Unesco recommends that a country must allocate 20% of its annual budget and at least 6% of its GDP to the education sector for achieving a sustainable development.
Bangladesh has repeatedly failed to meet the minimum benchmark for the education sector allocation, even though the outgoing fiscal year's allocation was 9% more than the revised budget of 2014-15 fiscal year, according to a pre-budget analysis by the Centre on Budget and Policy at Dhaka University.
Looking back at the past budgets, the government allocated 12.1% of its annual budget to education in FY2011-12, around 11.2% in FY2012-13, and 11.7% in FY2014-15.
Calculating how much of the GDP was assigned to the education sector, the analysis found that the government always put the number around the 2% mark – way below the Unesco recommended 6%.
Even looking as far back as the years between FY1997-98 and FY2000-01, education received around 2.2% of the GDP.
For FY2001-02, the amount increased slightly to 2.3%, but never managed to cross the 2.1% mark on an average in the following years, the analysis found.
From 2009 to 2012, the education sector's allocation grew compared to its GDP share, but it never exceeded more than 2.3% of the country's gross domestic product.
Even though the allocation had remained almost constant, budget expenditure compared to the GDP has grown quite a lot.
More than a decade ago in FY1997-98, the then Awami League government's annual budget expenditure was 12.92% of the GDP; but the amount of expenditure has now grown to become 17.2% of the GDP in FY2015-16.
VAT again on tertiary education?
In a controversial move, while announcing the draft budget for FY2015-16, Finance Minister AMA Muhith had said that a 10% VAT would be charged on private university education.
His proposal triggered a countrywide protest, with students forming human chains and blocking city streets to call for a withdrawal of the VAT.
Faced with unrest, the government initially reduced the proposed VAT to 7.5% and later scrapped the initiative altogether.
But the government circulation that was issued at the time only stated that VAT has been withdrawn from private universities, engineering and medical colleges for the 2015-16 fiscal year; it had no mention whether the decision would brought back again for the following year.
“We hope history would not repeat again. If VAT is imposed again on educational institutions, we will take the same actions as before,” said Abdullah Kaosar from East West University, who participated during last year's demonstrations.
Mohiyan Haque, another private university student, expressed hopes that last year's “No VAT on Education” movement would continue to have a successful impact on this year's budget decisions as well.
“Although the demonstrations created traffic jams in the city, we had a non-violent and peaceful protest that was a success. We believe VAT will not be imposed on educational institutions,” said Nusrat Jahan, a student at Asia Pacific University.