Anxiety mounts among students as wait continues amid Covid
The ferocious second wave of the pandemic has further disrupted the higher education landscape across the world and Bangladesh is no exception.
Here too, Covid-19 has exacerbated uncertainty for over a million students preparing for admission tests to get into colleges and universities, with most of them deferred to curb the spread of the virus.
The uncertainty has left these admission seekers scrambling to figure out what else they might consider in case they fail to bag a seat in the university of their choice.
The most sought-after Dhaka University, for instance, has deferred the admission test for all its undergraduate courses for the third time this academic year, citing the worsening Covid-19 situation in the country.
The other leading academic institutions -- Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Chittagong University, Jahangirnagar University, Rajshahi University, and the three public technical universities (CUET-RUET-KUET) -- have all put on hold the admission tests.
Forget the admission tests, a number of the 49 public universities in Bangladesh has not been able to conduct internal examinations since the pandemic broke out, resulting in a sessions jam.
In fact, in the year 2020, a total of 1,367,377 students successfully completed the Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC) or equivalent examinations, and by now they were supposed to complete six months of university education.
This uncertainty over university admissions and the consequent anxiety has taken a toll on the mental health of many students and made some of them more vulnerable to drug use, UNB has learnt.
Female students in the rural areas of Bangladesh are the worst hit, with many of their parents losing their life savings during the pandemic. Many such parents have been forced to marry off their daughters at an early age in the past one year -- dashing their dreams of higher education.
“I had a dream, a dream to complete my graduation. But the academic sessions jam and the pandemic changed my life forever," Saifa Nasrin, one such sufferer, told UNB over the phone from rural Bangladesh.
Last month, Saifa's parents married her off to reduce the financial burden on the family. "My husband has made it clear to me that he's not in favour of my higher studies."
Of the 49 public universities, 30 are supposed to conduct admission tests for undergraduate programs.
Some 20 of these universities -- barring the top five -- have decided to implement a cluster admission test system. Seven agriculture and three technical universities will also follow the same cluster system.
Bangladesh also has 107 private universities and about 2,254 colleges affiliated with National University.
Moreover, these 20 public universities -- excluding Dhaka University, BUET, Rajshahi University, Jahangirnagar University and Chittagong University -- are said to have received a total of 381,406 applications for 2020-21 UG admission tests.
Dhaka University alone received nearly 320,000 applications for admissions to five UG courses. Many of these students are likely to apply to other universities too.
On the other hand, a number of students have already been admitted to private universities.
Also, thousands of students will be admitted to the different colleges affiliated with National University. The admission process in these colleges started on 28th July, and online classes are scheduled to begin from September 15, according to authorities.
The university admission process is a costly affair in Bangladesh. Apart from the usual application fees, students shell out some Tk10,000-20,000 on an average on books and for taking tuitions from coaching centres to crack the admission tests.
Dhaka University charged a fee of Tk450 for each unit from the admission seekers this academic year, while Rajshahi and Jahangirnagar universities received Tk55 as the primary application fee and Tk1,100 for the final application. Other universities also charged a similar amount of money.
Rajshahi University admission aspirant Mahbub Hossain said: “I am not from a well-to-do family. I had to borrow some money to bear the application cost. I have been preparing for the admission test for some time now. But now, I have lost all hope."
These days, Mahbub whiles away his time by playing online games on his cell phone. "Why are they delaying the admission tests? The lockdown curbs have been eased in Bangladesh, but why is the government not taking a call on the future of the students?"
Afiatul Fariha, another admission seeker, told UNB: “I convinced my father to give me Tk20,000 for application fees, private tuition charges and buying books. He agreed to spend the money on my education, but now I have lost all hope."
Online video game addiction is on the rise, all thanks to the Covid-induced deferred admission tests. Many students have become so immersed in their phones that their studies have gone for a toss.
“I used to read a lot after passing the HSC exam but now, I spend my valuable time chatting with friends or playing online games. The education scenario in the country makes me feel depressed," Shahrier Alom, a student from Comilla, told UNB.
Saleha Begum, the mother of a university admission seeker, said: “In the pre-Covid times, my daughter was attentive to her studies. Now she is distracted and we are all depressed. I am really worried about her future. Universities should immediately end this admission deadlock."
Dr Sayed Manzoorul Islam, a retired professor of Dhaka University's English department, agreed. “The pandemic has been a devastating blow to the country’s education sector. The government must devise learning recovery programs soon and reopen institutions to prevent the collapse of the academic system."
When contacted, Dhaka University Vice-chancellor Professor Dr Akhtaruzzaman said: “Universities are forced to postpone the admission test dates in view of the worsening Covid-19 situation. We can’t put the lives of thousands of students at risk. The admission tests will be conducted only after there's an improvement in the Covid situation in the country."