Overseas education: An unnoticed channel of money laundering

Published : Tuesday, 6 December, 2022 at 12:00 AM

As we are already in the grip of a worldwide economic downturn, the problem of our diminishing reserves and money laundering has dominated the news in recent months. While several studies have been published on various methods of money laundering, a word used to describe the transfer of funds to foreign countries, one area has gone unnoticed. Every year, a large number of Bangladeshi students opt to study abroad and the majority of them come from wealthy households. A large amount of money is transferred to foreign nations as a result of this large number of students, as their families invest to settle their children abroad and focus on establishing assets on foreign soils.As a result, we must concentrate our efforts in this area to protect against money laundering as well as brain drain.

Every student has personal reasons for pursuing higher education overseas, particularly in developed countries. Students migrate for a variety of reasons, including unemployment and job limitations, low educational quality, corruption, discrimination, and job satisfaction, the country’s political status, an unpleasant urban environment, social insecurity, societal conservatism etc. Few of them have different personal factors like education environment, family issue etc. According to UNESCO’s 2022 ‘Global Flow of Tertiary Level Students’ report, 49,151 Bangladeshi students moved abroad for higher education in 2021.According to BB statistics, $153.1 million was sent abroad for higher education purposes in July-September 2022-23, compared to $98.8 million in the same time in 2021-22.

Foreign missions in Dhaka have reported that a growing number of students who have passed the Higher Secondary Certificate exams are squeezing into their offices to apply for visas to pursue higher education. The number of Bangladeshi students in US universities and colleges increased by 23.3% during the 2021-22 academic year compared to the previous year, indicating an increase in educational migration to the US. The United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and India are among the most popular locations, but in recent years, there has been a constant demand for certain renowned colleges in Asian countries such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and China.

A significant portion of migratory students do not return home after completing their studies since the host countries offer greater career possibilities, resident permits, and a superior quality of life. As fertility rates fall and populations begin to shrink in many Western countries, experts believe these countries are attempting to alleviate labor shortages through educated migration. On the other side, high unemployment in Bangladesh encourages young people to take advantage of expanding prospects for educational migration. The migrated students also take their spouse and parents abroad at different points.

Even though successful migrants frequently invest back in their home country, bring back know-how, and send remittances, experts say ‘brain drain’ from poor countries is still a legitimate concern, and when education migration is prevalent in a developing country, there may be some negative repercussions that can affect the economy. On average, 40% to 50% of each batch of students at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), the country’s leading engineering university, move abroad and rarely return. ‘Brain drain’ is a direct result of educational migration, which has an impact on the country’s future, but it is not the only loss that Bangladesh is experiencing.

Despite the fact that there is a paucity of educational opportunities in Bangladesh, many students from other countries come to study here. According to the University Grants Commission, the nation’s higher education regulatory authority, Bangladesh has seen a progressive increase in international enrollment and though we can actually accommodate more of our own students, many students are moving abroad for higher education.

If we ask anyone who the wealthiest people in Bangladesh are, they will say businessmen, politicians, and public servants. It is true that the children of practically all of our country’s politicians, public workers, and heavyweight businessmen study overseas. Better educational opportunities are not the most important element here as there is no shortage of educational opportunities for the children of these privileged classes within the country.

When a student from an affluent family chooses to pursue a foreign education, a large sum of money is sent abroad to cover his tuition and living expenses. Because the majority of these wealthy families wish to relocate their children abroad, they continue to send money to their offspring, even by illicit routes, to purchase real estate and vehicles. They even live a pretty affluent lifestyle there because their parents continue to send money over the years. These students frequently seek permanent residency based on their assets in the respective foreign countries. Huge sums of money are laundered in this manner from Bangladesh, as the majority of this money is ‘black money.’

Not only the children of wealthy families but also those from lower-middle class families, working in both public and private sector, often opt to study abroad. Few of them receive full scholarships but most of them are financed by their parents. The parents usually control the education of their children till the secondary level. But after that, the students mostly take their own decisions and as they find the quality of education inside the country not so satisfactory along with many adverse social factors, they opt to study abroad. As the parents of these families are not affluent enough, they have to take shelter of corruption. These families even sell their properties to transfer the money to the foreign countries. Most of this huge amount of money is transferred through illegal channels like ‘hundi’.

Due to the country’s present US dollar crisis, almost all banks have halted establishing new files for students planning to study abroad and transfer tuition fees and other expenses. Unfortunately, large sums of money are being laundered from Bangladesh under the pretext of education. Wealthy families are constantly laundering wealth to their offspring in foreign nations, which is why communities like ‘Begum Para’ are being built on foreign soil with money that has been illegally laundered from our country. While we are looking at the traditional money laundering methods, this favorite laundering channel of affluent persons sometimes goes unreported.
Furthermore, we frequently discuss the quality of education in our country. However, if the children of politicians, top businesses, and public workers study overseas, no one will be credible in advocating for the betterment of our educational system. Ordinary people cannot force the continual improvements. Only if the offspring of these powerful groups seek education within the country, the situation will improve and everyone will benefit. Especially during this era of reserve crisis and economic depression, the government should place a greater emphasis on money laundering in the name of education, as this could provide amazing results.

Our government should also focus on the subject the students are choosing to study abroad. If the subject is not relevant for us nationally, the student should not be allowed. Many Bangladeshi students choose silly subjects to study abroad and they often have to earn their livelihoods with odd jobs even after passing. Choosing a wrong subject will help neither at home nor at abroad.

Those, who study abroad, must have some commitment to the country. The unskilled workers are sending huge remittance but the educated class is only taking from the country. The parents should teach the concept of patriotism to their children. If they hold patriotism inside they will give something back to the country as they should invest back the amount they have taken from here in some form like; helping a relative, investing in business, contributing in social and cultural cause etc. Though there is no legal binding students from many countries contribute significantly to their home country but we have no such practice.

We hope that the government and related agencies will take money laundering through education seriously, as it is harming not only our economy but also our future and education. All children of politicians, elite businessmen, and public workers should pursue education inside the country and the affluent should finance underprivileged students as that will benefit the country. We are not opposed to obtaining international education, but the national interest must always come first.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela

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