The country is likely to have 16 more private universities, as the process of their approval is underway.
The opposition leader in parliament, chief whip of the ruling party, two ruling party lawmakers and a former whip are among the patrons of the proposed universities, show documents of the University Grants Commission (UGC).
Of the 16, four will be set up in the capital, two each in Rangpur and Gazipur, and one each in Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Brahmanbaria, Chandpur, Patuakhali and Munshiganj.
They now await approval from the education ministry. Once approved, they will join the list of 95 private universities, more than half of which are located in the capital.
Of the 95, seven are yet to start operation while the authorities shut academic activities of two.
Over the last eight years, the government has approved 47 private universities allegedly on political consideration.
Since the beginning of their journey in 1992, private universities have been playing a significant role in accommodating a large number of students pursuing higher education. Some of them provide high-quality education and maintain a global standard.
However, a number of private universities are reportedly functioning without meeting some of the criteria laid down in the Private University Act 2010.
Many of the private universities don't have vice chancellors, and are run by acting VCs. Many more have not moved to their own campuses despite several reminders. Questions were also raised about the standard of education in many of those.
Educationists on several occasions urged the government not to approve any more private university in Dhaka, citing lack of space as one of the main reasons.
However, the process of approving more private universities is underway.
The UGC, the statutory apex body for higher education, has already completed inspection of most of the 16 proposed universities upon directives from the education ministry.
"We've already completed inspection of at least eight universities and sent the inspection reports to the education ministry. Inspection of the rest could not be done due to some errors in the addresses provided by them," UGC Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan told The Daily Star on Wednesday.
He said that once these universities make the corrections in their addresses, they will gradually conduct inspection and send the reports to the education ministry.
The ministry will analyse the reports and take the next step, he added.
Seeking anonymity, a UGC official said the ministry gave the commission more than 120 applications for setting up private universities. The ministry later asked them to inspect 16 of the proposed universities, the official said.
Contacted, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said that giving approval to private universities is part of “a regular process”, and it is done keeping in mind the expansion of higher education in the country.
But all these universities may not get approval at a time. "Before giving approval, we analyse the inspection reports and do further evaluation," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Opposition Leader Rawshan Ershad is the patron of Rawshan Ershad International University, Bangladesh, in Mymensingh, while Chief Whip ASM Firoz is the initiator of South Region University in Patuakhali, according to the UGC documents.
The Daily Star called ASM Firoz on his mobile phone yesterday but he didn't pick it up.
AL lawmaker Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury from Brahmanbaria-3 sought permission for opening the University of Brahmanbaria in his own constituency. Another ruling party MP, Mohammed Shamsul Hoque Bhuyan from Chandpur, is the initiator of Apollo University of Science and Technology in Chandpur.
This newspaper tried to contact Shamsul Hoque but his mobile phone was found switched off yesterday.
Former Jatiya Party lawmaker HM Golam Reza from Satkhira is a patron of Singapore University of Bangladesh in the capital's Mirpur.
Kazi Rafiqul Alam, president of Dhaka Ahsania Mission, and Prof Dr Mahmudul Hasan, director (international) of European Case Study Centre, UK, sought permission for two universities -- Khulna Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah University in Khulna and Ahsania Mission University of Science and Technology in Rajshahi.
Former Rupali Bank Chairman Dr Ahmed Al Kabir is the initiator of RTM Al Kabir Technical University in Sylhet, while Bangladesh Buddha Krishti Prachar Sangha President Suddhananda Mahathero is the patron of the University of Atish Dipankar in Munshiganj.
Businessman Mostofa Azad Chowdhury is the initiator of Rangpur University in Rangpur. Another businessman Ashraful Alam Al-Amin is the chairman of the proposed North Bengal University in Rangpur.
The entrepreneur of International Culture University in Dhaka is Sultan Razzak, whose details could not be known.
Dr M Jubaidur Rahman sought permission for establishing the University of Management Science Bangladesh in Gazipur, while the patron of Kamal Uddin Ahmed University of Science and Technology in Gazipur is Kamrunnesa Ratna from the capital's Gulshan.
Businessman Abu Noman Halder is chairman of the University of Modern Technology to be set up in the capital's Banani area.
AKM Mosharraf Hossain, an engineer, is the initiator of International Standard University to be established in Mohakhali of the capital.
According to the UGC documents prepared on December 29 last year, 42 private universities have no vice chancellor and are mostly run by the acting VCs. Appointment of VCs to eight of those was pending with the education ministry.
Seventy-two of the universities have no pro-VC and 52 have no treasurer.
Two applications for appointment of pro-VCs and four for appointment of treasurers are pending with education ministry, show the documents.
Besides, a number of universities are yet to move to their own campuses, a basic condition stipulated in the Private University Act 2010.
The act makes it compulsory for a private university to have a permanent campus within five years of launching.
The government has so far extended the deadline four times for the private universities for moving to their own campuses.
With the latest deadline ending on January 31, only 12 of the 52 universities operating for seven years have moved to their own campuses, shows another UGC report sent to the ministry last month.
Ten universities are operating their academic activities partially on their own campuses, it said.
UGC officials said some of the universities don't have enough qualified teachers and properly equipped laboratories and libraries.
Asked about the problems in the universities, Nahid said, "We have been putting pressure on them so that they meet all the conditions. Now many of them are operating in compliance with the law."
Noted educationist Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam said whenever a government assumes office, people loyal to it get approval for setting up private universities.
"I believe the people who are initiators of these [proposed] universities are close to the party in power," he said.
Most of those, who are seeking permission for establishing private universities, have not taken such initiatives for meeting “the educational need” only, there is “a business motive” here also, said Prof Manzoorul.
The government should conduct a survey on what types of universities the country needs at this moment and then give approval on the basis of the demand, he said.
"I think the government should put more emphasis on improving the standard of education in the existing private universities before giving approval to new ones."