Your university next door

Universities may have cropped up in every neighbourhood but there's usually a compromise on quality

Mushir Anwar January 06, 2011
A rare and happy confluence, the seeker and the sought in mutual hot pursuit.

While the growing body of students is chasing higher degrees and diplomas, education itself, as it were, is hunting for talents to groom.

Man closes one door, God opens another. Choosy public schools and colleges have now few applicants begging for entrance as newspapers are full of new institutions with an open arms policy for anyone who has the resources for bettering his or her future. Bernard Shaw, who said “what we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child”, may not like it, but here we are! Education is big business, easier than vending French fries, and tax free too.

And what does it take. You only have to have a house and you can launch a university of your own, even an engineering university with a lathe machine in the kitchen and a medical college with a corpse in the pantry. We the old Gordonians, Ravians and Formanites pity our alma mater, the good old Punjab University, which now has a host of big names to compete with, from Princeton to Cambridge, all vying to educate local youth in their own mohallas and in ‘as is where is’ condition.

One such university in its Sunday advertisement promised a BSc in Economics from a foreign institution of repute to anyone who can pass its admission test. The doors are open to all qualified applicants, plus those self educated who have finally decided to seek a formal stamp on their natural and acquired abilities.

“Study abroad at home,” the banner shrieks. On the margin the advert carries the insignias of the London School of Economics and the University of London. Entry qualifications: Pakistani BA/BSc or a minimum of two ‘A’ level passes or American high school diploma with two AP credits. “Exceptional candidates with non-standard qualifications may be admitted on the basis of our admission test.”

A local institution housed in a bungalow offers similar courses, perhaps on similar terms. Another Lahore based institution claims affiliation with another UK university. Its application form alone for an MBA costs 5,000 rupees.

Recruiting agents from abroad are also arriving in tandem. Their arrival and stay in posh hotels is also widely publicized. They hold interviews, conduct tests and also probably charge fee for their services. What happens to the selected once they reach the destination one hardly ever comes to know, except when something bad happens, as in the case of the terror suspects who were rounded up in England some time back and underwent excruciating days in detention. They had been lured to UK to study in dubious institutions.

What people who permit themselves to be duped and fleeced in this manner need to understand is that education is not simply a matter of tuition. What a proper University campus provides to a student is a certain ambience that a tuition center, established in no matter how posh a bungalow, can never provide. It is not only a matter of libraries stacked with books, well equipped laboratories or even disheveled dons. The great halls of learning and universities are haunted places. You have to have an encounter with that ghost to exercise yourself of surety and ignorance.

Secondly, if it is not for education authorities here to check the credentials of these costly tuition centres, it is unquestionably the duty of the foreign universities whose name is being used to ensure that education being sold from their shop has some semblance to that being imparted in the indigent ambience.

They should know that no less than their name and reputation are at risk.

Mushir Anwar A weekly columnist at The Express Tribune who has previously written for other publications. He also writes and translates short stories.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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