Thousands of students who got admission and scholarship at different universities abroad are in deep trouble due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As many embassies and consulates in Bangladesh are either not taking any visa appointments at all or taking them on a limited scale, many students fear that they will lose funding opportunities and will ultimately be forced to cancel their admission.
Md Akibur Rahman, a chemical engineering graduate from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), got PhD admission offers from two US universities and a Master's admission offer from one university.
"I opted for PhD admission at Virginia Tech University. Then, on June 19, I was notified by my supervisor that if I cannot join the university this fall [September], my PhD funding would be cancelled. They would not be able to defer my funding to the next admission season because of unavailability of funds due to the Covid-19 situation," said Rahman.
"When I contacted the other two universities from where I got admission offers, I was told that they had already filled up the seats. As the embassy has not even started to issue visa appointments yet, I cannot see any possibility of me joining the university this fall and you can say that my admission is kind of cancelled despite the fact that I got admission offers from three universities," he added.
A lecturer of a renowned public university who did not want to disclose her name, said, "I got two scholarships; one in Imperial College, London under Commonwealth Scholarship, and another in University of British Columbia [UBC] in Canada. I don't know when I will get my UK visa, whereas Imperial College, London will start its classes from the first week of September. I have been told that initially my classes will be online for a few months but my field of research is laboratory-based. So, I must join the university by January 2021.
Getting admission and scholarship offers from a reputed university, which many students in this country are about to lose due to the Covid-19 pandemic, require years of rigorous preparation and investment of hundreds of thousands of taka.
"If you calculate GRE exam fees, TOEFL or IELTS test fees, admission fees, overseas courier service charges to send academic credentials and visa fees, we have to spend minimum Tk 1.50 lakh for the entire process. Besides, to get scholarship, we have to achieve a very good score in GRE and English language exams beating hundreds and thousands of competitors from other countries. After overcoming so many obstacles, when I see I am losing such a hard-earned opportunity, I feel really hopeless," said Rahman.
In addition to all these hurdles, many students are now required to spend additional tuition fees for online classes, which in many cases are not covered by the waivers and scholarships.
Farhana Hasan got a PhD admission offer with tuition fee waiver from a university in the USA. However, due to the pandemic, the university will launch online classes in October and Farhana is required to pay 1,000 USD in fees for the online classes, which are not waived.
"Nevertheless, I have to join the university by March 2021 to continue my study. Now, if I pay the fee for online classes and cannot join the university in March as there is no sign of improvement of the coronavirus situation, I will be in deep trouble," said Farhana.
Students like Farhana and Rahman number in the tens of thousands in Bangladesh and the figure is increasing every year.
According to Unesco's report titled "Global Flow of Tertiary Level Students", around 60,000 Bangladeshi students went abroad for higher education in 2017-18.
In terms of the number of outbound students from Bangladesh, the top five destinations were Malaysia (20,811), USA (7,028), Australia (4,986), United Kingdom (2,536) and Germany (2,311).
However, this preference changes depending on the availability of educational opportunities for Bangladeshi students in different countries. For instance, in 2013, the UK was the first choice for Bangladeshi students followed by the USA, Australia, Malaysia and Canada.
Unesco's report further states that the number of outbound tertiary level students in Bangladesh is on the rise. According to the report, in 2000, just over 7,900 students pursued higher education abroad, which increased to 60,000 in the span of 17 years.
According to Foreign Admission and Career Development Consultants Association of Bangladesh (FACD CAB), in 2019, the admission consultants of the country provided services to more than 100,000 students and last year at least 70,000 students went abroad for higher education. However, in 2020, they provided services to just over 3,000 students in the last eight months, mostly through online platforms.
Kazi Faridul Haque Happy, president of FACD CAB, said, "We are stuck in an unprecedented crisis. We are trying to assist our students but what can we do if the countries do not take visa appointments. It's absolutely their sovereign decision.
"Like our student-clients, we are also immensely affected by the Covid-19 crisis. More than 40 out of 400 of our member organisations have closed their operations as they cannot provide services to the students. Many more will follow suit if the situation does not improve in the near future."
In this situation, students are appealing to the international community to relax restrictions at least for tertiary level students and researchers.
"We appeal to the host countries to grant visas to tertiary level students under special provisions. Because, after joining universities, we engage in research on various fields of knowledge which will be beneficial for the entire humanity and the countries as well. On the contrary, shrinking research funds and making higher education inaccessible will adversely affect the entire world," said Farhana.