Every year, thousands of Bangladeshi students travel to universities in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia for higher education. This year, all their well-laid plans have been thrown into disarray
In 2018, Sisir Mahanta, a Masters student of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), decided to go abroad to study further rather than find for a job here. He started trying out universities abroad for a second masters.
It took him a year and a half to receive responses from universities. On January 2020, he got an admission letter from a university that finally met his expectations. It was Kiel University, Germany.
He completed the primary steps of presenting relevant documents before them. He also had to take a bank loan to show he had the necessary financial solvency required by the university.
He was set to apply for his visa on April 6 but it was halted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The university still has not decided what will happen to him. They told him to join the winter session if he wanted to, but he does not know if that will even be possible because of the prevailing situation.
Now his future is uncertain and the interest on the loan has become a burden for his middle-class family.
Like Sisir, the dream of studying abroad for many students have been shattered due to Covid-19.
According to 2017 data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics, around 61,000 Bangladeshi students were studying abroad in at least 55 countries.
Sunrise Education Consultants deals with students who aspire to go abroad for higher studies. An official of the institution said every year around one lakh students fly abroad for higher studies.
They prefer going to the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany or New Zealand. Recently Malaysia and Singapore have also become their favoured destination.
The official said most of the students are withdrawing their files as the visa offices are closed and all their documents are on hold.
There is also a financial crisis. The universities are cancelling admissions in some cases, the official added.
Sabrina (alias) completed her A levels last August. She along with some of her friends received an admission letter from the University of Guelph, Canada.
While others left last September, she was left behind as she was denied a visa. There is no winter semester at the university and she had to wait another year.
Sadly, this year she did not even get the chance to apply for a visa.
She has heard that the university is going to consider this special situation and will let her start the semester through online classes.
"My friends who are already there had a hard time coping up with a new education system despite being there physically and having access to the teaching assistant. How am I going to manage it living in a totally different timeline?" she said.
The situation is worse in the case of Nabil (alias). He completed his graduation on EEE from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). He was a bright student and looked forward to pursuing higher studies on electromagnetic engineering.
He started applying to different universities in Canada and the USA for Masters in 2019.
His dreams came true at the beginning of this year when he got confirmation from the University of California, Davis, with a scholarship.
He sent them required papers and was mentally preparing to apply for a visa when coronavirus broke out around the world.
"Suddenly I received a mail that they cannot provide me with any kind of scholarship. They sent me an estimated cost. The amount is unreal and we cannot afford it," he said.
He said, "A reputed university of Canada had earlier said they would definitely give me a scholarship if I applied for PhD. But I enrolled for masters."
He said his dreams are shattered and, as a result, he has developed depression.
Nabila Sonar, another Bangladeshi student, was about to fly to Germany to join the Frankfurt University this March for their Master's programme in Advanced Architecture.
As she could not go to Germany because of Covid-19, the university has let her start the semester through online classes. She has been attending the classes since April.
"After completing my graduation from South East University I worked for a year to create a portfolio. I never imagined I would get admission to Frankfurt University with a concession in tuition fees. I never imagined it would come to a halt at such a point," she said.
Syed Manzoorul Islam, professor of University of Liberal Arts (ULAB), said the entire world is going through an economic crisis. As a result, the universities are also facing fund crises.
"They are now thinking before giving a scholarship to a foreign student. Many of our students used to look for scholarships as a teaching assistant or graduate assistant. With the rise of online classes, these posts are becoming obsolete," he said.
Professor Manzoorul Islam said the quality of education in the country is declining. So it's important for students to go abroad for higher studies so that they can share their knowledge with students here in future.
"I will suggest the students not lose hope. They can work on more publications and develop their skills as online classes worldwide will make information and knowledge more accessible than before. Hopefully, they will be able to study abroad as soon as the situation gets normal," he said.