THE decline in the number of foreign students in public universities, while the number of such students are increasing in private universities, as New Age reported on Saturday, is concerning. This appears so in that while public universities are not adequately looking into the issues of promotional activities and facilities, as ranking university officials and the University Grants Commission seek to explain, a decline in the quality of education could very well be other reasons for foreign students not enrolling on public universities. There are 37 public and 95 private universities and the latest annual report of the University Grants Commission shows that 19 public universities had only 355 foreign students in all in 2016 while overseas students enrolling on private universities numbered 1,927 in the year. Statistics show that the number of foreign students in public universities dropped by four times the figure of 2010 in 2016.
Both the University Grants Commission and the University of Dhaka corroborates the general perception that overseas students are preferring private universities to public universities because of wide opportunities and offers of scholarship in private universities. The commission chair thinks that public universities are weak at publicity and they do not update their web sites and do not give out information on the admission of foreign students while private universities are quite strong in these areas. The Dhaka University vice-chancellor seeks to say that some limitations that the university had, such as no dedicated desk for the admission of overseas students, held back foreign students from coming in. It could very well be true that strong publicity about the education in public universities and offers of scholarship for foreign students could help to an extent. But what the public universities first need to shore to attract overseas students is the quality of education and research facilities. The authorities need to attend to a few other issues to improve the quality of education in public universities. They need to stop the politicisation of teacher recruitment, which places political clout above merit. They need to increase budget spending on research and educational equipment. They need to create knowledge and advance science and technology. With the core issues being left unattended, it would be difficult for the universities to attract foreign students.
What still remains worrisome is that with the standards of education in public universities declining at a fast pace, students who are barely well off to spend money on studies overseas seem to be willing to go abroad to pursue higher education. Unless the authorities seriously attend to the flaws that public universities are mired in, public universities may not only lose foreign students but the number students, in all, would start declining.
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