Adnan Karim, a student of Jahangirnagar University, finds the meals at the dorm dining insufficient lately – the quality is awful and the quantity is getting smaller.
"They are cutting back on proteins and serving more vegetables. But students like me, who have no extra income, cannot do anything about it," said the student of Urban and Regional Planning who resides in Shaheed Rafiq-Jabbar Hall.
Food quality in the canteens and dining halls of public universities across the country has never been great but students have not seen such fall like now.
Canteen owners, however, said the university authorities had asked them not to hike the prices of meals by more than Tk2-3 but the prices of essentials have skyrocketed.
Many students living in the public university halls have no source of income other than private tuition, and cannot afford to eat at restaurants outside the campus.
They alleged that the university canteens had downsized the quantity and quality of the meals.
"Before the increase in the prices of daily commodities, including edible oils, each meal in the dining hall was priced at Tk35. The price is now TK40-50. On top of that, makeshift eateries on the campus are charging more for breakfast or other food," said Ashikur Rahman, a student of Kazi Nazrul Islam Hall of Cumilla University.
"The prices of every product have gone up, but my tuition salary, the only source of income, remains static. Besides, I have a financial crisis in my family. It makes me wonder whether I should leave my studies and go to work," he added.
"The pieces of fish and meat served in the DU halls are now much smaller. Of late the Ducsu cafeteria has been providing less rice than before. It is very difficult for a student to stay healthy by eating such food," said Dhaka University student Smriti Afroz Sumi.
Golam Azam, a final year student in the Department of Journalism at Jahangirnagar University and resident student of Rabindranath Nath Tagore Hall, said, "They are not serving chicken in the dining room for a few days. Now they are only serving fish and eggs."
"The price of food has not increased, the Tk25 coupon says the price is still the same as before, but the quality has declined," he added.
Students said that because the quality of food in the dining halls and canteens of the universities is very low, they eat in some temporary restaurants inside the campus, but due to the ongoing inflation, prices at these temporary eateries have increased a lot. As a result, the students who used to eat some good food outside the hall are now forced to eat in the hall's dining and canteen.
Rajshahi University student Mazharul Islam told TBS, "A plate of rice and a piece of fish used to cost a maximum of Tk70 in the outside eateries; now that same meal costs at least Tk30 more. That is why many students are taking meals in the hall dining and canteen."
"A majority of public university students manage their food money with their tuition salaries. Guardians are not hiring private tutors as they used to in the pre-pandemic era. Many students have lost tuition jobs and it is a big crisis," said Lucky Bin Siddique, a masters student at Chittagong University.
Zahirul Islam, canteen owner of Bangabandhu Hall of Jahangirnagar University told TBS, "I have been feeding students in this canteen for 15 years, but I have never come across such a situation. The university authorities are saying that food prices cannot be increased, but the price of every item in the market has doubled."
"A kg of chicken which was Tk 130 some 15 days ago has now increased to Tk200, the price of 100 eggs has increased from Tk700 to Tk1,200, a 50kg rice sack now costs Tk3,200 which was Tk1,900, the flour bag of Tk2,000 has increased to Tk2,700," he said.
"So how will we adjust the extra cost? We are forced to provide less amount of rice, vegetables and fish, chicken and meat," the canteen owner added.
Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor Prof Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman said, "It is true that due to the abnormal increase in commodity prices, the food expenses of the students have increased. Those from lower-middle-class families are struggling to meet the expenses."
In response to a question of whether any subsidy will be given by the university, the VC said the administration has not allocated money directly to the dining halls and canteens of the university, but gas, water, electricity and dining space are provided free of charge, so that students can eat at a low price.
"We have decided to monitor the canteens and dining halls to ensure that no one charges exorbitant prices from students," Prof Akhtaruzzaman added.