Amid persistent financial struggles, Abu Rayhan passed the 2019 higher secondary exams and started dreaming of higher studies in computer sciences, but the aspirations took a hit when he failed to secure a spot in relevant departments in any of the country's public universities.
When all hopes appeared to fade, Jamalpur-born Rayhan learnt of full free studentship facilities provided by private universities in the capital for needy but bright students. He scooped up the opportunity immediately at one of these.
Highly devoted Rayhan is among the 20,789 meritorious students who got to enroll for completely free-of-cost higher studies in private universities in 2020, as per a University Grants Commission report, highlighting how these institutes are playing an important role in expanding the country's educated class by discounting higher education costs for insolvent but meritorious students.
Including 5,437 children of valiant freedom fighters, there were 38,674 students who availed the opportunity in 2020 – nearly doubling from 2018, in a sign of an increasingly popular trend.
The initiative undertaken by all of the country's 104 private universities, under a 2010 government directive, is breaking taboos that the institutes are solely profit-driven and almost unaffordable for poor students to study in.
The Private University Act, 2010 obliges a private university to reserve at least 3% of total seats for needy but meritorious students to study for free, and 3% more for the children of valiant freedom fighters seeking to enjoy the facility.
On top of government-mandated full-free studentship, the universities also provide tuition waivers, scholarships and low-cost accommodation facilities. In 2020, the number of students getting tuition fee waivers was 1.66 lakh and those getting scholarships numbered 60,904.
Professor Dr Mohammad Ali Jinnah from the Institute of Education and Research, University of Dhaka, said, "In the not so distant past, students from low-income families used to find it very difficult to study in the country's private universities. However, over the last couple of years things have changed."
Now, brilliant students from poor families can afford to study their favourite undergrad majors beyond the capacity-constrained public universities, thanks to the waivers and free studentship schemes of private universities, the educational specialist commented.
Rayhan now holds a part-time job at a private company to pay for his usual expenses beyond educational costs, and does not have to burden his family with financial demands.
In another instance, a son of a valiant freedom fighter is now a proud professional serving in a multinational company, and the North South University certainly deserves to share the credits for his career buildup, having extended full-free studentship support for his long-desired studies at a business-focused department both at bachelor and masters levels.
After finishing higher secondary exams in Chandpur, he was eager to pick an on-demand business-related major subject for his higher studies, but failed to get a chance to do so at the country's public universities.
Southeast University Vice Chancellor Professor Dr AFM Mafizul Islam told TBS, "Many of our female students enjoy hostel facilities which are subsidised by the university. We have more than a dozen scholarship programmes, and each year we provide about Tk120 million in scholarships and waivers. In 2020, we provided full free studentship facilities for 3,863 students."
Green University authorities said they provide at least 25% tuition fee waivers to undergraduate students based on their performances in higher secondary exams, and additional facilities to toppers at semester and annual exams.
The private institutes should start collaborating with public universities to further expand opportunities for financially-handicapped students, Dr Mohammad said.