Universities

Why Students Worry About BCL Committees at Private Universities

During the college admission season of 2016, I was accepted into an engineering program at a public university outside of Dhaka. I was excited about it, but by the time I reached the gates of this university to complete my admission, that excitement faded and turned into fear.

A banner stretching the full height of the university’s main academic building caught my eye. It was a banner welcoming the newly elected leader of a university political organization. What was even more shocking about this was the fact that the chief in question was the head of the department I had to enroll in.

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It didn’t take long for me to do a 180 and see myself walk out of this university without being admitted. Later that year, I enrolled in an engineering program at a top private university in Dhaka. Costs were significantly higher there, but I took comfort in saying that at least such a policy would not fit into a private university, the policy I shunned earlier that year.

Like me, there are thousands of students who, despite having the chance to study at various public universities across the country, have to make the difficult choice not to simply because of the politics associated with these universities. Like me, they would rather spend almost ten times the amount needed to study at a public university and enroll in a private university than have to tolerate political chaos in public universities.

Unfortunately, this is no longer an option as a few days ago the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) announced the formal formation of BCL Committees in several of the best private universities in the country. Most students at these private universities have strongly criticized the decision, and they have good reason to do so.

In recent years, the BCL has earned a bad reputation as the student wing of the ruling party in the country. The group has repeatedly intimidated, harassed and often committed physical violence against those who shared opinions or views different from their own. The murder of Abrar Fahad, a student at BUET in 2019, is a reminder of how ruthless the group can be.

From forcing students out of their dorms to attacking them in public or in secret, BCL has done it all. Local news portals as well as the general public bear witness to the atrocities committed by the group. Private university students therefore have every right to be concerned about the infiltration of this group into their educational institutions.

But why now? What prompted the political group to turn to private universities?

One of the main reasons for this could be the fact that private university students have taken an active role in recent years in protesting against major injustices. Whether it was the 2015 No VAT on Education protests or the 2018 “Road Safety Protests”, this particular group of students almost always voiced their concerns. In addition to this, these students also protested against actions or decisions of their own universities which they unanimously recognized as unjustified.

The BCL is either eager to take these students under its wing to garner more support, or it is seeking to ensure that such protests do not break out in the near future, which can often run counter to policies and major and controversial decisions supported by the government. As the 2023 general elections approach, one can understand the BCL’s motivation to target new recruits from private universities.

By browsing the social media, you will realize the position of the BCL on these latest developments. According to the comments of many members and leaders of the organization, the presence of the BCL within these universities is essential to prevent the rise of militancy. These individuals associated with the group have even gone so far as to say that without their presence, these universities will produce students who will one day become terrorists.

Another reason cited repeatedly by the BCL for establishing its committees within these institutions is that other rival political parties already have student committees within the universities. So it makes sense that they set up their committees here as well.

In my four years at university, I have never seen any of the so-called rival groups hold a political rally or event at my university. BCL’s claim that these rival groups exist lacks evidence. In rebuttal, BCL will probably say that these rival groups will soon start their activities in the universities, for which they must be the first to establish their ideologies, which according to them reflect the true spirit of nationalism. .

As for students at these private universities, campus harassment and violence are not the only concerns. Many also fear the influence the political wing will have on their academics as well as various university policies. How long will it be before teachers and administrative staff are encouraged to side with these groups? What will happen when universities fail to control these student political organizations? And who knows how everyday academics might be affected because of all this?

What political groups like the BCL have to gain by infiltrating private universities, we will have to wait to find out. As of this writing, most private universities have yet to officially comment on the situation. BRAC University responded to student concerns. However, their response does not specify how they plan to handle the current situation and what steps they might take to prevent politics from interfering with the day-to-day operations of the university. It was a generic response to a situation that demands much more. You could even say it’s bland.

However, as students grow increasingly impatient and worried over time, universities need to respond to the situation and share concrete ideas on how they plan to handle the situation. Otherwise, their silence on the issue will only deepen the panic among the students and their parents.

Private universities in Bangladesh have a lot of problems. They are not the epitome of what a perfect educational institution should be. Despite this, hundreds and thousands of students still enroll in these institutions simply because they are (or were) free from politics. This freedom is in question at the moment, and if it is not implemented or supervised correctly, the situation is likely to get worse at some point.

For those of us who oppose the idea of ​​student politics entering private universities, we are likely to be branded anti-state, anti-government, or even terrorists. These political groups will do whatever it takes to turn the narrative in their favor. At this stage, either you are one of them or you are against them; There is no intermediate solution.

Faisal Bin Iqbal is a sub-editor at SHOUT.