Riya Ghosh from Kolkata recently came to Bangladesh to pursue a master of fine arts degree in graphic design at the University of Dhaka. She says the university has a rich history and is also a great institution to learn about Bengali history, art, and culture.
But when she decided she would study in Bangladesh, she could not find detailed information or guideline on how to apply for admission. She had to contact many people before she got the details.
She says this problem discourages foreign students like her from coming to study in Bangladesh from different parts of the world.
The latest annual report of the University Grants Commission (UGC) says 2,317 foreign students were enrolled at public and private universities in the country in 2020. Among them, 767 were studying in 23 public universities and 1,550 in 32 private ones.
Besides, the number of foreign students in private universities was 1,548 in 2015, 1,927 in 2016, 1,977 in 2017, 1,386 in 2018, and 1,467 in 2019.
On the other hand, the number of such students in public universities was 593 in 2015, 355 in 2016, 461 in 2017, 804 in 2018, and 482 in 2019.
The numbers are significantly low compared to neighbouring India. Data from the All India Survey on Higher Education shows the number of foreign students coming to the country went up from 34,774 in 2012-13 to 49,348 in 2019-20.
Foreign students come to Bangladesh mainly from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the Maldives, China, the US, Palestine, The Gambia, South Korea, Japan, Yemen, Morocco, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.
Most students are from India, Nepal, and Bhutan as it is cheaper for them to study in Bangladesh, and they also get many scholarships as citizens of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries.
Under the Bangladesh government’s scholarship programme, 221 seats were allocated for foreign students this year, including 117 for those from SAARC countries and 104 for Non-SAARC ones.
Ritwik Bhusan Das, a Rajshahi Medical College student from West Bengal, told The Business Post students like him come to Bangladesh because they can study in government medical colleges with scholarships.
Besides, those studying in private institutions pay lower tuition fees compared to their home countries, he said.
“Public universities in Bangladesh are good, but seats are limited. I think a lack of proper promotion and study information also explains why a limited number of foreign students come here,” he added.
The University of Dhaka receives only 15-20 foreign students for degree programmes on average every year, according to its 2020-21 annual report. On the other hand, 40 foreign students come to study at the university’s Institute of Modern Languages every year on average.
Around 98 students currently live at Sir PJ Hartog International Hall, a dedicated dorm for foreign students at the University of Dhaka. Among them, 16 are enrolled in different departments and institutes while the rest study in different colleges and institutes affiliated with the university.
The hall’s Provost Professor Dr Md Mohiuddin said the university has plenty of residential facilities and foreign students enjoy lots of services, including transport and medical.
“In recent times, the number of foreign students has increased as many get commonwealth and other scholarships to study here,” he added.
Private universities in Bangladesh have more foreign students. The UGC report says 41 students are studying at North South University, 27 at Independent University Bangladesh, and 50 at Asian University of Bangladesh.
Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, head of the office of international affairs at the University of Dhaka, pointed out some of the reasons that discourage foreign students from coming to Bangladesh.
“They do not know about our universities, and there are no efforts from our side to promote our educational institutions to them. The local and international media mostly portray the negative sides of the country, and foreign students then get a bad vibe of this place,” he explained.
Speaking about financial matters, he said, “The cost of studying at public universities and medical colleges is very low in Bangladesh. I do not think tuition fees and finances dissuade students from coming here. Rather, they are concerned about security.”
Many foreign students cannot find detailed information about how and when to apply for admission and visa as well as other matters. As there is no centralised or dedicated study application portal, it is a big hurdle for them to apply and eventually come here upon securing admission.
Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor at the University of Dhaka, told The Business Post the university administration has already sent a letter to the education ministry to take initiatives for resolving these problems.
“I hope these problems will be solved soon, and we will get more students from abroad,” he added.