The University Grants Commission (UGC) will investigate the financial transactions of several private universities in the wake of allegations of financial and administrative irregularities.
The regulatory authorities for higher education in the country will look into the income, expenditure and financial contributions of trustees since the establishment of these private universities.
The UGC has sent letters to more than 26 private universities, seeking documents on their current and previous financial reports, said sources concerned.
Officials at the commission said private universities have been given sufficient time to shift their temporary campuses to permanent locations, as per the Private University Act, but they are yet to abide by the instruction.
Most of the universities have continued to violate the Act and have persisted in committing financial irregularities. The UGC will not allow any more time for the universities to take corrective measures and will take action as per the law, they added.
Professor Dr Biswajit Chanda, member of the UGC, told The Business Standard that the commission has received complaints about more than 30 universities till now and has formed at least 25 probe committees to investigate the allegations.
"Many universities have no offices, students, teachers and even campuses. Many, including North South University, are involved in financial irregularities. So we have decided to look into the income and expenditure accounts of these universities since their establishment. If we find any irregularities, we will send our findings to the chancellor for action to be taken," he said.
"We will shut down the name-only universities that have no capability to run academic activities," he said.
"In many cases, trustees took large amounts of money from the universities – to an extent that is even more than their investments. We will identify them and take action. No reputed institution will face problems regarding their trustees or others," Professor Biswajit Chanda said.
In the meantime, the UGC has dispatched letters to more than 26 private universities, seeking current and previous information, including financial statements.
The universities are: North South University, Times University, Britannia University, First Capital University of Bangladesh, People's University of Bangladesh, Feni University, IBAIS University, Metropolitan University, Hamdard University Bangladesh, Cox's Bazar International University, University of Science and Technology Chattogram (USTC), European University of Bangladesh, Prime Asia University, Bangladesh Islami University, ASA University Bangladesh, University of South Asia, Southern University Bangladesh, Northern University of Business and Technology Khulna, Rajshahi Science and Technology University (RSTU), Sonargaon University, Leading University, Asian University of Bangladesh, Pundra University of Science and Technology, North East University, and Central University of Science and Technology.
Omar Farooq, director of the Private University Division of the UGC, told TBS that the commission will send letters and form probe committees against the private universities that have been breaching the laws.
"The education ministry asks the UGC not to show any tolerance towards irregular and corrupt universities. Basically, taking education as a lucrative business, many universities were established with a motto of profit whereas universities are supposed to be non-profitable institutions," he said.
When contacted, Professor Dr Atiqul Islam, vice-chancellor of North South University, told TBS that he was only responsible for academic activities and the members of the board of trustees were responsible for financial matters. "The government or the UGC has the right to investigate any matter if they want. I welcome it."
Professor Dr Md Elias Uddin Biswas, vice-chancellor of North East University, said the university had not yet received any letter from the UGC.
Professor Dr Md Hazrat Ali, vice-chancellor of First Capital University of Bangladesh, stated, "I have heard that the UGC has formed a committee and I congratulate the commission's move."
Overall current scene at private universities
Private universities have mushroomed in the country over the past 30 years since the enactment of the Private University Act in 1992, but most of them have been operating academic activities flouting rules and regulations in the absence of appropriate punitive action by the government.
People concerned say some of these universities have little regard for the law and are being run as per the whims of their authorities.
There are 108 private universities with more than 3.5 lakh students in the country. Of them, 94 universities are in operation, including two foreign universities.
For instance, it is mandatory for private universities to obtain a permanent certificate from the government within 12 years of starting operations. But only seven of 51 universities that were established before 2008 have secured the documentation by fulfilling all conditions, including permanent campuses.
Besides, most of the private universities are reluctant to even submit their annual audit reports to the authorities concerned.
Only 11 universities have all the required top officials. Of the rest, 73 have vice-chancellors, 22 have pro-vice-chancellors, and 54 have treasurers, according to the 47th annual report of the University Grants Commission published last year.
Private universities charge high fees from students as the UGC is yet to fix the amount of all kinds of fees.
APUB also against irregularities
The Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh (APUB), in a letter, recently said, "We are proud of the success of private universities in the massive expansion of modern higher education in the country. At the same time, the association is also concerned over the irregularities at several private universities."
It said irregularities on the part of some universities, including conducting unauthorised courses at unauthorised campuses, illegal admission and conflicts over trustee boards, are mentioned on the website of the UGC.
APUB Chairman Sheikh Kabir Hossain said, "We hope that the authorities will run the universities efficiently and help uphold the reputation and contribution of the private universities."