Private universities are involved in transactions of "illegal money" at different stages -- from taking approvals for setting up a university to awarding certificates to students, says a study of Transparency International Bangladesh.
Around Tk 1 crore to Tk 3 crore are exchanged for the approval for launching a private university and Tk 50,000 to Tk 2 lakh for getting nods for appointing vice chancellors, pro-vice chancellors and treasurers, it says.
A university pays up to Tk 30,000 for getting approval for opening a faculty and Tk 20,000 for a department.
A section of officials at the education ministry, University Grants Commission (UGC) and the universities are linked to these transactions, said the TIB.
The graft watchdog yesterday launched the study "Private Universities: Challenges of good governance and way out” at a press conference at Brac Inn in the capital yesterday.
The study was conducted on 22 universities in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet between June 2012 and May this year.
Some universities give fake certificates in exchange for Tk 50,000 to Tk 3 lakh, it added.
"The amount varies from university to university," said Mohammad Rafiq Hasan, director of research and policy department at the TIB.
The TIB report prompted the UGC to form a three-member committee which will submit a report to the commission's chairman soon.
The study found a big difference in tuition fees for the same course at different universities. For example, the minimum tuition fee for BBA programme is Tk 2.5 lakh and the highest 5.5 lakh.
The private universities saw a sharp rise in number of students and had many achievements since they started their journey about 22 years ago. But the government doesn't have an adequate and long-term plan for these universities, it said.
The authorities could not prepare rules for the Private University Act-2010 even four years into its formulation, it said.
More than 3.14 lakh students now study at 79 private universities.
"This sector should have been treated as a non-profit one. But some entrepreneurs consider it as a way of making profit, which is a matter of concern," said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director at the TIB.
And what is more worrying is that the regulatory authorities now seem to be accommodating this attitude of the entrepreneurs, he said.
"Higher education is now at risk of becoming a commercial commodity," Iftekharuzzaman added.
"The act has some weaknesses. Moreover, it is not being implemented properly. The reason behind this, we think, is a liaison between some officials of the education ministry, the UGC, and the universities," he said.
According to the study, the private universities were supposed to obtain permanent certificates 12 years after their inception, but only one of the 22 surveyed universities got permanent certificates. The rest now operate by renewing their temporary certificates.
Only six of the 22 universities have their own campuses. The board of trustees interferes directly in the functions of most of these universities.
Family members of the university owners or people not linked with the education sector get priority for membership of the trustee board, it added.
Of the 79 private universities, 27 are without any VCs, 61 without Pro-VCs, and 49 without any treasurer.
Presenting the findings, Nina Shamsun Nahar, deputy programme manager at the TIB, said most of the universities don't allocate money for research, and 13 of the 22 universities have no such projects.
Though the government made it illegal for a university to have an outer campus, some have kept open outer campuses in the name of “admission and counselling centre,” she said.
Many teachers take gifts and cash from students for giving them pass marks. The students also put pressure and even threaten teachers to increase marks or get passed, it said.
The study said the education ministry and the UGC lack manpower and cannot monitor the activities of all universities. Financial constraints of these regulatory bodies have worsened the situation, it said.
The ministry's task is often limited to issuing ultimatum when a university violates the law. Some ministry officials even make documents disappear and show reluctance to settle any issue without bribes, the TIB said.
The UGC officials sometimes take gifts during inspection to universities, it added.
The TIB made 16 recommendations that include amending the Private University Act to curtail trustee board's absolute authority, increasing capacity of the education ministry and the UGC, closure of all outer campuses, and special initiatives to stop "certificate trade."
It also proposed simplifying the procedures for appointing VCs and pro-VCs, ensuring transparency and accountability in financial activities, and preparing rules for the Act.