According to HESA statistics, Bangladesh has become one of the fastest growing source markets for the UK higher education sector, increasing by 91% between the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years, with 12,700 students enrolled in British universities.
Despite this growth there are still many misconceptions about the country with institutions underinvesting in a market with such potential.
Legacy concerns about visa refusals have kept many institutions away and a lack of foundation pathways has severely inhibited undergraduate numbers.
For those institutions who have been proactive in the country however, it has played an important role in diversifying student populations on campus and has paid long-term dividends.
Last year, Bangladesh ranked as the sixth largest student recruitment market for the UK.
Samual Jackson-Royle, director of international operations and admissions at Bangor University speaks to The PIE, saying “Bangladesh has a young population and a growing middle class, making it a market of potential growth for all institutions”.
“The key for [Bangor University] and an area of investment has been working to understand where we as an institution can meet the needs of these students through specific additional skills or qualifications alongside the degree or through support in finding employment opportunities post-graduation.”
On the world stage, the country is also a key differential for UK education as it doesn’t feature in the top 10 source markets for either the US, Canada or Australia.
The latter has seen growing success from other South Asian countries such as Nepal and Pakistan who have become key growth enablers since the pandemic, and will be aiming to target similar success from Bangladesh.
As the eighth most populated country in the world with an estimated 170 million people, the north-eastern region is considered an emerging powerhouse in South Asia and the potential is clear.
The buoyant garment manufacturing industry has driven steady growth in the economy and middle-class income, with some surprising trends that make it stand out.
A lower population growth rate than both India and Pakistan, means its per capita income is actually growing faster than both larger countries.
A new bilateral agreement that came into force in July 2023 with neighbouring India, will allow direct cross-border trading in rupees. An initiative that could ease pressure on foreign currency reserves and stabilise fluctuating exchange rates that hamper student mobility.
Regulated financial flows between Bangladesh and India may also encourage increased support from university recruitment operations already based in India.
Bangladesh also has a strong cultural agenda to support the education of women in society, having held a female prime minister in office since 2009.
The country also has a higher than average propensity for digital transactions compared to the South Asian average.
Zahirul Islam, the Bangladeshi co-founder of AHZ Associates, a professional agency which provides student counselling services across the world for those interested in studying in the UK, explains the growing financial strength of the country and its positive impact on student mobility.
“In recent years, the Bangladesh economy has grown by 6.4%, which is higher than India. With this growth [we are seeing] a new group of applicants and parents coming forward to invest in their children’s future,” Islam explains.
“A lot of this risk is outdated and misunderstood”
“In Bangladesh lies a key and often untapped recruitment market for UK institutions. As the economy grows, people develop and we are proud to see continued strength on the world stage.”
Bangladesh’s colonial past and membership of The Commonwealth means there is an inextricable historical link to Britain that explains the higher demand for UK education specifically.
The University of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s largest public research university was purportedly modelled on the University of Oxford, and the northern city of Sylhet is often referred to as a ‘second London’, due to the thousands of families from the region that chose to migrate to Britain during the 1950s.
Much like New South Wales’s link to Nepal, the diaspora support of Bangladeshi communities living in Britain is a central factor to the successful recruitment of students to the country.
In 2022 student visa approval rates for Bangladeshi students applying to the UK were 98%, equal to India and higher than both Pakistan (95%) and Nigeria (95%), a statistic that will surprise many.
Islam explains however, that there remains caution among university admissions teams as they scrutinise Bangladeshi students as genuine applicants. “The UK has a long history with Bangladesh and yet only a few universities understand and see its real potential,” he notes.
“Universities are often concerned about the idea of risk in Bangladesh but we [AHZ Associates] have been working there for more than a decade and believe that a lot of this risk is outdated and misunderstood.
“Bangladeshi students see the UK as part of their history and welcome the opportunity to study there. These are genuine, talented students that we are proud to support.”