The government is dilly-dallying over a UGC proposal to introduce free internet packages for university students at a time when many pupils are suffering due to the increasing cost of mobile data packages.
Students who live in villages and who don’t have broadband connections are completely depended on the mobile internet to connect the online classes.
The University Grants Commission in late June proposed that the government introduce free internet packages for university students to ease their pursuit of online education.
On June 15, the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh in a letter to Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar demanded special internet packages for private university students at an affordable price.
UGC acting secretary Ferdous Zaman estimated that about 10 lakh out of 39 lakh tertiary level students are facing difficulties in gaining access to online education due to the expense of internet.
“Students who are living in villages and remote areas are the worst sufferers. We are waiting for the government’s decision regarding the free internet packages,” he said.
The UGC is preparing a list of public university students who are in need of financial assistance to buy smartphones, Ferdous said, adding that it was being prepared based on the lists forwarded by universities.
Education of university students across the country has been affected due to the pandemic as they cannot attend in-person classes since all the institutions were closed on March 17 to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection.
These institutions will remain closed till October 3.
As the universities are closed for a long time, students are facing immense academic losses. Many are fearing to face session jam if the situation continues for a few more months. The UGC has urged all universities to go for online classes to minimise the loss of the students.
Currently, private universities and most of the public universities are offering online classes.
Most of the major public universities are conducting online classes with only about half of the students as the rest cannot attend classes either due to poor internet coverage in their areas or their lack of access to the digital device.
The speed of mobile internet connection, while moderate in urban areas, is quite poor in most rural locations, where broadband providers have no presence.
Moreover, the additional Value Added Tax (VAT) on internet use has further increased the cost of the internet.
According to telecom insiders, students who used to pay Tk 1,000 for internet will now have to pay TK 1,300-Tk1,400 for the same usage.
Vice-chancellors of most public universities demanded free internet packages for their students at a meeting with the University Grants Commission on June 25.
Five days later, the UGC, in a letter to the education ministry, urged the government to introduce free internet packages for university students.
The regulatory body also sought grants or soft loans for students who would need to buy smartphones to get access to online classes, according to UGC Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah.
Copies of the letter were sent to the posts and telecommunications division and the ICT division.
On July 6, Education Minister Dipu Moni said, “Many educational institutions are conducting online academic activities due to the pandemic, but it has become difficult for many students to bear the internet expenses.”
“Negotiations are on with the mobile operators so that they consider providing free internet services or low-cost internet packages for students,” she said, while attending a webinar organised by the ruling Awami League.
Education ministry officials said they were working on the issue.
“We are working on how students can easily get digital device and internet at the lowest price. We hope that we will be able to update the details regarding the matter during the first week of September,” Dipu Moni said on Thursday.