Md Istiake Manik, 27, graduated from Jahangirnagar University in Archeology and left Bangladesh last year for a masters program at the National Museum of Natural History under Sorbonne University in Paris because there was no place for the type of scientific research he wanted to do.
“The laboratories are ill equipped and the quality of education very poor. Most people look down upon Archeology as a subject even though it is part of the core sciences. This is the difference between the higher education in Bangladesh and abroad,” Istiake added.
Every year the numbers of students’ leaving Bangladesh has been increasing drastically. From 2006, the number of foreign university-bound students has more than doubled to 33,139 in 2016.
A recent report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) shows that every day 90 students leave Bangladesh to study abroad, most of whom stay back for a better life.
The former University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof Nazrul Islam reiterated that the reason for this rise in students leaving the country might be because of a lack of technical capacity of universities in Bangladesh.
“We have a number of good universities in Bangladesh where seats and resources are limited. Many students leave the country because of a lack of opportunities here,” he said.
“For example, we have Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) that is a good institute for engineering but it lacks equipment and lab facilities which is why many students prefer foreign universities instead of Buet,” Prof Nazrul added.
The former UGC chair warned that having these students leave in such large numbers is going to cause a brain drain in Bangladesh.
Despite the government’s efforts since the early 1990s of setting up more public and private universities, the number of young men and women leaving the country has more than doubled. Students leaving the country point to lack of resources at these universities and poor quality of education. While others point to a less than desirable quality of life from traffic jams to limited employment opportunities in Bangladesh.
Professor emeritus at the University of Dhaka Serajul Islam, said the reason why so many students are leaving the country is because of hostage socio-economic situation with no effective development.
He stressed that this is not just a brain drain phenomenon but also applies to anyone who has the means to leave because they see no future or opportunity in Bangladesh.
“Both skilled and unskilled Bangladeshis are going abroad due to a lack of opportunities inside the country. Although the government claims that economic development has taken place, these developments are not helping the people but only benefit those in positions of power,” said Prof Serajul.
Prof Serajul says this brain drain is caused by thousands of students leaving every year and settling abroad while many others are actively looking for opportunities to leave, creating a massive intellectual vacuum in the country.
“As jobs and investments are not generating nearly the amount of money needed to for a standard of living, the young do not see a future for themselves in Bangladesh. Many are frustrated over the hostage situation created by poverty along with political unrest and no industrial and agricultural development, which has worsened their perception of the country,” Prof Serajul told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to Unesco, Malaysia, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and Canada are the top destinations for Bangladeshi students.
Among the 33,139 students who went abroad in 2016, 20% enrolled in Malaysian universities, 16% in US universities, 14% in UK universities, 13% in Australian universities, 6% in German, and 5% in Canadian universities.
Not all students stay back however. Some do return home in hopes of contributing to the development of Bangladesh.
Anand Chowdhury graduated in Economics from Middlebury College in Vermont, USA in 2012. He soon came back to Bangladesh and joined a private consultancy firm. But after having spent almost six years back in Bangladesh, he says he wants to start looking for a higher degree abroad again because he is unhappy with the standard of living in Bangladesh.
“Working in Bangladesh, specifically in Dhaka, is a mix of the extremely frustrating and the surprisingly rewarding. Extremely frustrating because the exact same job in any other country would give you significantly higher purchasing power.
“The ratio of competent people to incompetent people is considerably lower. Dhaka city traffic robs you of the chance to have a social life,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
But what comes across from all the experts and students leaving or wanting to leave is the lack of quality of life. They have all identified the fact that Dhaka’s traffic jams are the number one reason for people leave, who say they spend hours of their lives waiting in traffic.
Zabir, 28, graduated with a bachelors degree in International Relations from the University of Dhaka a few years ago hoping to contribute to the critical thinking and analysis of Bangladesh’s current state.
“There is no space of intellectual debate in Bangladesh. People are in a constant state of denial or argue with logical fallacies. This adds to a very toxic social and corporate culture where we have successfully adopted a master slave dichotomy.
“To add insult to injury the traffic in Dhaka makes it impossible to have a life. I have spent a good chunk of last year preparing to apply to a foreign university as getting a foreign degree is my only way out,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
UGC Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan thinks that there is a perception problem in Bangladesh where we immediately think that foreign is better.
“In Bangladesh we have a common belief that foreign things are better than our own.
Such perception applies to everything from goods to services such as education resulting in the increased number of Bangladeshi students leaving for foreign universities.
“There is also a money laundering problem through students. We have records of millions of dollars being laundered out of Bangladesh using foreign universities causing a huge capital drain in the country as well,” he said.
However, Prof Mannan added: “I believe in the race for excellence there is no finish line. So we have to concentrate on quality education inside the country.”