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VAT on education scrapped

54Private university students return to campuses in cheerful rallies

The government yesterday scrapped the 7.5 per cent value-added tax (VAT) imposed on private universities and medical and engineering colleges following mass protests by students.
The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday.
The finance ministry later issued a press release, saying: “The government does not want to create any impediment to the educational institutions at any cost and hamper public life. Considering this point of view, the government has decided to withdraw the 7.5 per cent VAT imposed on private universities and medical and engineering colleges in the fiscal year 2015–16.”
“The government hopes the students and teachers will stop their movement and return to their institutions, and they will not create any scope that could hamper the progress of the country,” the release also said.
“Private university students receive education by spending huge amounts of money, but do not want to give additional 7.5 per cent VAT. For that, they have boycotted classes and are hampering public life by holding rallies in different places. They are giving (certain elements) the chance to create obstructions on the path of development,” it added.
The delighted students, however, laughed, danced, cheered and celebrated their victory, when news of the government’s decision to withdraw VAT from education reached them.
The irate students, who had taken up positions at different points on streets in the capital and elsewhere in the country since morning, burst into laughter when they heard that the Cabinet had decided to scrap the VAT on education.
They danced, hugged each another, flashed the ‘V’ sign, offered each other sweets, took selfies for posting on social media, and even gave flowers to law enforcement officials.
The students, who had gathered under the scorching sun, said their movement has been successful. They expressed their gratitude to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for cancelling VAT.
On the last day of the three-day ongoing students’ strike, the government scrapped the 7.5 per cent VAT, following the mass protests by private university students. Showing deference to the government’s move, the students also lifted their road blockade, enabling city residents to move around easily.
Since morning, the students of different universities had gathered at different points and blockaded the roads in the capital and in Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi, disrupting traffic movement.
The commuters heaved a sigh of relief after the road blockades were lifted at Uttara, Badda, Mirpur, Panthapath, Dhanmondi and Rampura in the capital, since they had suffered a great deal over the past couple of days.
The students said they would now return to their classes as the government has withdrawn VAT. Earlier, they had boycotted classes and exams. They left the roads and returned to their own campuses in cheerful processions.
The anti-VAT movement also drew criticism from different political parties, including some politicians of the government itself. Prominent personalities of the country also denounced the government’s decision to impose VAT on education.
The Association of Non-Government Universities of Bangladesh (ANUB) also hailed the government’s move, urging students to return to their classes.
ANUB secretary Mohammad Mosaddek Hussain told The Independent, “We hail the government’s move. We would urge the students to return to their classes and work for the development of the country.”
This is the second time that the government has backtracked from its decision to realise VAT from private universities. Earlier, in 2010, the government tried to impose a 4.5 per cent VAT on private universities, but was forced to withdraw the decision as a result of strong protests by students.
The private university students, organised under the banner of No Vat On Education, began their protests after finance minister AMA Muhith announced the imposition of 10 per cent VAT on private universities during the budget session in Parliament in June.
The VAT was then reduced to 7.5 per cent, following the request of the PM in July. But the students were firm on their demand that the VAT on education would have to be scrapped completely. They persisted with their programmes, including human chains and rallies, and submitted a memorandum to the PM, demanding withdrawal of VAT.
Their movement spread like wildfire on September 9, when hundreds of students blockaded the busy road at Rampura, to press for their demand. They came under police attack, leaving some 20 students of East West University injured.
Amidst the movement, the government and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) issued ambiguous statements, which also generated more confusion among the students and people.
During the budget session, the finance minister said the students of private universities would have to pay the VAT, but later he said the authorities of the private universities would do so. On the other hand, the NBR said the VAT is included in the existing tuition fees. It clarified that the students would not have to pay VAT, but the university authorities would pay it.
Some private universities—like East West and Bangladesh University—later announced exemption of VAT for certain period.
But nothing satisfied the students, who were adamant. On Thursday, they blockaded different important roads of the capital, disrupting the entire traffic system.
The number of students participating in the movement increased in the thousands, both in the capital and elsewhere in the country, on Sunday. They vowed to continue with the movement till their demands were met.
Finally, the students held a peaceful demonstration without road blockades, proving—once again—that any legitimate demand can be realised by organising peaceful protests.

Caption: Agitating students of private universities show the victory ‘V’ sign in jubilation in Dhanmondi area of the capital yesterday after the NBR, in the face of mass protests, announced to withdraw the 7.5 per cent VAT imposed on the tuition fees of private university students. Independent Photo