PM on students’ rights
Student Action Committee led Students’ Solidarity March on Friday during which they put up charter of demand regarding their educational career. The major demands included the restoration of Higher Education Commission grant to both public sector and private sector universities; allocation of 5 percent of the gross domestic product for the promotion of higher education; end to layoff process of in-service faculty members; nationalization of all education institutions to bring down the unaffordable cost of education; giving say to Students’ Committee in investigation of cases of sexual harassment of students; and removal of security forces offices from campuses.
Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting, Firduos Asiq Awan said in a twitter message that Prime Minister has directed federal and provincial governments to work out a comprehensive strategy for speedy resolution of students’ problems and protection of their rights. All the demands presented by the Students’ Action Committee are genuine except closing of police office and presence of police to perform security duty in campuses of government universities. The reign of vendetta the students student union affiliated to a religious-political party ran in Punjab University Lahore and Quid-i-Azam University and its violent clashes with other students unions last year justify the presences of police offices in the campuses of public sector universities. Moreover, the overall security situation also makes it necessary.
The suspension of yearly grant from Higher Education Commission (HEC) has created financial crisis in the institutions of higher education, particularly government universities, compelling the managements to acquire bank loans at exorbitant rate of interest and increase tuition fee for student which is already on high side. It is true that in the past HEC grants were spent more on the perks and privileges of professorial lot and construction of new buildings. From the grant money, not a single penny was spent on the instrumentation of science labs, purchase of reference books and subscription of top notch international research journals. But judicious use of HEC grants could have been ensured through regular monitoring and strict post-audit of the expenditures.
The recently started layoff process of academia is the direct impact of squeezed grants or even no grants from the provincial governments. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa government had imposed ban on fresh recruitment in public sector universities few months ago to preempt any demand for government grant. These institutions had not faced acute financial crunch before devolution to provinces under 18th Amendment. The transfer of administrative and legal control to provinces was nothing but a political gimmick at cost of the students who belong to poor and middle class families.
The demand for allocating 5 percent of GDP reflect students’ insight in the importance of knowledge economy for the prosperity of the nation, keen interest in the acquisition of education compatible with contemporary global challenges and enhancing capabilities to compete against the students other South Asian countries. The ruling political elite must appreciate their yearning for modern knowledge. At present federal and provincial governments spend 2.9 percent of the GDP on Elementary and Secondary Education and zero expenditure on higher education. Consequently, the standard of education has degenerated to greater extent since 2009.
The curricula of math and science subjects need to be updated periodically by including new and quality input in the subject matter of books and courses that are being taught to university students. The students of M Phil and PhD programmes cannot afford high subscription fee for downloading research material from high impact factor international research journals. It is the responsibility of the provincial governments to provide funds to public sector universities solely for the purpose of subscription to the topnotch research journals so that each enrolled student is provided with an access ID to facilitate his or hers research work. This suggestion is not an alien idea as it has been practiced abroad for the past two decades.
Incidents of sexual harassment of girl students’ gives rationale to giving say to members from Students’ Action Committee in investigation of reported cases of sexual harassment. It is for the federal and provincial governments to deliberate over the charter of demands of Students’ Action Committee and come up with practical solutions and not the customary hollow rhetoric.