Home » Bangladesh seeks solutions for decline in foreign student enrollment

Bangladesh seeks solutions for decline in foreign student enrollment


In recent years, Bangladesh has witnessed a concerning trend: a continuous decrease in the enrollment of foreign students in its universities. This decline, spanning over the past three years, raises significant concerns regarding the quality of education and the overall environment for international students. As data from the University Grants Commission (UGC) reveals, there has been a steady downward trajectory in the number of international students attending universities within the country.

Various factors contribute to this decline, as highlighted in discussions with both current and former UGC chairpersons. Chief among them is the absence of the desired standard of education, which serves as a significant deterrent for prospective foreign students. Additionally, the provision of a suitable environment is crucial, especially for students arriving from overseas. The emergence of new universities in countries that were previously major sources of international students, along with expanded higher education opportunities within those nations, has also diverted students away from studying abroad.

The decline in foreign student enrollment was underscored in the most recent annual report of the UGC, published in October of the preceding year and based on data from 2022. At that time, the country boasted 53 public universities and 110 private universities, with a total of 100 offering educational programs. However, the number of universities has since increased. Currently, there are a total of 47,56,747 students enrolled in public and private universities across the country, including those attending affiliated colleges and madrasas.

According to UGC records, the number of foreign students enrolled in public and private universities in the country was 2,317 in 2020. The following year (2021), this figure decreased slightly to 2,281 individuals, and by 2022, the number had further decreased to 1,957.

Former UGC chairman, Prof. Abdul Mannan, noted that while the number of foreign students is dwindling, a significant number of domestic students are opting to pursue their studies abroad. This decline can be attributed to various factors, including the lack of a conducive environment and quality education.

Despite the expansion of universities, there remains a shortage of adequately trained teachers, making it challenging to attract talented individuals to the teaching profession. Additionally, countries that were previously popular destinations for international students are now bolstering their own higher education systems, further reducing the flow of students to foreign universities.

In 2022, a total of 670 foreign students were enrolled in 26 of the country’s public universities. Among them, 504 were male students and 166 were female students. The preceding year, in 2021, the number stood at 677, while in 2020, there were 767 foreign students. Notably, the majority of foreign students are enrolled at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman University of Science and Technology, located in Gopalganj, with a total of 191 foreign students. Following closely is Haji Danesh University of Science and Technology in Dinajpur, with 117 foreign students, and Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, ranking third with 72 foreign students.

Once, Dhaka University attracted a significant number of foreign students, leading to the establishment of the ‘Sir PJ Hartog International Hall’ for their accommodation. However, currently, this hall houses only a small number of foreign students and young teachers.

Ibrahim, hailing from Nigeria, came to Bangladesh to pursue his Master’s degree in the Disaster Science and Climate Resilience Department at Dhaka University, residing at the PJ Hartog International Hall. According to Ibrahim, gaining admission to major universities in Europe and North America is both challenging and expensive, making Bangladesh an attractive alternative.

A review of the data reveals that the number of foreign students has not exceeded 1000 in the past decade. Public universities witnessed the highest enrollment of foreign students in the past decade in 2018, with a total of 804 foreign students enrolled across various institutions in the country.

In 2022, the number of foreign students in private universities surpassed that of public universities. According to UGC data, there were 100 private universities operating in the country, hosting a total of 1,287 foreign students across 32 universities. Among them, 260 students were enrolled in 2022, marking a decrease of 317 from the previous year’s total of 1,604 foreign students.

The UGC data for 2022 reveals that students from 37 different countries were studying in private universities within the country. These countries include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, South Sudan, China, Japan, USA, Egypt, Palestine, Gambia, Morocco, Korea, Nigeria, Iran, Tanzania, Myanmar, Rwanda, Indonesia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Philippines, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Germany, Cameroon, Turkey, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Liberia, and Djibouti.

When questioned about the decline in foreign student enrollment and potential solutions, UGC Chairman (Additional Charge) Professor Muhammad Alamgir suggested that one contributing factor could be a discrepancy in the quality of education provided compared to what initially attracted foreign students.

Additionally, he emphasized the need for a more student-friendly environment in higher education institutions and an enhancement in the quality of education. Improving the quality of teachers was also highlighted as crucial for ensuring educational excellence.

Addressing the decline in foreign student enrollment in Bangladeshi universities requires concerted efforts from stakeholders. Enhancing the quality of education, providing a conducive environment, and improving the overall attractiveness of Bangladeshi universities to international students are essential steps towards reversing this trend and fostering a diverse and vibrant educational landscape in the country.

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