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About 60,000 thousand young Bangladeshis are studying abroad as the world is battling the pandemic COVID-19. Talking to students in India, Malaysia, Australia, Wales, Canada and the USA, Nahid Riyasad writes about their experiences in such time of unprecedented crisis

THE ongoing pandemic has affected every possible thread in every possible fabric of the globalised world. Students across the globe are facing arrays of problems. Tertiary level students are adapting to online channels and new methods of education. Private university students have to bear the tuition fees when, according to a recent report, nearly one third of the country’s population have experienced an economic downward mobility.

At present, there are 57,675 Bangladeshi active students in 58 countries worldwide, according to a UNESCO website. In the last decade, the number have nearly tripled with 21,736 students in 2010. This means foreign universities are increasingly becoming a desirable choice for many Bangladeshi students. So, how are they doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

New Age Youth talked to a number of Bangladeshi students in foreign universities. They have talked about how are they managing the current crisis, adopting to online education, job cuts, tuition fee, survival and living far away from friends and families.

Malaysia is the first choice for Bangladeshi students with more than 20,000 Bangladeshis pursuing their education in this southeast Asian country. The representative of Bangladeshi Student Organisation Malaysia sources said that due to the authorities’ movement control measures to curb the spread of the virus, most of the outdoor facilities including restaurants are shut. This is creating a sense of anxiety among many students especially among the freshers.

Bangladeshi students do not qualify for the stimulus packages announced by the Malaysian government, however, a number of university authorities arranging meals free of cost for their dormitory students and a few are distributing monthly allowance.

The BSOM University Putra Malaysia unit formed an online platform of knowledge sharing. In this platform, Bangladeshi students can communicate with each other and can learn about health safety, meditation and yoga.

At the moment, International Islami University Malaysia has nearly 500 Bangladeshi students. Muhammad Saifullah, a students of business studies told New Age Youth that the university authorities are offering three meals to the students daily.

Then, there are more than 1500 Bangladeshi students in India. New Age Youth talked to Abdullah al Mamun, a post-graduate student of comparative literature in Jadavpur University. He said that at least three Bangladeshi students, who were self-financing their studies have already returned home due to the uncertainties.

Foreign students in destination countries do not get a lot of opportunities for jobs so most of them have to rely either on scholarship or the money brought from home, he said. Mamun also mentioned that no one from the Bangladesh embassy have contacted them after the COVID-19 crisis unfolded.

Akramul Zahid is a post-graduate student of engineering faculty at a university in Essen, Germany. He said, ‘There are around 50 Bangladeshi students here. We used to play cricket in a nearby field but the authorities told us not to gather. So we are more or less confined at our homes, with income source completely shut. However, as the education here is free of cost, the burden of tuitions fees is not on us.’

The scenario is not same in other countries. For example, Australia which is an excellent option for students interested in business studies, but tuition fees are very high. Nonetheless, there are nearly 5000 Bangladeshi students currently studying in the oceanic country.

Faysal Himel, a post-graduate student in information technology at Australian Catholic University said, ‘During our visa process, as part of a proof of economic solvency, we have showed that a consolidated amount for our two year living and education expenses is covered. Therefore, we do not have much to ask to the government or the universities. In this scenario, the students who have lost jobs are facing difficulties.’

About the students’ survival, he said, ‘Bangladeshi communities are coming forward and helping Bangladeshi students with essential supplies. Bangladeshi student associations are also trying to help their members.’

‘I have lost my regular job at a restaurant but as I have a car, I nailed a delivery job but many of my peers could not arrange that. As a result, some of them have to bring money from home for their survival,’ Himel added.

Another Bangladeshi student of climate change there, expressed her deep concern about the tuition fees of the upcoming semesters. ‘This is not only about surviving, if you survive, you have to think about the tuition fees and living expenses for the upcoming semesters. I am still figuring out how to pay my next month’s house rent,’ she said.

Seeking anonymity, a recent graduate of business management from a university in Auckland, echoed the same. In the case of New Zealand, which has shown excellent success in handling the COVID-19 crisis, many Bangladeshi students have to bring money from their home or take help from relatives living there.

‘Most of the students do not have such luxury of relatives or financing from home and they are the most vulnerable group. I know a few of them who have already left the country for home, leaving their investment of time and money, and some are preparing to leave,’ she said.

The business graduate informed that Bangladeshi students have tried a number of times through different channels to contact the Bangladesh embassy but every attempt went in vain as they did not get any response from the authorities.

There are more than 7000 Bangladeshi students in the USA, a country that has already experienced over 100,000 deaths with more than two million positive COVID-19 patients. Rupack Halder is a doctorate student at Missouri University of Science and Technology said, ‘As a Phd student, my studies are fully funded, so I do not have to worry about the tuition fees. My university is also taking different steps to keep us safe from the deadly virus. Also, they are prioratising the requirements of the undergraduate students as many of them are very young and at crucial juncture of their academic life,’ Rupack said.

The experience is somewhat different for Shatil Alam, a recent graduate from The University of Mississippi. He told New Age Youth, ‘The students who lost their jobs are the worst hit and they cannot go back to their families because of the suspended air communication for months. I know a lot of them who are borrowing money from their peers.’

‘As we have to pay the rents nonetheless so the only way we can cut our expenses short is food. I know a number of them who are rationing their food to pay other essentials,’ Shatil added.  

He later mentioned that Bangladesh embassy did not make any contact with any of the students in his knowledge.

A student of ocean sciences at Bangor University of North Wales, England, Rupa Tasnim Zaman is also stuck at her home with no job. ‘I came here with partial scholarship, so I have to manage a portion of my tuition fees but there are no jobs at this moment. I had to bring money from my home to pay for the rent and foods.’

Studying in the University of Manitoba, Canada, Ritu Onwayee told New Age Youth that the students with no scholarship or jobs are struggling. ‘Canadian governments different plans are also helping international students but may do not meet the criteria. The embassy also did not contact any of the students,’ he said.

Ritu also added that even though there is no reduction in tuition fees, the university is keeping contact with the students online and walked them through the procedures of online examinations and other supports.

Drawing from the experiences of Bangladeshi students abroad, it seems they are faced with three particular problems during the pandemic COVID-19. The first, those who are without scholarship have to manage their tuition fees by working or bring money from home. Students in these groups are in severe economic hardship. Some have returned due to their financial constraints. The second, many of them are struggling to cover everyday expenses of rent and food. Finally, being far away from family and friends, in this time of crisis, its taking a psychological toll on them.

Bangladesh embassies in destination countries could play a role in improving the student’s academic experience during the epidemic outbreak. It should consider reaching out to students’ community at least to assure that they are not alone in this time of crisis. Otherwise, this will remain as an example of government’s failure to support its young citizen’s abroad.

The outbreak situation is improving in many destination countries. Students read this as a glimmer of hope.

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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