Indeed, the Global Higher Ed market in Bangladesh seems trivial. OECD reported that it sent 30,000 students abroad in 2011 (dwarfed by China's 729,000, India's 223,000 and even Korea's 139,000). However, this is more a paradigm problem as Global Higher Ed is predominantly seen as students from Global South coming to study in OECD. Students from Bangladesh goes to more diverse destinations, with only 69% going to OECD countries (compared to China's 85%, India's 90% and Korea's 96%), which confounds Global Higher Ed observers. Besides, Bangladeshi students will often stay inside Bangladeshi diaspora in different countries, and the identities get mixed up. Once one gets under the reported data, it is apparent that no one really knows how many Bangadeshi students study in India alone. Similarly, Bangladeshi students going to Malaysia, China, Cyprus, Iran and now Mauritius is a largely unreported trend.
However, the real opportunity of Bangladesh is not about its past but about its future. It has managed to build some very impressive schools and built a large upwardly mobile English speaking democratic middle class in the space of a generation. Middle class Bangladeshi students born after 1990 is so strikingly different from those born before that it should attract research. They are more global than the neighbouring Indians, more entrepreneurial and often has a stronger diasporan network to work with. We lose this perspective when we try to see the world through the usual religion-based lens, but Bangladesh is truly the forgotten country for Global Higher Ed enterprises.
Indeed, I say this because of my first hand experience of the country: I have lived there for two years, built an education business spanning the whole country that served more than 10,000 students, and still has many friends and business associates there. I also taught a number of Bangladeshi students over the years in London, and their enterprise, commitment and ability to deal with the odds never failed to impress. But I also say this for another reason: Because that stint in Bangladesh, where I interacted closely with the upwardly mobile Middle Classes and the social elites, taught me to be global. Unlike India, where the elite is beholden to the West, the World in Bangladesh is truly varied place. The many influences and contours of globalisation, Australian commerce competing with American commerce, Chinese influence jostling with Indian, Japanese scholars talking alongside someone from Iran, is perhaps more visible in Bangladesh than in India. In that sense, Bangladesh may represent a bigger opportunity for some global institutions than its bigger neighbour does.