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Bangladeshi forex reserves causing “messy” student payment issues

Bangladeshi students wanting to study in major destinations are having issues paying their tuition fees due to dwindling forex reserves, The PIE has learned. 

Forex reserves have been suffering in Bangladesh since the beginning of 2023. Photo: Pexels

The country's reserves according to IMF's BPM6 stand at just $24.7bn

The country has suffered heavily with its finances in recent months, with the forex exchange reserves reportedly falling to a seven-year low of $29.85bn in May. 

This followed a fall to $32.29bn in January 2023, then dropping to just over $30bn in April. 

The figure has since risen back up to over $31bn in June according to the central bank, but it also began posting its gross international reserve according to the IMF’s balance of payments manual, alongside the usual figure – this stands at just $24.7bn.

Shamim Ghani, sales and marketing director at SAMS Global, said the problem has been compounded by the volume of students leaving the country.

“The amount of students coming out of Bangladesh has always been a little bit muted when you compare it to India or Pakistan – it’s not a massive market in South Asia,” explained Shamim Ghani, sales and marketing director at SAMS Global, speaking with The PIE News.  

“Certainly in the last few years, the number of Bangladeshi students that have been coming out has been on the rise, as in tune with most of the markets.”

UNESCO data indicated that in 2016, the number of students leaving Bangladesh to study abroad stood at 33,139. In 2021, by contrast, it showed the number had shot up to 49,151 – triple what the figure was in 2007 at 15,700

“I think this [rise] is what’s triggered a bit of a panic by the central bank – there are the private banks in Bangladesh that most international students will want to use, banks like Standard Chartered, HSBC etc, rather than local banks.

“Now, these banks, the private ones, are basically saying that students can’t transfer their money, or there are delays in transferring money because those international banks also have links to one or two local banks,” explained Ghani. 

TCL Global’s Noor Hasan Mahmud, the agency’s country director for Bangladesh, confirmed that there had been issues surrounding fees. 

“In Bangladesh, there are those three types of fees that they have to pay to go to the UK, the tuition fee, the IHS fees, and the visa fee. 

“Right now, tuition fees are proving very difficult to make [up], because there is not enough reserve in Bangladeshi private banks.”

Ghani compared the situation to that of Nigeria’s, where devaluation of the Naira has seen students unable to meet fee deadlines amid their funds losing over 40% of their value.

“[Forex reserve falls] triggered a bit of a panic by the central bank”

“It’s a simplistic problem in Bangladesh. You have a student that’s ready to pay a deposit, going to the bank to make a deposit payment and they can’t,” Ghani added. 

“But what we’ve discovered is there are one or two local banks that are actually willing to to do transfers. SAMS in Bangladesh is currently trying to build relationships with those banks, because we’ve got students that we need to to get out of the country [for study], and need to get money out of the country.

“It’s just been an extremely messy scenario,” Ghani said.

Mahmud also said that there is a bank confirmed to be making payments – Premier Bank Limited – and students would need to open an account with the bank to be able to eventually make the payment through them. 

“Some students are also going out of Bangladesh and some are also using credit cards to pay the fees,” he added. 

“It’s doubly problematic because the delays could really impact on the rush to get students enrolled,” Ghani noted, citing again the similar issue in Nigeria bearing the same panic for students.

“It’s just been an extremely messy scenario”

In June, Bangladesh attempted to relieve the strangle on its reserves by floating the local currency, the Taka, after its IMF loan it was awarded in February failed to patch the ongoing issues. 

At the beginning of July, Reuters reported two banks in the country, Eastern and Sonali, would even be offering some trade transactions in Indian rupees, where the national reserve is extremely strong compared to its neighbour. 

Mahmud also said that despite UK IHS fees set to almost double for students in the coming months and visa fees to rise, there remains a big appetite for global study – which stakeholders said in October 2022 presented a “huge growth opportunity”.

“Students will need permission from the banks to be able to make a payment of more than £300 for the IHS fee – the visa fee at this time is not an issue, students can easily make that payment without permission.

“But even with the IHS going up, students will still pay the fee and want to go,” he concluded.

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