Will foreign university branch campuses improve our higher education? – The Business Standard

Sunday
December 25, 2022

Illustration: TBS

Illustration: TBS

For one year, Rokibul Islam, who completed his HSC last year, has been trying his best to secure an up-to-the-mark IELTS band score. He ultimately succeeded. On 31 December this year, he will fly to Canada to get enrolled at Seneca College in Toronto. He is going to study International Business Management there. 
“I assume graduates of this particular subject will dominate the future job market, although this is not taught in Bangladeshi universities. If they did, I wouldn’t be going abroad, leaving my parents behind. My tuition fee is around Tk14 lakh per year, which I will have to partially pay by working part-time there,” Rokibul said. 
There are 53 public universities, 109 private universities and more than 2,500 colleges under the National University, in Bangladesh. None of the institutions are ranked among the top 800 universities in the world. 
The lack of accreditation, quality and diversity in higher education has turned Bangladesh into an attractive market for international universities to set up branch campuses here.  Around 1 million students get enrolled in universities every year in Bangladesh to get an honours degree.
The government has in fact already taken steps to amend the relevant law that bars foreign universities from setting up shop here. While the benefit of making international quality education accessible to Bangladeshi students is obvious, academicians and private university administrations have raised concerns about unfair competition, duplication of resources and possible exploitation.
The pros, cons and concerns
The government recently initiated amendments to the Private University Act 2010 and related rules that blocked foreign universities from opening branches here. 
The University Grants Commission of Bangladesh has already sent a draft of proposals to the education ministry. A senior officer of the ministry recently told TBS that his office has sought opinions from some related ministries regarding the proposals. 
In advance, the ministry has permitted the Universal College Bangladesh (UCB) to offer multiple courses, including BSc Business and Management, BSc Finance and BSc Accounting and Finance in partnership with the University of London. According to USB, the courses follow 100% curriculum and testing modules of the London School of Economics. 
“These in-country international programmes bring significant advantages. Such programs can potentially save invaluable dollar reserves for a nation that annually repatriates close to $4.5 billion on outward tuition fee remittances [for Bangladesh students studying abroad],” said Dr Sandeep Ananthanarayanan, the CEO (Higher Education initiatives) of STS Group. 
UCB was formed out of a joint venture between STS Group and Eduko Singapore Services PTE. 
Last year, UCB introduced Monash pathway programmes in Bangladesh, wherein students could undertake their Monash degree journey right here in Bangladesh. 
However, private university owners opposed the education ministry’s move, particularly permitting ‘study centres’ of foreign universities in the country, terming it ‘suicidal’. 
Sheikh Kabir Hossain, Chairman of the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh (APUB), said, “They [foreign universities] should operate here like a full-fledged university, like we do. They should comply with every term and condition that we have to. They must be non-profitable like we are. And the government must allow only the A-grade universities.” 
Following examples of India, Sri Lanka and others, the education ministry allowed UCB to offer foreign university courses under the Company Act 1994, as a profitable organisation, which is in conflict with the Private University Act 2010, Kabir said. 
Assuming that the government will allow the foreign university branch campuses to repatriate their profits, he warned such relaxation will make the education market of private entities ‘uneven’.  
Apart from the debate between profit and non-profit entities, educationists think Bangladesh does not need a foreign university that will teach similar subjects or disciplines offered by the existing universities. Instead, there should be collaboration with foreign universities on how the existing departments [of particular disciplines] can develop their curriculums. 
Some foreign universities, including the UCSI University and Monash University in Malaysia, Lovely Professional University and Techno India University in India, and Mahidol University in Thailand expressed interest in opening branches in Bangladesh, according to a 2020 report. Only Monash University and Mahidol University from the list are placed in the top 300 of the 2023 Quacquarelli Symonds World Ranking.  
A former English professor at the University of Dhaka, Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam recommended the government verify the feasibility and necessity of foreign universities’ branch campuses. 
“We need advanced technologies. If the top-ranking foreign universities come up with courses on artificial intelligence, space science, pharmacy and disciplines like these, I will appreciate them,” he said. 
He recommended that the authorities consider their ability to deliver quality education. 
“Will they bring A-grade faculties here? Will they set up advanced laboratories and rich libraries here? We need to verify the proposals, because they will collect lots of money in the name of tuition fees,” he added. 
A growing trend
In the last couple of years, a move towards foreign university branch campuses has gathered steam in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries, following success in Singapore and Malaysia. 
Currently, there are 15 foreign university branch campuses in Singapore that originate from host campuses in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France and India, while Malaysia has 10 FUBCs originating from the UK, Australia, China and Ireland. 
In the late 1990s, the two East Asian countries opened their land to foreign universities, not only to educate their own young generation, but also to turn themselves into a higher education hub for other Asian pupils.  
The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has approved at least 50 FUBCs originating mostly from the UK. 
In March this year, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that ‘world-class’ foreign universities and institutions will be allowed in the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, (GIFT City) to offer courses in financial management, FinTech, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Eight months after the announcement, the University Grants Commission of India eased regulations, relaxing provisions for administrative control, reservation policy and not-for-profit entity for FUBCs, for a fee.  
In August, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke in a similar tone, saying the country will change laws to allow foreign universities to set up branches in the country.
Foreign University / Education / campus
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