Bangladesh’s private universities call for reviewing VAT

Students call strike from tomorrow

A day after a massive protest by students over 7.5 percent VAT on private universities, the university authorities yesterday called upon the government to reconsider the issue.

Speaking at a press conference in the capital’s Gulshan Club in the evening, leaders of Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh (APUB) said they now left the ball in the government’s court.

“We request the government to reconsider the issue. We also hope that the prime minister would have a rethink,” said APUB chairman Sheikh Kabir Hossain.

He, however, stated that the VAT was not imposed on students.

Earlier in the day, the association leaders held a meeting about the Value Added Tax.

Meanwhile, two groups of students yesterday declared separate protest programmes demanding withdrawal of VAT on private universities. A group announced that it will enforce a three-day strike from today at all private educational institutions across the country while the other group said they will stage an indefinite sit-in on private university campuses from tomorrow.

Thousands of students staged daylong protests in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country on Thursday protesting the VAT on private universities. The National Board of Revenue (NBR) in a circular on the same day said the VAT is payable by the private university authorities, not by students.

Criticising the NBR circular, APUB chief Kabir said the revenue authority should have thought before issuing the notice.

Since the universities are run by trustee boards, any tax or VAT is not applicable to them, he added.

“Now the government will consider whether the trustee boards will or should pay the VAT. How the trustee boards could pay the VAT even though they are not consumers?” questioned Kabir.

The government would need to change the private university act if it wanted to the universities to pay the VAT, he noted.

FRESH PROGRAMMES

Private university students were apparently divided over the protest as they announced two agitation programmes yesterday while a group of students under the banner of Private University Students’ Welfare Association in a press conference said they will retreat from the movement.

Stamford University students under the banner of “No VAT on Education” declared the three-day strike at all private educational institutions across the country.

“The government must withdraw the VAT on tuition fees immediately,” said Jotirmoy Chakraborty on behalf of the platform at a press briefing at Stamford University’s Dhanmondi campus.

Addressing another press conference in the city’s Aftab Nagar, Salauddin Mithu of East West University said they will stage indefinite sit-ins on private university campuses across the country from tomorrow.

“The government is telling that the university authorities, not the students, will have to pay the VAT on tuition fees. We are rejecting the government’s proposal,” he added.

“We will continue with the movement until all kinds of VAT on education are withdrawn.”

He blamed the police for launching an attack on them on Wednesday and demanded punishment for the attackers.

EDUCATIONISTS OPPOSE VAT

Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam of Dhaka University said the imposition of VAT on tuition fees is completely illogical and contradictory to the government’s policies.

“It goes against the philosophy of the National Education Policy which considers education as a right of people, not a product. But here [by levying VAT] it is being regarded as a product,” he mentioned.

The government, he noted, has also been saying that private universities are non-profitable organisations. “So how could it impose VAT on private universities if it labels them non-profitable?”

If the government thinks that private universities are making huge money, it should bring them under the tax net, argued Manzoorul.

A lot of students from lower and middle-income families have been studying at private universities, with their parents spending their hard-earned money for education, said the renowned litterateur.

“They are already spending a huge sum of money. If they are to pay the VAT, it would be the last straw to break the camel’s back.”

He warned that the move would have a negative impact on girls’ education. “I know there are families which will send their daughters to colleges instead of private universities to catch up with the reality. This contradicts the prime minister’s directives regarding girls’ education.”

Prof Nazrul Islam, former chairman of University Grants Commission, echoes the views of Manzoorul.

“It’s not like that only children from affluent families attend private universities. There are many students from middle-income families too,” he said.

“These students are overburdened with tuition and other fees. If the VAT is imposed on them, it will be another burden.”

Nazrul feared that even if the students are exempted from VAT, the universities might increase other fees in some pretext.

The then government in 2010 had imposed a 4.5 percent VAT on tuition fees of private universities, which triggered a similar uproar among students who took to the streets. The government finally had to withdraw the decision in July following the students’ demonstrations.

Source: The Daily Star

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