Northern University Bangladesh (NUB) has increased the workload of teachers from 15 to 18 credits in a semester, but has at the same time cut salaries amid the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have been getting 40 to 70 percent of their salaries since March. Many among the part-time teachers were forced to leave while some permanent ones live in fear of a termination of jobs.
This picture is common to most private universities in the country. They can appoint teachers and terminate them for no reason as most universities have no rules relating to the recruitment of teachers.
Teachers of some private universities who have lost jobs complained to the University Grants Commission (UGC), asking for help to get their jobs back and receive salaries regularly.
Meanwhile, students said that the universities had pressured them to pay tuition fees although the education ministry had asked the latter not to do so.
UGC Chairman Professor Kazi Shahidullah told The Business Standard the commission had received several written complaints regarding termination and non-payment of salaries over the last few months from teachers of different private universities.
Some students also submitted applications seeking a remedy for the pressure to pay fees, he said.
"We know that many universities are not giving salaries to teachers although they have the capability to do so. It is very much unexpected," he said.
"We will issue notices to those universities in this regard. We have also issued a notice to one as it is paying very poor salaries to teachers," added the UGC chairman.
Dr Fakhrul Islam, director (private university) of the UGC, said the commission had already sent letters to all 105 private universities, asking them to clear the salaries of their teachers and staff.
"We are observing the situation," he said.
A teacher of NUB, wishing anonymity, told The Business Standard he had received 60 percent of his salary for June with no Eid bonus.
"Our workload is almost double as we have had to take more classes with twice as many students, attend seminars and carry out other academic activities. But we get poor salaries," he said.
"We are even in a state of fear about job cuts. A teacher of our university has already lost his job for no reason," said the academic.
He said members of staff were not in a good situation either. "They got 30 percent of their salaries for April, but still have to come to office every day."
NUB Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Anwar Hossain told The Business Standard the university now got less tuition fees compared to normal times, and that was why it had been giving less salaries to teachers.
"Even I, as vice-chancellor, have received 60 percent of my salary. Many schools are going to close down. We can do nothing in this situation."
Asked about job cuts, he said, "We did not terminate anyone. On the other hand, we will not ask anyone to stay if he or she leaves, based on a personal decision."
Seeking anonymity, a teacher at European University of Bangladesh told The Business Standard its teachers had been getting 60 percent of their salaries for several months, but they still have to go to the university three days a week despite prevailing fears of coronavirus infection.
"Our salaries are not high. We are actually in a severe problem. We cannot bear family expenses. This is inhumane," he said.
"No teacher has dared to protest due to fears of a termination of service. Actually, the university can terminate us any time without prior notice. This is very unfortunate," he added.
The vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Mokbul Ahmed Khan, could not be reached over phone despite repeated attempts.
Professor Abdul Hannan Chowdhury, vice-chancellor of Primeasia University, told The Business Standard the university had sacked a teacher, nine officials and 10 peons.
Actually, we are collecting less tution fees due to for the pandemic. But we are appealing to the board of trustees to pay full salaries to the teachers and employees, he said.
"We are passing a very crucial moment. As vice-chancellor I have been trying to make everyone happy," he added.
Most of the private universities have asked their contractual teachers not to continue in their jobs. The extra workload has thus fallen on the permanent teachers. There are 11,537 permanent teachers and 4,145 temporary ones in 105 private universities in the country.
Meanwhile, some universities, among which are North South University, Brac University, Independent University, United International University, East West University, American International University Bangladesh and University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, have paid full salaries and bonuses to their teachers and employees.
North South University Vice-Chancellor Professor Atiqul Islam told The Business Standard the university had paid full salaries from its normal income.
"We have not faced any financial crisis yet," he said.
"We have also offered students a 20 percent waiver considering the present situation," he added.
Students pressured into paying fees
Some universities have warned their students that they have to pay late fees if they do not pay their regular fees on time.
On July 22, Leading University issued a notice to students, asking them to pay their fees by July 27. After July 27, each student has to count Tk1,000 in late fees, the notice added.
Minhaj, a student of the university, took to Facebook to criticise this move sarcastically, "I am proud to be a student of Leading University."
On the Facebook page of Private University Students Alliance of Bangladesh, students of Daffodil International University slammed their university for the way it was collecting fees.
Ahmed Saif, a student of computer science and technology at the university, wrote, "It was a bad decision to get into Daffodil International University."
Another student, Imtiaz Jamil, wrote, "The authorities have asked students to register for the new semester without fees. But prior to mid-term exams, they put pressure for the payment of fees."
Syed Mizanur Rahman, student affairs director at the university, told The Business Standard things had not been going well at all.
"We are considering the students' situation, but they also should understand the reality," he added.
The Vice-Chancellor of Stamford University Bangladesh, Professor Mohammad Ali Naqi, told The Business Standard the university authorities were trying to pay full salaries to their teachers.
"But it is sometimes impossible as the number of students is decreasing every semester," he said.
"We are in fear about the future," he added.
A total of 190 students were admitted to the university in the current semester, markedly down from 700 in the same semester last year.
The situation is, more or less, the same in most of the private universities.
"Our collection of tuition fees has declined drastically. The situation will get worse if higher secondary certificate tests are held late," Professor Naqi said.
According to the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh (APUB), except for some reputed universities, student enrolment at most of the universities has declined almost by 60 percent, and collection of tuition fees by 50 percent.
Sheikh Kabir Hossain, chairman of APUB, told The Business Standard it would be tough for most of the private universities to operate as they are facing severe financial crisis.
"We have requested the government to help the universities, but are yet to get a response," he added.