We all came here [a private university] with the hope that it is an apolitical institution, said a freshman from the American International University of Bangladesh, speaking of his reaction to learning that Bangladesh Chhatra League committees were formed to private universities.

“When we first came across the announcement on social media it instantly became more of a joke to us students than a real concern. I guess once classes reopen [on 11 September]We’ll see what happens.”

The AIUB student is one of thousands of students (and many faculty members and parents) across the country who were surprised and shocked to hear the Bangladesh Chhatra League announcement on social media that BCL committees have been formed in private universities. And then they fell into a well of worry.

There are reasons, in abundance, for their concern.

Private universities began to proliferate in the 1990s and currently there are over 100. Private university students actually make up the majority of undergraduate students in the country today. One of the main reasons for the growing study culture in private universities was the traffic jams of the 1970s and 1980s – a notorious feature of public university education in the country, brought about by frequent closures due to political unrest and violence.

In some cases, school years have been pushed back six to seven years, causing permanent damage to the education and career prospects of thousands of students. Although these backlogs have since diminished, the presence of student organizations active in public universities directly linked to national political parties means that such threats are still looming.

Private universities have therefore been a relief for students and parents alike. Students could graduate on time, and more importantly, campuses remained essentially free of student politics, albeit at a much higher cost than public institutions. Parents, on the other hand, need not worry about their children becoming involved in many of the nefarious activities that student politics have become associated with over the years.

However, on September 2, Zahid Hossen Parvez, president of the private university unit Shammilito of the BCL, published an announcement, on his personal Facebook account, concerning the formation of new committees in several private universities, including, but not s limited to, Brac University (BracU), North-South University (NSU), AIUB and East-West University (EWU).

The sudden announcement puzzled university authorities, teachers and of course students; and raised serious concerns.

A similar incident happened after the attack on Holey Artisan in 2016, when the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) announced the decision to form committees in all private universities to “fight against militancy”.

In an emergency meeting held on July 15, 2016, the then BCL President, Saifur Rahman Sohag said, “Wherever there is a campus, there will be a Chhatra League committee. ” At the time, the university authorities, as well as the students, vehemently opposed this decision and, ultimately, the committees were never formed.

Also this time, some university authorities have already announced their intention to have BCL committees on their campuses.

ULAB said: “In accordance with clause 9 (5) of the Private Universities Act, we are required to provide protection for the travel, study and safety of life of students at the university. However, Given the realities of student politics in Bangladesh, we believe that the security conditions set out in the Private Universities Act will be compromised if partisan political activities are permitted on campus.”

In a similar statement given by the authority of the NSU, they stated that “The NSU, a non-political, non-racial, non-profit institution, aspires to be a class-leading teaching, learning, and research organization. world, and does not permit any political activity within campus Members of the NSU community, however, are free to express their political views outside of campus.

Does not correspond to the philosophy of private universities

Seuty Sabur, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Brac, believes that there is no possibility of forming political parties in its university structure.

“The directive we received – and I can’t tell you much beyond that – says that if a student wants to join a political party, it’s their personal choice. But the university is a space without politics. [BCL forming committees in private universities] does not go with the [private universities’] ethical in any way,” she said.

She also said that the university did not want to go down this road because structurally there was no possibility of this happening.

“If that [BCL committees] were to be included, then a structure must be rebuilt. We don’t even have student unions. At most, we have student clubs, which are generally based on common interests. Political parties and clubs are two very different things.”

Farah Dolon, a former student from the East West who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Hyderabad, India, said: “My first response to the news was that the history of student politics in this country is glorious, and sometimes , it was necessary. However, over time, it has changed drastically. In 2022, there is no point or advantage in making comparisons or decisions based on what student politics represented in the past. This does not hold up.

Parents, on the other hand, fear that their children will be exposed to violence. Wishing to remain anonymous, a parent whose youngest son goes to NSU said: “It’s normal for me to worry about my child’s safety. Even in famous institutions like Buet, student politics leads to terrible things. I’m already tense. put my kids in private colleges so they can stay away from the negativity surrounding student politics.”

“Now where will they go? »

Following the BCL announcement, it was reported that Bangladesh Chhatra Dal is also planning to form committees for private universities.

An NSU graduate rightly said that if one political party is allowed to have its committee, another will want to do the same, then maybe another, and things could go downhill from there.

“Now it’s BCL, so maybe Shibir wants to do the same, and what will happen then?”

He added, requesting anonymity, “In the context of student politics in our country, it’s definitely a bad decision (forming BCL committees). It’s just going to create a toxic environment for students.”

The Bangladesh Chhatra League, despite its heroic role in certain periods of Bangladeshi history, has certainly earned a notorious reputation, especially when its parent organization is in government.

The latter is also true of Bangladesh Chhatra Dal, the student wing of the BNP, while even the uttering of the name of the now-banned Islami Chhatra Shibir (student wing of the Bangladesh Jamaat e Islami) has struck fear not only in the hearts of students, but also in that of the country. in general.

Murders, rapes, indecent assaults, terrorist attacks, attacks on teachers, manipulation of grades, violence when obtaining a tender for construction projects – nothing was or was still in the above the scope of student politics in Bangladesh.

“It was of course student politics that cost Abrar Fahad his life at Buet, the most prestigious university in the country,” said another East West University alumnus, on condition of anonymity.

However, not all students think this is necessarily a bad thing. Md Iqram Hossain is a graduate in Media Studies and Journalism from ULAB and he believes that through the practice of student politics, the nation will have more educated leaders.

“If students can engage closely with politicians, see how they work, that will be a promising thing.”

Time will tell what will become of this announcement. But one thing seems clear, the majority of stakeholders associated with private universities do not support the BCL’s decision to form committees in private universities.

They want these institutions to continue to be apolitical.

“We decide what happens inside our campus”

Illustration: TBS


Illustration: TBS

We do not plan to have any Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) committees at our university at this time. Establishing a formal political organization like this is actually a violation of our code of conduct. Other private universities are also quite unified in their decision.

We decide what happens inside our campus, we have our board of directors, our faculty members. It’s another thing if something happens outside without our knowledge. Even then, our name or logo cannot be used externally without our approval.

Although internally everyone is aware, we will soon publish a notice (the notice has been published since the interview was taken) like NSU, Brac and other universities, saying that we are operating as an institution non-political, non-profit educational institution for the past 18 years and our priority is to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for our students.

The Minister of Education said that schools will decide whether BCL committees will be formed or not, and we agree with her, we think that is a very positive thing.

Of course, as active citizens of the country, students must learn about politics, but this political awareness can be created in the environment of our university. So many students study at private universities and we are not going to do anything to compromise their safety.

I remember that in 2017, all the vice-chancellors of the universities, as well as the members and teachers of the board of directors (board of directors), students, etc. were invited to a program organized to raise awareness of extremism.

Ministers and a large number of security officials were also present. During the broadcast, the then BCL leader suddenly announced that the incident of Holey Artisan happened because they were not present in private universities! It was a mistake to make such a general statement because of the misbehavior of some students.

At ULAB, we are convinced that nothing untoward will happen. No one wants this to happen, not alumni, parents and even the media. What good changes will the BCL committees bring to our university that we cannot bring to our students otherwise?

As told to The Business Standard over the phone.