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Commentary

It is hateful to see education as business commodity

By Editorial Desk
14th-Sep-2015       
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VAT is essentially a sales tax, which is placed on consumable private goods like burgers or restaurant meals. Education, on the other hand, is not just another normal goods or service – education is a nation building process, which should be accessible to all, without any bias with regard to the financial or other ability of their parents. It is very strongly a merit-based human quality – in that it confers benefits not just to the individual who partakes it but to society as well – so the entire nation benefits from an educated person.
It is knowledge that helps a person to change his own quality of life and also that of his nation. Higher education to be chosen for Value Added Tax (VAT) is a hateful way of looking at education. The Finance Minister is judging education as a taxable commercial commodity and not as value added to human quality. Perhaps, that is the reason why so many of our educated people see themselves as saleable commodity – without considering character or the human values of education.
It is those educated ones, who see themselves as saleable commodities, are the problems for the country. They are selfish and have no conscience or character.  
Almost 60 percent of students go to private universities today in Bangladesh, despite paying very high fees compared to the public universities. They do so not because they want or like to be economically burdened, even though they may have to take loans or teach to earn extra-incomes, but because they are fed up of session jams, arbitrary closures, the necessity of having political affiliations with a political party to get in, and other reasons which may not be so obvious about public universities.
Many students exist in the private universities who come from middle class families who struggle to make a living. Paying an additional Tk 15000 (or more) may mean that for many they would have to work harder or sacrifice meals or lower their standards of living to just get by. They don't have the privilege of belonging to families which have strong political or economic connections and whose children may comfortably afford to study in private universities or go abroad.
In no civilized country in the world does the government burdens supply of higher education with value added tax — or indeed education of any sort.
Education is encouraged for the benefit of the whole nation and it is subsidised one way or the other. Apart from anything else, it amounts to degrading education by treating it as a commercial commodity. In rich countries like America or England supply of education is exempted from VAT.
It has been stated by NBR that VAT would not have to be paid by the students but instead by the universities. This is simply a case of passing the buck — passing on the responsibility of one group to another. There is no guarantee that by doing so the universities would not raise their feeds in the future — as of yet there exist no mechanisms which regulate fees at the secondary or tertiary levels of education. Even if they don't — this could mean that they would have lesser funds to invest in their future developments and thus lower the quality of education for prospective students.
No nation commits hara kiri this way — we already spend a pitiful 0.3 percent of our GDP on tertiary education, when even our war torn neighbour Afghanistan spends almost 1 percent. The only way to increase the quality of our future citizens is by ensuring that they have access to world class infrastructure and faculty. It will be impossible for any private university to higher world class faculty or do developmental research on their own if they have to pay VAT at the rate of 7.5 percent every year. This would also mean that we would be unable to give our citizens the education to stay competitive in the modern world. Ultimately our economic growth and GDP would suffer, and lower our standard of living. There must be something seriously wrong in those who so readily treat education as a senseless business commodity.
We do not want our educated children to be business commodity. They should build themselves as proud human beings with proud human qualities.

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