Education: A Right with a Price?

Education: A Right with a Price?

Arshia Shoaib Khawaja

The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has issued a notification stating that all educational institutions must cancel online classes and examinations. Public universities are abiding by this notification, but private institutions have ignored its provisions and are continuing with online classes.

Many educational institutions are running online classes to complete their curriculum and pending syllabi. This has created significant trouble for students from peripheral areas and impoverished communities where the availability and access of internet services is a luxury. These institutions, with inhuman disregard, are pursuing and continuing online classes without due consideration for those students who are unable to access internet services and may have to forego a full semester. 

These institutions are also insisting on charging outrageous tuition fees on the grounds that their administrations have to pay for rent and maintenance. But if the campuses are not in use during the lockdown, why must their students continue to pay the bills? Private university students are charged hundreds of thousands of rupees every semester – don’t their administrations have enough money in reserve to pay their bills? Even if one were to entertain the idea that these private universities were suddenly going bankrupt as a result of the lockdown, shouldn’t the students be charged discounted fees for not being able to use campus facilities? 

Instead of displaying some compassion, university administrations are callously hounding students and their parents to pay fees at a time when a global catastrophe has disrupted lives of every individual in our country. 

Students are also anxious about how the Coronavirus pandemic will impact their chances of securing admissions in foreign universities. Will governments make it harder for foreign students to secure admissions because of increased hatred and suspicion towards people from economically impoverished states? People from poor countries are already seen as social and economic threats; will they now be treated as threats to public health and security? This pandemic has hardened borders and students are wondering will they soften once more in a post-COVID-19 world? 

Pricing the Right to Education 

Education, or the acquisition of knowledge for intellectual and moral progression, is a basic and fundamental right. Being absolute in nature, this right cannot be denied and there can be no discrimination on the basis of class, gender or ethnicity. Making education accessible is a noble cause. However, this aim has grotesquely evolved to become a draconian, exorbitantly exploitative and repressive norm. The most predominant reason behind this is capitalism.

Education has served as the primordial tool for human consciousness and liberation, and so it is natural that the oppressive bourgeois would seek to deny their subjects this fundamental right. There are a number of ways the autocratic bourgeois have sought to restrict the ubiquity of education. For the capitalist, the simplest way to do this is treating education as a commodity and raising its price; charging outrageous fees from students reduces the number of individuals seeking education. This is particularly true for an economically decrepit country like ours where the majority is unable to afford basic education, let alone ensure its quality

Our state institutions are criminally and conscientiously under-resourced and silent about the sordid conditions of our public schools and universities where students are exposed to various forms of abuse and subjugation in the name of getting an education. There is the constant fear of expulsion on grounds of non-compliance with arbitrary administrative practices, the fear of expulsion for one’s inability to pay tuition fees, little relaxation in the principal amount (in the forms of grants and scholarships) or a relaxation in times allocated to pay tuitions. Grants and scholarships available to students are decreasing every year and the criteria to obtain and maintain them are becoming harsher by the day.

Public universities are understaffed and generally have inept, orthodox and poorly trained teachers who often fail to fulfil their duties and impose great burdens on their students who then run to private tutors to aid them in their coursework. Students who can’t afford private tuitions are compelled to study like machines just to obtain a paper certificate which still does not guarantee their economic security after graduation. 

Private institutions charge ridiculously inflated fees in the name of quality education (once again, a classic capitalist practice – greater ‘quality’ comes at a higher price). The quality of education at these institutes is debatable – many of them lack libraries, labs and basic equipment despite charging huge fees. Owners of these institutions pay far less to their employees than what they charge from their clients, and inflict onerous working conditions upon them. The elite bourgeois owners of these institutions are intimately involved in the workings of the state machinery and are easily able to escape legal action or any other form of imposition of liability for their wrongdoings.

Moreover, the elite, in order to expand their “force” of capitalist members, indoctrinate their students from a very tender age with their own elitist, repressive practices. And so, instead of being a site of intellectual liberation, these institutions have turned into factories producing inanimate objects rather than nurturing that people who are to be the future of the nation.

It is time to do away with the capitalist practices that dominate our educational institutions.

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