This week’s edition – themed Profiting from a Pandemic – is meant to expose the reality of what we unapologetically call the ‘education mafia.’ This mafia essentially comprises all those involved in deciding the framework of our education system and the fate of students – from officials in government to the businessmen who have invested in and profit off our fundamental right to education.
When the lockdown began, online classes were announced and started without any consideration for the capacity of students and teachers for the new system. No one had tested the efficacy of online teaching platforms before. The main intended users of these platforms – students and teachers – were not consulted, nor did anyone ask questions about the huge economic and digital disparity that impedes access to these platforms. Students rejected this hoax in the name of online education for reasons discussed in the first edition of The Students’ Herald. Apathy and indifference on part of the authorities met voices of students when they raised their concerns. No one showed any real interest in seriously engaging with students on this issue.
Worse: in this unprecedented crisis, when all kinds of social and economic activity have halted and people are barely able to gather basic necessities for their survival, this mafia is still charging tuition fees from students. Clearly they do not care for us – neither for our welfare in the present moment, or for our future. Earning profits is their raison d’être. Education is just another business for them – one among many others, each more exploitative than the other.
The fees being charged from us was already beyond the reach of many people. But now education is selling for higher rates than ever before: some law colleges saw a fee increase by 100 and sometimes even 200 percent. These measures were taken in the backdrop of 45 percent cuts in the budget for higher education by the government. Ironically, these cuts were imposed on students by the Tabdeeli Regime that came to power channeling aspirations of young people and claiming to have a vision for reforming the education system in Pakistan.
All of these measures are making education an activity for the upper -middle and elite classes. No one can ever imagine the financial burden on children of workers, peasants and other downtrodden.
There is no case for charging more money for online classes than regular classes. We already have examples of affordable and accessible online education in Pakistan – fees charged by Allama Iqbal Open University and Virtual University is way less compared to other formal universities. This is because they have been conducting online classes, or distance learning.
But a horrific scandal is unfolding in some of the biggest universities of this country – for example in Government College University – that students are being forced to pay their fees without any online classes at all! What is even more shameful is that FCCU, LUMS and many other universities have increased their fees for this term.
Private university mafias – which include UCP, Indus University, Institute of Fashion and Design – are as active in their quest for profits and loot as they always were. We are exposed to the horrors of this neoliberal education model with impunity and indifference.
Our demand about fees is clear: students must be given relaxation in payment of fees until this crisis is over. Fees must be reduced by 70 percent in case institutions have to continue with online classes. All those students who have already submitted their dues must be reimbursed in their next semesters. These are simple demands and we will continue to raise our voices for them until this issue is addressed.
To our fellow students, we can only say this: as the mafia has devised new ways to profit off our right to education, it is of utmost importance that we seriously engage with each other and organise a united front to resist their exploitative practices which are driving our education system to the ground. We can take what is rightfully ours but first, we must come together.