Education is a basic human right. According to the section 15 of the constitution of our country every citizen is entitled to receiving basic education.
It is, therefore, a right rather than an opportunity. This nation was founded on the premise that without education, economic growth, political stability, and democracy cannot be achieved. Therefore, when a levy has been imposed on higher education in our country, we can only question its rationality.
Education cannot be treated like any commodity. Education is the backbone of our nation. It is vital for our social welfare as well. It should not be considered merchandise. Almost all the educationists think that it is absurd to impose vat on education while Covid-19 is devastating everything. All the educational institutions have been closed for more than 14 months. For now, there is no sign of opening. As a result, students are getting deprived of education. The reality is: our country is gradually moving towards ignorance. We were supposed to think of opening educational institutions soon. Instead, in the fiscal year 2021-22, 15% vat has been imposed on private universities, private colleges, polytechnics, and medical colleges. Netizens have criticized this decision on social media vehemently. During this pandemic period, governments are supposed to provide incentives; imposing vat is like pouring water on a drowned mouse.
We have been enjoying more or less the evil consequences of multiple streams education systems. We have not been able to introduce a scientific, welfare education system avoiding controversy. Hence, it is not wise to impose 15% vat on the private education sector. There were similar decisions before but they were never acceptable to students. In the draft budget of the fiscal year 2015-16, 15% vat on private universities was proposed, but students opposed it. After that, a proposal was given to make it half 7.5%. Students still protested. They continued their protests on social media and on the streets. At one point, government withdrew this decision. Consequently, it had not been possible to introduce vat on educational institutions. Besides, it had also been said that the university administrations have to provide vat, not the students. But the students could not count on the words of the government since the sole income source of the private universities is the tuition fees of students. Even if university administrations pay the vat, it would have been taken ultimately from the students by increasing tuition fees.
The Private University Act-2010 states that private universities will be governed by trusts and will be completely non-profitable institutions. The government should pay heed to the irregularities of the private universities and take stern actions against those who are involved with certificate business in the name of education. Instead, the government is pushing the institutions to increase their income even at the expense of integrity and equity.
Seats are limited at public universities compared to the admission aspirants. As a result, students get admitted to private universities for tertiary education. Before the establishment of private university, students would go abroad for their higher studies. This is preventing brain drain as well as keeping our currency in our country. Therefore, private universities should be encouraged rather than bled dry.
It is unfair to say collectively that private universities are low-standard. Questions can be raised against some private universities regarding their quality. Private universities are competing shoulder to shoulder against their counterpart public universities. Even to some extent, few private universities have surpassed public universities in terms of research and quality education. In Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) ranking survey four Bangladeshi universities were among them two of which are private universities.
It was not possible to arrange Higher Secondary examination last year due to Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, all the candidates have passed through an alternative evaluation system. All of them will not be able to get admitted to public universities due to seat constraints. Under compulsion, many of them have to get admitted to private universities.
Generally, levy is imposed on commodities. When consumers consume any product they have to pay a fixed amount of tax. Education is not any product rather it is an investment in and for the future. I had studied at a public university and currently teach at a private university. I had to pay nominal tuition fees since public universities get funding from the government. Unlike me, my students have to pay the tuition fee charged by the university since no funding is allotted for private universities from the government.
It is a misconception that all the students studying at private universities come from rich, affluent families. At my university, most of the students come from middle-class or lower-middle-class families. They still believe in the value of education. Their certificates are earned with sweat and blood. In many cases, they come with great sacrifice. Most of them take part-time jobs or tuition to pay their tuition fees. Even, some parents have sold their lands to send their children to private universities.
In section-15 of our constitution, education has been described as a basic right. Still, vat has been imposed in this budget which is surprising to all of us. Constructive development of a nation depends on educational development in the same way it depends on infrastructural development. This year’s allocation in the education sector is 71 thousand 95 crore taka which is 11.92% of the total budget. Compared to the allocation of last year this year’s is less. There is no alternative of increasing allocation in education for the development of a nation. It is high time the government reconsidered this issue and took necessary actions to adorn our education system for the betterment of our country.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of English, Asian University of Bangladesh, Ashulia, Savar, Dhaka