Jubair Alam, a graduate student residing at Salimullah Muslim Hall at Dhaka University, could have lunch or dinner for Tk30 in 2020, but currently he has to pay over Tk60 for a satisfying meal at the canteen in his hall.
While the price of food has increased, the quality and quantity of items like fish, beef or mutton, chicken have dropped drastically.
Along with the cost of the main meals of the day, prices of snacks like singara, samosa and paratha, and a cup of tea have jumped too, even as their sizes and quantity have shrunk. The price of a banana, one of the most common fruits in the canteens, has jumped from Tk5 to Tk10 recently.
The increase in food prices has doubled Jubair's daily expenses, causing an immense pressure on him and his family.
"My father, a retired government official, sends me a small amount of money but I have to manage most of my expenses by providing tuition to the young," said Jubair, whose monthly expenditure has increased from Tk5,000 to Tk10,000 per month.
Students at public universities across the country have been struggling due to the increase in the price of meals as many of them come from middle income families, some of which witnessed a decline in earnings due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some students are skipping meals as they cannot afford decent meals three times a day.
Professor Dr Abdul Bashir, provost of Bijoy Ekattor Hall at Dhaka University, told The Business Standard that action will be taken against the canteen owners if any complaint is received from students.
Akbar Hossain, a residential student of Muktijoddha Ziaur Rahman Hall, said the hall canteens increased prices and minimised the quantity of food because the administration does not monitor them.
He also said currently there is no committee of Dhaka University Central Students' Union and so it cannot play a role in this regard either.
Mobarak Hossain, owner of the canteen at Kabi Jasim Uddin Hall, told TBS that providing quality food has become very difficult for the canteen due to the sharp rise in the prices of essential products, including soybean oil.
Professor Md Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, told TBS that the university will do everything to ensure the quality of food at the university canteens.
There are 3.14 lakh students at 51 public universities in the country. Of them, only 29% are legal residential students, while a large number of students are staying at the halls without the authorities' permission.
Universities students across the country suffer
There are 13 residential halls at Jahangirnagar University, each of which has at least one canteen, but the quality of their food is poor. So most of the students there eat at the 40 restaurants located in the Bat Tala area on the campus, but prices of food there have recently jumped sharply.
Currently these restaurants sell chicken at Tk60, and beef at Tk120, which they sold at Tk40 and Tk60-70 respectively around a month ago. The quantity of food served has also decreased.
Aktaruzzaman Surid, a graduate student of the Chemistry Department at Jahangirnagar University, told TBS, "The cost of meals has been going beyond our capacity day by day. The administration needs to provide subsidies or control the prices. Otherwise, we will have no way but to launch a movement against the price hike."
Professor Sheikh Md Manzurul Haque, pro-vice-chancellor (administration) of Jahangirnanr University, told TBS that the university authorities are aware of the rise in prices and fall in quality. "We will discuss the issue with the authorities concerned and take a decision soon."
Kamrul Hasan Ovi, a student of the Social Work Department at Rajshahi University, told TBS that the canteens have increased prices by 20-30%. The quality and quantity of food have also declined there.
"We are facing severe problems in managing meals every day. The increased prices have become a burden for us. The administration should consider it," he said.
Rayhan Uddin, a student of the Communication and Journalism Department at Chattogram University, told TBS that the canteen owners have increased prices slightly but the quality and quantity have declined.
Many university students who do not live with their families and live outside the halls have been facing more severe problems due to the hike in food prices.
Nazim Uddin, a student of the Marketing Department at Dhaka University, is staying in a mess in the city. He said, "I do not know what I will do from next month. Earlier, I needed Tk8,000-9,000 per month but now I need over Tk15,000 a month. The government should control commodity prices."
Some students cut down on daily meals
Requesting anonymity, a residential student of Surya Sen Hall at Dhaka University told TBS that his father is a farmer who sends him a very small amount of money for his daily expenditure.
He earned some money by tutoring the young before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, but currently he has no such income. As such, he eats twice a day instead of three times.
A residential student of Shaheed Dhirendranath Dutta Hall at Comilla University said currently his hall is closed and the restaurants on the campus charge high prices for meals. He too has been skipping meals to keep up with the price hike.
Do canteen meals fulfill nutrition demand?
A cook at a hall of Dhaka University told this correspondent that the canteen sliced a chicken into 25 pieces – one piece served per dish. It also cuts fish into very small pieces and cooks lentil soup without an adequate amount of ingredients.
According to nutritionists, a student must have an intake of 2,800 kilo of calories a day, but in 2017, the Economics Department of Jahangirnagar University found through research that a university student takes only 1,821 kilocalorie per day.
The Economics Department conducted the research among 225 students of Jahangirnagar University. The researchers said the situation in other public universities would be the same.
Nutritionists fear that students' calorie intake might fall due to the inflation and price hike.
Professor Md Mohiduzzaman at Dhaka University's Institute of Nutrition and Food Science
Institutes told TBS that they have done no such research in recent times, but when they conducted a similar research a few years ago, the findings were not satisfactory at all.
What student organisations think
Al-Nahian Khan Joy, president of Bangladesh Chhatra League, told TBS that the organization has a plan to talk with the Dhaka University authorities and some other public universities soon about the price and quality of food.
Saif Mahmud Jewel, general Secretary of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, told TBS that the JCD has been demanding that quality food be ensured at university canteens, but to no avail.
Recently, Samajtantrik Chhatra Front said in a press release that university administrations do not have much interest in monitoring the quality and prices of food, but it is of utmost importance for students. The student body also demanded a decrease in prices and ensuring the quality of food.