Recently, between November 4 and 6, 2022, an international conference named Bangladesh Education Forum (BEdF) held in Dubai. It discussed the possibility of establishing a strong education corridor between Bangladesh and the GCC nations – where more than 4 million Bangladeshis live, work and remit more than US$11.1 billion every year. Bangladeshi workers, traders, businessmen, are the biggest source of the remittance. However, education could fetch more remittances in future, officials said at the Bangladesh Education Forum.
It was discussed at length that the government of Bangladesh must allow willing universities to set up campuses abroad – to boost remittance flow – and help economy grow faster, and the senior government officials (deputy minister of education and an UGC member) present welcomed the idea.
BD Higher Education: Possibilities in ME
More than 30 million students including 4.6 million students in higher educational institutions make up Bangladesh’s education sector – making it one of the largest education services industries in the world. By 2025, Bangladeshi universities, medical, dental and general colleges are expected to serve 4.6 million students. With an average annual cost of US$1,000 per year, this translates to a higher education market size of US$4.6 billion in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Government has allocated US$8.14 billion (Tk814.49 billion) to education sector in the current financial year ending June 2023, of which US$3.99 billion (Tk399.61 billion) has been allocated for higher education. The six Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, host more than 4 million Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) who collectively remitted US$11.11 billion (Dh40.77 billion/BTk1.22 trillion). Education sector could generate a large remittance corridor for Bangladesh.
Qualified Bangladeshi universities can now plan to expand their activities outside the country by establishing physical campuses in key target education markets beyond the country’s border – that will create a new source of remittance and increase the flow of foreign currency in the country. Senior member of the Bangladesh University Grants Commission, Prof Dr Biswajit Chanda, noted in the conference, “Bangladeshi universities have come a long way in ensuring quality higher education in various field and this is reflected by the success of Bangladeshi professionals and entrepreneurs in very competitive foreign job market. Qualified Bangladeshi universities can apply for the opening of their campuses in foreign countries, if and when they are ready. Universities in Bangladesh have matured and they can now expand internationally and attract foreign students. Our role is to ensure that they do things right.”
In fact, many of these universities and medical colleges of Bangladesh, especially those privately managed, have exceeded expectations and are currently doing better in international university rankings. Recently, QS rankings of global universities, has put 5 Bangladeshi universities (2 public and 3 private) in the top 300 universities of Asia. Time has come for them to induct foreign students as well as establish their presence through setting up own campuses in target education markets. Earlier, it was perhaps they weren’t ready to go beyond the boundaries of Bangladesh.
Dr Chanda rightly said, “Many universities and medical colleges are cash-rich and have accumulated large sums of cash reserves. However, they have to identify the needs, the gaps and then apply for expansion abroad. If we find them suitable, we can give them permission to expand in other countries.”
With this development, it is now expected that Chairmen of Board of Trustees of a number of Bangladeshi universities will now look at establishing their own campuses in certain key markets, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia – host to a large Bangladeshi diaspora. Even expansion in African market is also possible for learners in the continent there as a large number of African youth are keen for global education at affordable costs.
Welcoming the decision, Dr M. Sabur Khan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Daffodil International University, said, “This is a great news for Bangladesh’s higher education sector which has matured a lot and has enough resources to expand in key international markets. We welcome this news and the vision and direction of the University Grants Commission and its leadership in guiding us. The universities in Bangladesh should further develop young entrepreneurs and businesspersons, instead of job-seekers. Entrepreneurship creates new job-creators and employment opportunities through industrial investment.”
Bangladesh Education Forum 2022 – the first-of-its-kind international conference to underline the success of the higher education sector of Bangladesh and help re-positioning Bangladesh as a high-quality and cost-effective higher education destination in the world.
With a vision to attract international students to the country’s universities, medical colleges, dental colleges, general and specialized colleges, Bangladesh – which has been a net exporter of students to other countries that drained a large amount of foreign currency every year – now looks at becoming a net importer of foreign students that could fetch the country a large amount of foreign currency every year.
Foreign students in BD
Internationalization of Bangladeshi higher education clearly has two sides of the coin: (a) Attracting a large number of learners from abroad (next generation of Non-resident Bangladeshis or purely foreign students from African and Asian nations) to study in Bangladesh in the universities here, and (b) Bangladeshi universities expanding and setting up campuses abroad, especially in the Middle East, and perhaps in Africa as well.
The global possibilities have also evolved due to the various trends in higher education post-pandemic. Prominent among these are: rise of Online Education, with every university moving towards Blended Learning & LMS administered education management. National boundaries are blurring in the context of Education, and Academic Credits Transfer among Universities within & beyond nations are now easily happening. Possibility of Skill Banks of Human Resources recognized globally is no more a fantasy today. Learners have started crossing national borders to acquire higher education even more aggressively than earlier. Universities are going global and bringing in larger parity in education & shared knowledge. UNESCO & UNDP are also giving a push to cross-border pursuit of education leading to easier international skilled manpower mobility.
There surely are many benefits of foreign students coming to BD for higher education, and this has been going on for some time, which is catching a greater steam now. Foreign exchange earnings are good for Bangladesh economy. Better branding of BD among the foreign learners has long term benefits when they go back to their nations. The Non Resident Bangladeshis invest in BD economy through their children being sent to study in BD. Then there is the benefit of getting diverse educational practices and standards through students (and also scholars) coming to BD.
Foreign alumni of BD universities can help grow better business & social ties when they are positions of eminence in their nations.
Benefits of BD Universities going global
And then, there are benefits of BD Universities going global too. World-over Bangladesh has often been dubbed as a cheap supplier of low-cost less-trained labour force. Now with universities venturing abroad, a better national branding as an evolved knowledge provider is strongly possible.
Foreign Exchange earnings from various nations where campuses are expanded is but a natural corollary. Learners educated in those campuses become long-term friends of BD. BD scholars go abroad for research and employment to these campuses which also brings income back home.
Closer economic and social ties with the nations where BD universities may
expand their operations is another natural corollary. Collaborative initiatives of research, startups, events etc also are possible by BD universities with foreign entities where they expand. Bangladeshi education entrepreneurship spreading globally brings in closer ties with the nations where Bangladeshi universities expand. This shall also encourage all types of entrepreneurs of Bangladesh to globalize their operations & each foreign exchange.
In this pursuit of expansion abroad, there are some expectations of the educational entrepreneurs from the Government of BD also. There is the need for a cogent policy framework to allow interested BD Universities to go global. This can support BD education entrepreneurs to expand skilling and educational initiatives in nations where NRBs are in large numbers. The government can actively help support any initiative from BD education to create enhanced national brand image going beyond supplier of cheap labour, which, in turn, will support in bringing in foreign currency and also provide productive employment to Bangladeshi citizens globally. The government policy framework can further allow BD edu-entrepreneurs to globalize offline & online in education as Metaverse & virtual platforms are changing learning process.
Bangladesh, which hosts one of the largest education sectors in the world with 163 universities, 115 medical colleges and more than 2,500 general and specialised colleges, is now ready to attract international students and offer through expansion of its services good quality cost-effective education to the students living in the Middle East. The BEdF is now encouraged to organize its second edition and possibly in two cities (Dubai & Jeddah) of Middle East, come November, 2023.
The author is Executive Director of US-based International Online University, with operations in Dubai. He also consults two leading universities, one each from Dhaka and Kolkata. He can be contacted at [email protected]