The University Grants Commission and education ministry are now at loggerheads over the question of giving permission to operate study centres of foreign universities in Bangladesh by local businesses.
The commission chairman Kazi Shahidullah said that so-called centres, operated by some businesses for years, might get permissions only after they comply with the existing laws and rules while education secretary Md Mahbuh Hossain said that ministry in February gave conditional permission to one such centre and was considering applications of several others after having been convinced by their performances and documents.
The conditional permission was given to the Australia-based Monash College Private Limited to operate its study centre in Dhaka following rules, Mahbuh said.
UGC chairman Kazi Shahidullah, however, said that the commission did not get the permission letter from the ministry but heard that it gave permission to operate a study centre of a foreign college when the ministry decided to review a set of rules for operating such centres.
The commission member Muhammad Alamgir said that the commission decided to give an official letter requesting the ministry to not give permission to study centres in a hurry without proper evaluation.
‘From the ethical point of view, the ministry should not have given permission when it was reviewing the conditions of the rules for holding such centres more accountable. Besides, there is fear that such centres would operate as mere foreign certificate sellers,’ Alamgir said.
In a meeting held in January 2020, he said that the ministry decided to amend the set of rules to incorporate conditions such as mandatory permanent campuses, academic council and, additionally, the universities concerned must be among the top 500 in global rankings.
Another UGC member Biswajit Chanda said that the commission would not consider a centre for permission unless it took permission from the commission for offering courses.
‘Last week, we formed a committee to make lists of study centres operating in the country without permission for tasking actions against them,’ Biswajit said.
On April 27, he said that the commission issued a press release alerting all concerned to be aware of activities of a study centre named Centre for Management and Information Technology that had been operating a study centre named London School of Commerce without any permission.
The study centre was among the top centres under consideration for giving approval from 14 applications received after the enactment of the rules for operating branches and study centres of foreign universities in 2014, ministry officials said.
They said that a few dozens of study centres had been operating by businesses without permission from the 1990s, offering courses in business, computer science and laws under the aegis of foreign universities.
After UGC made a list of 56 such centres, they said, the government under the pressure of such businesses included a provision in the Private University Act 2010 so that they can continue with their operation under a set of rules.
When the rules were formulated in 2014, they said that 14 centres, including Educo Bangladesh Limited, BAC International, Asian Centre for Management and Information Technology, Bhuiyan Academy, Hiqma Limited, NUB International Study Centre, Daffodil International Academy, Cambrian International Study Centre in Bangladesh Lincoln University College, Masha University Malaysia Study Centre, applied for permission for study centres of foreign universities.
The process, however, did not end as the education ministry in 2016 decided to amend the rules under pressure from the private universities.
But UGC in 2018 recommended permission for Monash College study centre operated by Educo Bangladesh Limited, London University of Derby study centre operated by BAC International and London School of Commerce study centre operated by Asian Centre for Management and Information Technology, education ministry officials said.
Officials further said that Bangladesh Private University Association had been pursuing against the permission of such centres.
The association leaders said that allowing centres of substandard foreign universities in rented houses by local businesses would be harmful to home-grown private universities that invested huge funds over the years to earn reputation without government support.
They said that foreign university study centres might engage in selling certificates even of doctoral degrees when home-grown universities were not allowed to offer PhD degrees though some Bangladeshi private universities secured positions in different world rankings.
In 2019, they claimed 35 private universities enrolled 1,467 students from 37 foreign countries. Ninety-five private universities had 3,49,160 students in 2019, they added.
They said that study centres and off-shore campuses of foreign universities, as offered by some foreign envoys in Dhaka, would act as pure business enterprises and might also be involved with money laundering.
‘We will express our concern officially to the ministry after the end of the restriction on movement,’ Kabir said, adding that giving permission to such controversial centres amid the Covid outbreak was frustrating.
University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh acting vice-chancellor Shamsad Mortuza and Daffodil University director Syed Mizanur Rahman Raju said that giving permission to study centres was discriminatory as private universities were not allowed to open branches.
‘I welcome world-class universities with full services to cater to local students. However, study centres are likely to become certificate vendors without adding any value to the scene of pedagogy and without making any contribution to the education sector,’ Shamsad Murtaza said.
He further said, ‘The local market is not capable of accommodating so many public, private universities, off-shore campuses of foreign universities and their study centres operated by local businesses institutions.’
Education secretary Mahbub Hossain, however, said that more seats at higher education were required to accommodate all students as reported by several media after the last Higher Secondary Certificate results.
‘We also want that local students can access international standard education,’ he said.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Country