Until a few months ago, Mohammad Ashuur, from Mogadishu, Somalia, thought his dream of studying abroad was over when he could not find a programme that he could afford in developed countries.
However, he learnt of Bangladesh and found that education was comparatively affordable here. Now, Ashuur is studying pharmacy in Daffodil International University, on his way to fulfilling his dream.
“After completing high school in Somalia, I decided to go abroad for higher education. I had almost given up hope of studying in European or American universities because of the huge costs, but then I learnt about Bangladesh from one of my friends studying here, and made a decisive choice to come here,” said Ashuur.
Abdul Hakim, another Somalian student, has been studying electrical, electronics and telecommunication engineering at Dhaka International University since 2016.
“A good number of African students have been studying in different universities in Bangladesh because of the high-quality, low-cost education system here,” Hakim told the Dhaka Tribune.
Over the years, Bangladesh has been a favourite destination for higher education for thousands of foreign nationals from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Students from developed countries, such as Australia, Canada, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Poland, the Netherlands, Turkey and the US also pursue higher education in Bangladesh, according to Bangladesh University Grants Commission (UGC).
Students from Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the UAE frequently attend public and private universities in Bangladesh as well.
According to the UGC Annual Report 2015, a total of 593 foreign students were studying in 18 of the country's 37 public universities in 2015, compared to 432 in 2014 and 326 in 2013.
Some 525 foreign students were studying in the public universities in 2012 and 210 in 2011.
On the other hand, 1,548 international students were studying in private universities in 2015, while the number was 1,643 in 2014, 1,612 in 2013, 1,642 in 2012, and 1,651 in 2011.
Quality education at an affordable cost
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, many foreign students said they chose Bangladesh for higher education because high quality education comes at reasonable costs here, compared to education in American or European universities which middle class families in Africa find too expensive.
“Education quality in Bangladesh is better than that in other countries since a high number of PhD holders teaches in the universities,” said Ayesha Aden Ali, a public health student in Daffodil International University. “Besides, the living cost in Bangladesh is cheaper than in in American or European cities.”
The university's assistant registrar, Md Maruf Chowdhury, said they maintained a high standard of education compared to universities in other developed countries, and this reputation had drawn foreign students.
“Our faculty members are highly qualified and trained; a number of them got their degrees from developed countries and have been teaching our students in line with American and European educational standards,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
A number of Somalian students attend different programmes in Daffodil International University |Collected from Facebook
A friendly environment
Foreign students are always overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendliness of Bangladeshis. Several African students said while they routinely face racism in the neighbouring India, in Bangladesh it is the opposite.
“Bangladeshi people know how to treat their guests with hospitality and friendly behaviour. People are very friendly and respectful,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, a foreign student in Daffodil International University. “When we visit our family and friends back home, we tell them stories of the hospitality of Bangladeshi people.”
Since Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country, many foreign students from other Muslim countries have found Bangladesh's culture and traditions very familiar. They said the communal festivals and religious harmony in the country serves as an attraction for them joining different events in their universities, as well as in their daily lives.
“Bangladeshi culture is vibrant and pleasant,” said Ayesha Aden Ali. “We love going to the cultural festivals, such as Pohela Boishakh. The different types of street food available here is also very delectable.”
Bangladesh offers a lot of options for entertainment as well; international students take part in sports and go to concerts, cinemas, museums, theatre.
Football is particularly popular among the foreign students.
“I love playing football. But here in Bangladesh, people love to play cricket more. I rarely have time to play because of my studies, but when I do, I like playing football with my friends,” said Abdul Razzak, another Somalian student in Daffodil International University.
“During the holidays, we go swimming, watch cinemas, or visit museums in Dhaka,” he added.
Bangladesh is an excellent tourism destination too, said Mohamed Shukri Hassan, a Somalian who recently visited Chittagong Hill Tracts and the southern part of the country at the invitation of his friends.
“Bangladesh has a lot of natural beauty, with many rivers, forests, mountains, and a vast bay. Its people are beautiful and cordial, which make me feel right at home,” he said.
The flip side
There are some issues that foreign students have to face in Bangladesh, however.
The language barrier is a major problem that most of the students have to cope with. Though their classes and exams are conducted in English, they find it difficult to communicate with others outside of their classrooms.
“We communicate with teachers and classmates in English, and we speak our native language during conversations amongst ourselves. I hope to be able to speak Bangla soon,” said Abdul Hakim.
Another issue is the lack of student dormitories. “Most public and private universities don't have dormitories for international students in Bangladesh. Most of us are currently living in rented flats or houses,” Hakim said.
Daffodil International University Assistant Registrar Maruf said most of the 350 foreign students enrolled at the university live in the flats nearby.
“The International Affairs Department in our university has managed to find a flat for 25 female foreign students at Indira Road,” he said.
UGC's initiatives for foreign students
The UGC has taken multiple initiatives to attract foreign students to public and private universities in Bangladesh, publishing a book titled “Universities of Bangladesh” and providing copies to different embassies and high commissions in the country.
It has also sent a list of public and private universities to the Chinese and Filipino embassies following their interest in sending their students to Bangladesh for higher education, said UGC Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan.
“Currently, there are around 3,000 foreign students admitted in different public and private universities, including medical and engineering institutes. Most of them are from the Saarc countries, and some other Asian and African nations,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We have asked the universities to provide them with necessary accommodation and other facilities. The UGC is ready to support them if they build international dormitories. We have also asked them to establish an international desk to address the concerns of foreign students,” he added.
Mannan further said the UGC had been working on expanding the range of Saarc scholarships to attract more students, all while maintaining an international standard of education.