Reality of private university, cross border higher education

Mohammad Nuruzzaman

Higher education under private arrangement started its journey in Bangladesh in 1992 under the Private University Act 1992.

The law was amended in 1998 and it was titled "Private University Act 1992 and Its Amendment 1998".

After a few years, a new comprehensive act was passed in the ninth parliament and published in an official gazette on July 18, 2010 as the "Private University Act 2010".

On the other hand, private organisations/institutes started Cross Border Higher Education (CBHE) in 1989 simply by taking trade licences. They tried to get approval from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the education ministry, but there was no law or even desk to address the issue.

The entrepreneurs and relevant stakeholders of CBHE have been trying continuously since the inception of those CBHE institutes. They have done a series of meetings, dialogues, seminars, symposium and other initiatives combining all other related authorities.

At one point, the education ministry and the UGC felt the necessity of CBHE and incorporated the issue in the "Private University Act 2010".

Just a simple clause 39(2) was added for CHBE institutes.

As per the provision of 39(2) of the Private University Act 2010, the ministry has formulated the regulations on April 26 in 2014 and published notice in the Daily Ittefaq and The Daily Star on September 22 in 2014 seeking applications in order to get affiliation of UGC or the ministry.

Since then, 14 applications have been submitted so far.

According to the regulations, the representatives from the UGC and the ministry visited seven foreign campuses of the universities. It is already known to us that one study centre had been given permission accordingly, which has no prior experience to run CBHE.

The applications of experienced CBHE providers are still pending.

As per the laws and regulations, they applied and established all facilities, earning legitimate rights to get the affiliations.

In this circumstance, the Association of Private Universities in Bangladesh (APUB) has reacted and shown their difference of opinion on the permission of CBHE campus/study centre, which is also very legitimate according to the Private University Act 2010.

So, what should be the solutions? In order to get the solution, we need to know the current scenarios of the private higher education.

It has been three decades since the establishment of the first private university in Bangladesh. Privates universities have done significantly well compared to the public ones.  Now private universities are not a substitute for the public ones, rather they stand by their own credentials.

At the initial stage, students opted for private universities in case of their failure to get enrolled in public universities. But things have changed now, showing the growing significance and standard of few private universities.

Our private universities are saving a significant amount of money in terms of foreign exchange too.

A few of the private universities are now doing excellent in research as well, which was earlier blamed for not complying with the mandatory rule of doing adequate number of research work.

The student mobility, placement, scholarships, co-curricular and extracurricular activities are also praiseworthy. A few of the private universities have the capability to offer PhD programmes but the permission is not given to any university yet.

It is almost impossible for our private universities to reach international standards without offering research degree/PhD programmes.

On the other hand, a substantial number of private universities are facing problems to reach up to the expected standard due to poor admission.

The private universities do not get any subsidy from the government. Only the tuition fees from students are the main source of earning for them. They are facing problems in meeting the rents, salaries, research fund allocation, development of permanent campus etc.

There are lots of other barriers also, including new programme affiliation and setting up of any institute under the university.

Distance learning diploma programme under the University of London was started in 1989 in the field of law and international diploma in information technology (IT) under NCC Education, UK in 1990.

Afterwards, bachelor programmes in the field of law, IT and business were introduced by several private institutes in Bangladesh in association with several foreign universities.

A few thousands of graduates are graduating from these institutes every year and contributing to the economy. The success of the graduates from this system of distance learning is noteworthy.

The maximum number of these graduates came from British universities. The British Council, Bangladesh administers the final examinations of British universities.

Almost all the CBHE provider institutes applied several times, met with the relevant authorities of the UGC and education ministry for approval but it didn't work at all.

But unfortunately there were no desks to work for this promising CBHE sector.

However, the UGC and education ministry finally felt the necessity of CBHE thanks to a series of meetings, dialogues, seminars and other initiatives among the relevant stakeholders. They later incorporated the issue in the "Private University Act 2010" and formulate CBHE regulations accordingly, where a clause 4(3)-Jha has been kept, to approve existing CBHE providers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made online education a reality globally, including Bangladesh. This will continue and will be the new normal even after the pandemic.

We guess it wouldn't be the replacement of classroom education but the blended or hybrid mode of delivery will be continued.

CBHE will automatically be matched with the same. If we, as a nation, couldn't cope up with this new normal, we might be lagging behind in this era of globalisation.

The UNESCO definition of cross-border higher education refers to: "…higher education that takes place in situations where the teacher, student, programme, institution/provider, or course materials cross national jurisdictional borders.

Cross-border higher education may include higher education by public/private and not-for-profit/for-profit providers.

It encompasses a wide range of modalities, in a continuum from face-to-face (in various forms such as students travelling abroad and campuses abroad) to distance learning (using various technologies including e-learning)."

As the member state of UNESCO and a verdict in favour of CBHE from the high court, the necessity of CBHE has come into reality but Private University Act 2010 and CBHE regulations are contradictory and a serious conflict of interest is there, which was raised by the Association of Private Universities in Bangladesh (AUPB).

"The Private University Act 2021" connotes for establishing the private universities, whereas CBHE providers are companies, institutes affiliated to any foreign private or public university.

In this circumstance, allowing private universities as CBHE providers may solve the problem. The existing CBHE providers and new private entrepreneurs may be accommodated as partnered/independent CBHE institute under a private university. 

In order to do that a little upgradation of the CBHE regulations might be required.

Other new window (like joint degree, validated degree, franchise programmes, exchange programmes etc.) will also be opened up for the Bangladeshi students as well.

The Bangladeshi private universities should also allow setting up branch campus abroad under this CBHE regulations.



The writer is the group CEO of Daffodil Family.