THE recent strike of students at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad broke all the previous records. The over the two-week long strike, on one hand, caused waste of precious time of students and on the other stood a matter of great disgrace for Pakistan’s top ranking university. According to the varsity administration, the strike was an attempt made by a group of students to disrupt educational activities at the campus and that they were doing all that at the behest of anti-university actors. There were rumours on social media as well that a young man serving a country’s prestigious institution arrived at the campus under the influence of alcohol and fuelled the situation.
Despite this, the genuineness of the charter of demands of the protesting students cannot be ignored as most of their demands were related to the university development not for their personal gain. There may be some financial problems that the administration would be facing but it cannot be cleared from all the blames because the administration could easily resolve the issue in order to avoid a prolonged strike which not only wasted students’ time but also earned a bad name for the institution. What was needed for that just an honest and a fair approach on the part of the administration, HEC and other stakeholders, which unfortunately could not be done?
The strike was not only for the restoration of few students who were rusticated by the university administration for creating violence at the campus as the university history indicates many such rustication incidents but none of the resistance was much strong as the recent resistance was. Dozens of students were arrested and many others baton charge. Aside from restoration, the students were protesting for various other sufferings. They were protesting for an increase in the number of buses, academic, and hostels blocks in accordance with the increase of students, up-gradation of research labs and availability of facilities at the gymnasium, provision of equipment and medicines in the medical centre, and digitalization of the most complicated university clearance process. The university administration was supposed to fulfil all these demands by its own but it didn’t.
Nepotism is another important issue with which various social sciences departments of the varsity have been confronting since the current vice-chancellor took charge. There is a common perception among the social sciences departments that they are being discriminated while issuing development funds and this discrimination is being made on the part of the vice-chancellor. Due to the reason, a sense of uncertainty among faculty members of social sciences departments prevails. Alleged nepotism on the part of the Higher Education Commission is another important factor, demanding immediate solution as the varsity is facing financial problems and not getting its due share. It is a sorry state of affair for an institution which has been representing the country internationally and earning a good name for it being discriminated. Besides this, there are numerous other problems that the varsity has been confronting from years. Few of them are mentioned below.
The varsity has been complaining about parts of its estate being encroached by land-mafia. In this regard, it had written several applications to the competent authorities, including National Accountability Bureau. The former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had also taken notice of the land-grabbing issue and sought reports in this regard but still, the issue is unresolved due to the involvement of some influential persons, including a member of the Pakistan People Party whose residence is spread over dozens of acres of annexed university land. As a result, the varsity has so far lost control over 600 acres of its land and there would be no campus worth naming if the land-grabbing issue remained unresolved.
Like other institutions of the country, drug-mafia is another grave challenge that the institution has been confronting from years. A nexus between some unscrupulous students and drug-peddlers is fearlessly providing narcotics and liquor to the students, particularly those living in hostels, according to reports. And this drug supply is not only being done for male but female students as well. The failure on the part of the university administration in checking such unlawful activities is the sole reason that this business has touched alarming proportions at the campus. Not learning from others: There is a common practice in the world that states allocate funds or launch special projects for the institution performing well. But the case of QAU is quite discouraging. Rather than launching special packages, the varsity share is being deducted at the expense of some semi-governments varsities and all is being done deliberately, some reports say.
It is a positive development that National Assembly Standing Committee on Federal Education and Professional Training, federal education minister and many others stakeholders took notice of the grave situation and made efforts to end the strike but taking notice only would not be workable. They will have to involve themselves deeply in the varsity’s other issues as well if they want to bag another disgrace for this prestigious institution, which has been produced a large number of scholars, academia’s, bureaucrats, politicians and much more. Apart from this, the protesting students didn’t end the strike completely, but partial just to avoid semester freezing. They are still protesting at the university premises and determinant to continue their protest till the acceptance of their genuine demands. Thus, addressing the aforementioned issues and genuine demands of students is must to avoid further damage to the university reputation and for this all the stakeholder should have to sit together. Otherwise, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
— The writer is working journalist based in Islamabad.