy.
The government had published the "Foreign university, its branches or study centres operating Rule 2014," allowing foreign universities – or their local representatives – to set up joint venture initiatives with any local university or investors to operate branches or study centres in Bangladesh.
Later, the education ministry halted their approval process after facing pressure from the administrations of local private universities.
Professor Emeritus of Dhaka University Serajul Islam Choudhury said, "It is good news for students seeking higher education, but the government must be cautious against approving sub-standard foreign universities.
"A monitoring team will be needed to supervise foreign universities' branch campuses."
Several vice-chancellors of private universities believe that there is no need to allow foreign universities to open branches in the country.
Professor Dr Chowdhury Mofizur Rahman, vice-chancellor of United International University, told The Business Standard that local private universities are experiencing a period of growth.
"I think there is currently no need for foreign universities to open branch campuses here. The government can support the existing private universities so that they can provide international-standard higher education," he said.
East West University vice-chancellor Prof MM Shahidul Hassan said, "We fear that many sub-standard foreign universities will open their branches and take our students.
"Before approving foreign universities' branch campuses in Bangladesh, the government should scrutinise everything and the number of such approved universities should be limited."