Equal access to higher education: The driving force for transforming students’ lives in Bangladesh
Op-ed by Md. Fahad Bin Zamal, Associate Head and Assistant Professor, Daffodil University, and participant in the ASEF Capacity Building Training on Equitable Access to Higher Education in Edinburgh, UK, from 24–27 November 2019
It was an early morning in Cardiff, UK. After having performed the Morning Prayer Md. Fakruddin Almasud prepared himself for his office. He holds the post of Central Branch Manager of Post Office Ltd. in Cardiff, UK. Besides having a decent job, he owns a house in Cardiff where he lives with his wife and two little kids. He is also looking after his parents and younger brothers in Bangladesh, where he has established a free school for disabled children. He could never imagine having this kind of success in his life if he would not have been given access to higher education and the support from his university back in 1998.
Being the eldest son of a middle-class family in Bangladesh, Md. Fakruddin Almasud had few options to access higher education. Either he could choose a public university or college, where it might take several years for him to graduate due to political restlessness, or he could choose a private university and pay a very high amount of tuition fees. Considering his father’s loaning burden and the future of his two younger brothers, he had no time to waste. He got himself admitted to a newly opened private institution called Daffodil Institute of IT, DIIT (Daffodil International University), with smaller tuition fees and installment of fees. After completing his first year of studies with good academic results he was awarded a 50% waiver on his tuition fees and got a part time job in Daffodil Software Ltd. (a sister concern of Daffodil International University), as an Assistant Programmer. He also got access to unlimited computer lab facilities, evening shift class, semester gap option and opportunity to transfer credit to foreign universities. He always gives the credit of his success to his university even though in addition to these opportunities he needed strong determination to succeed.
Tremendous progress has been made in terms of access to higher education and boosting educational attainment rates over the past decades in Bangladesh. “The net enrollment ratio in elementary education, for instance, now stands at more than 90 percent compared to 60 percent in the mid-1980s (per UNESCO data).”1 Even though the country’s tertiary gross enrollment ratio (GER) has doubled over the past decade, it stood at merely 17.6 percent in 2017. Among 801,711 potential students who had passed the college exams only fewer than 50,000 students were able to get access to the top tier of public universities in the year 2017. The inability of public institutions to accommodate the increasing demand for higher education has triggered the mushrooming growth of private universities in Bangladesh. The total number has already crossed 100 merely in decades after the establishment of the first private university (North South University) in 1992. Admission into private universities tends to be far less difficult compared to the highly selective public universities, but they only offer a limited range of degree programs and are often excessively expensive. The average semester fee at a private university ranged from USD$470 to USD$946 in 2015.2 After the admission students face overcrowded classrooms, inadequate lab support, shortage of quality teachers and the threat of graduate unemployment due to irrelevant course curricula with respect to industry need. A good number of university graduates remain unemployed each year which is a great concern for higher education institutions and which they need to address properly. They need to understand that without creating successful graduates the high number of young people wanting to get a higher education degree may not be sustained for long.
During the interview with Mr. Sabur Khan (Chairman, Board of Trustees, DIU), he addressed various initiatives that his university has taken to ensure equitable access to higher education and success of students. Apart from providing scholarships, waivers, quota, free laptop and installment facilities, Daffodil International University (DIU) has established a Business Incubator, Entrepreneur’s Club, Venture Capital Ltd., Startup Market, Entrepreneurship Guidance Program (EGP), Industrial and Innovation Park, Entrepreneurship Development Fund, etc. DIU has also established a Career Development Center (CDC) for students with the aim of providing essential technical assistance and academic support so that they can gain employment skills and present themselves on the job market with the required level of efficiency. For the first time in Bangladesh, DIU has introduced an insurance policy for the parents to secure the future of their children. With this, if any unexpected situation occurs (Such as e.g. a parent’s death) then the institute will bear the whole educational expenses of the student. He commented that lack of recognition and incentives from the government demotivate private universities to take such initiatives that are needed to address equal access and success in higher education.
When a student enters university, regardless of their home or schooling background, in most of the cases, they feel confused, lost and scared. This is not unexpected since students are entering a new environment and a new stage of life. What is unexpected is the impact that this fear has on students’ confidence to learn; and as a result, their chances of success in life. Despite of our endless efforts in doing research and making policies to widen access, higher education is still an unequal journey for students from different socio-economic backgrounds. Creating and sharing more success stories like that of Md. Fakruddin Almasud can be a source of inspiration for our young generations to persist in higher education.
1 Trines, S. (2019, August 1). Education in Bangladesh. Retrieved from WENR, https://wenr.wes.org
2 Dhaka Tribune; Wednesday, Nov 27, 2019; https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/education/2019/05/25/how-much-could-your-undergrad-cost-you
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely by the author(s) and do not represent that of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF).