The University Grants Commission (UGC) publishes a public circular every year, advising students to get admitted to UGC-approved programmes only, and it flags the names of private universities running unapproved campuses and programmes.
But the commission is not taking adequate action against institutions violating the Private University Act 2010, which in turn have allowed these higher education facilities to continue admitting students even after being flagged publicly by the commission, insiders have said.
They added that a good number of students have been victimised in the past by various private universities engaged in irregularities, such as Darul Ihsan University in Dhaka.
On the issue, UGC Director of Private University Division Omar Farooq said, "We have been trying to compel such institutions to follow the Private University Act 2010. We usually serve show-cause notices if a university is found engaging in irregularities.
"However, we do not have the jurisdiction to take any steps in such cases. This is why we send recommendations to the education ministry for taking action. If the UGC could exercise power directly, universities would have definitely become more compelled to follow regulations."
The education ministry's Additional Secretary (university) AKM Aftab Hossain Pramanik said, "The UGC is responsible for approving programmes or opening of departments, and it has the jurisdiction to cancel them too.
"The Private University Act also gives many powers to the commission. What step can we take if the UGC does not exercise these powers?"
Circular against 16 unis soon
The UGC is planning to issue a public circular against 16 private universities in a bid to warn admission seekers about unapproved campuses and programmes run by those higher education institutions.
The commission has already marked in red the names of these universities in its website along with a list of infractions committed by them, which include – conducting programmes and courses without UGC permission, engaging in disputes with their boards of trustees and running operations with temporary clearance from the court.
The commission's Secretary Dr Ferdous Jaman told The Business Standard, "We will issue a public circular against 16 private universities engaged in irregularities. The move will raise awareness among students, and help them get admitted in only UGC-approved programmes.
"We always take action to raise awareness among students regarding unapproved campuses and programmes."
He continued, "If a student gets admitted to a university which does not have UGC's approval, there is nothing we can do for them. We are adamant about refusing approval to university programmes launched without our consent.
"The commission advises students to get admitted only at UGC-approved programmes, and it will not take any responsibility if any student gets admission at a flagged institution and later face problems regarding the recognition of their degree."
'Difference of perspective'
North South University (NSU) – one of the country's top private universities – has UGC approval for running the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) programme only.
But it has been found been found conducting programmes in General BBA, Finance BBA, Human Resource Management (HRM), BBA in International Business, BBA in Marketing, BBA in Management, BBA in Management Information Systems, BBA in Accounting, BBA in Economics, BBA in Entrepreneurship and BBA Supply Chain Management without UGC's approval.
Commenting about being flagged by the commission, NSU's Vice-Chancellor Professor Atiqul Islam said it is a just "difference of perspective."
"We have been conducting these programmes for many years. This [flagging] is a misunderstanding between the UGC and North South University. We will meet with the commission soon to resolve this problem," he added.
The University of South Asia, Stamford University Bangladesh, Daffodil International University, Victoria University of Bangladesh, Uttara University, University of Development Alternative, Southeast University and Northern University Bangladesh are all running unapproved Campuses, UGC sources said, adding that all academic activities being conducted in those campuses or buildings are illegal.
Professor Mohammad Ali Naqi, vice-chancellor of Stamford University Bangladesh, told The Business Standard, "We were conducting academic activities at unapproved campuses before the pandemic, but we have already shifted everything to the permanent campus now.
"I have requested the UGC chairman to remove the red flag on the Stamford University Bangladesh. The chairman has assured me that it will be removed from the UGC's website."
Meanwhile, Director of Students' Affairs at Daffodil International University Syed Mizanur Rahman Raju said his university is now running all academic activities on their permanent campus in Ashulia.
"We have a floor in Dhaka which is used as a storeroom. I do not know how the UGC considers it as an academic building," he added.
International Islamic University Chattogram runs "Masters in Arts in Qur'anic Science and Islamic Studies Programme" without the UGC's approval.
Gono Bishwabidyalay runs BBA, Environmental Science, MBBS, BDS, and Physiotherapy programmes after obtaining a stay order from the High Court for six months, but the order took effect on 26 November 2017.
There is conflict among the Board of Trustees members of Britannia University and Sylhet International University, said UGC sources. Besides, the Ministry of Education had approved the Queens University on 6 September 2015, giving the institution a year to fulfill all conditions for getting approved, but the deadline has since expired.
IBAIS University had an address in Dhanmondi, but the UGC refused to approve it. So the university now operates without an address. The ministry is yet to give the University of Cumilla approval for operation, but it is operating anyway.
Unis breaking law left and right
According to the Private University Act 2010, a private university must have at least six departments. But 13 of the 91 such operating institutions lack the required minimum number of departments.
Most private universities also appear reluctant to move their campuses from rented buildings to permanent premises of their own, insiders have said.
According to the UGC report 2020, only 24 private universities are conducting their academic activities on permanent campuses, while 17 private universities are operating on partially developed permanent campuses.
Nine universities are setting up their own campuses, while 20 others have bought land but have taken no initiative to construct permanent campuses. The rest of the universities continue to conduct academic activities in rented buildings.
Only 12 of 94 private universities out of 106 currently operating in the country have all the required top officials. Of the rest, 79 have vice-chancellors, 24 have pro-vice-chancellors and 53 have treasurers, according to the 45th annual report of the UGC.
The board of trustees, syndicate, academic council and finance committee's meetings are mandatory for each university. But four universities did not hold any meeting of the Board of Trustees, nine did not hold the meeting of the Syndicate, six did not hold the Academic Council's meeting and 14 did not hold the finance committee meeting, says the UCG report 2020.
Professor Dr Nazrul Islam, former chairman of the UGC, said it is imperative that private universities follow the Private University Act 2010. "If any institution ignores the law, the commission or the ministry should take stern action against it," he said.