This edition of The Students’ Herald is a continuation of the campaign led by students on issues facing higher education in Pakistan. There are multiple facets of this struggle which have all been amplified in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, two renowned academics were told that will not be offered contracts at the university where they had been teaching. Both these professors command immense respect among their peers as well as their students for their commitment to academic freedom, critical thinking and the noble profession of teaching. Both these teachers were associated with the Forman Christian College. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy was teaching there as a professor for mathematics and physics. Dr Ammar Ali Jan had been teaching history. Both these teachers are renowned figures among the student and academic community. They are particularly popular for their criticism of extremism and intolerance on campuses. Dr Ammar Ali Jan is particularly beloved by the students who organised Students Solidarity March, and who went on to lay the foundation of this publication. His mere presence at the student-led march – which was organised to demand restoration of unions – was considered a seditious activity. With the removal of these teachers from their posts, we are once again reminded of the assault on academic freedom and the shrinking space for critical thinking in campuses as well as outside.
But this is not all – there are more problems plaguing the education sector of Pakistan and students have been leading a campaign for several months in the hopes authorities will address their concerns. The basic and greatest of these concerns is the highly underdeveloped online infrastructure and the unavailability of internet across Pakistan. Teachers and students are not trained and have never had any exposure before to this kind of learning. The imperatives of the global pandemic forced Pakistani universities to take up the online learning system, but the results have been incredibly disappointing. Students from rural districts have been struggling to gain access to online classes as there is no quality internet there. No learning management system introduced has been introduced by the higher education authorities that can be uniformly applied.
Then we see is the worst form of economic exploitation that students are facing in these difficult of all times: universities are demanding full fees and threatening expulsion if anyone fails to submit the dues.
Considering the fact that students are not availing campus facilities and are attending – if they are able to – these online classes at their own expense and on their own devices, how can the administrations ask them to pay full fees? Shamefully many administrations have increased their fees!
This education system has completely exposed its own farce. This is a time when administrations should have been concerned about student health and welfare, but it appears that they have nothing on their minds except finding opportunities to maximise profits.
Even more shameful is the recent budget presented by the PTI government which shows no regard for our fundamental rights. Instead of addressing the digital divide and the financial difficulties being faced by students, the government has slashed the education budget even further on the dictation of foreign lenders. This is simply a continuation of last year’s trends when we saw the government take away huge resources from students and universities by reducing the higher education budget, cancelling scholarships and firing teachers.
No one is willing to take a stand for the rights of their students and against all the problems of our education system. Anyone who dares to perform their civic responsibilities ends up facing reprisals and strong reactions. There is no space for brilliance and sanity in this insanely manipulated, fundamentalist, petty and profitable education business.
We, the students, strongly condemn and completely reject this education mafia and all those who control and manipulate it. We came out in the Students Solidarity March demanding a progressive, pro-students education model whose inequalities and injustices have been exposed during this pandemic. We call on all our fellow students to organise and join the countrywide protests on June 23 that will be held under the banner of Students Action Committee.