Punjab on education, setting the wrong example
The recent announcement by the government of Punjab to “privatize” 24 colleges has sadly been unable to garner the publicity it deserved. As part of the policy, a board of governors is to be constituted including the local district commissioner and National Assembly members. The implementation of this policy has been condemned by student, parent and teacher representatives.
The government claims that on its part, it is appointing a board of governors to each of the respective colleges to make them more efficient. That said it has as yet, not offered any elaboration on what those efficiency gains may be.
Paramount amongst the concerns for students, parents and teachers concerned is the expected increase in tuition fees. Rawalpindi Division Professors and Lecturers Association President Muhammad Ilyas Qureshi argue’s:
Some government colleges were put under board of governors including Queens Marry College Lahore, Kennard College Lahore, FC College Lahore and Government College Lahore in which poor could not get education
In response, Director Colleges Dr. Muhammad Ashraf admitted,
Allayed the public fears regarding fee structure. He said that the fee structure would not change that much and, the basic reason behind giving these colleges under board of governors was to improve the education standard
The 18th Amendment recognizes education as a fundamental right of every citizen. Further, the same amendment increases the responsibilities of provincial governments in the provision of education. In light of the much hailed constitutional amendment, to privatise leading educational institutions in such controversial circumstances in a period of economic turmoil, suggests that the provincial government rather than embracing, is distancing itself from its responsibilities.
Located in prime commercial areas, these institutions have been on the radar of developers. Prominent institutions in Punjab have consistently faced the threat of encroachment. The proposed measures increase the vulnerability of public colleges to external interests.
By appointing the DCO and NA members to the boards of such institutions, these colleges will likely fall victim to populist measures which undermine their academic standing. What would happen when members of the NA change? What would happen when the DCO changes? What off long-term planning and consistency? Will the costs of maintaining the board of governors come out of the institution's budget? Many questions remain unanswered, and sadly no one seems to be asking them.
Importantly, colleges are likely to face a further erosion of their autonomy. It is not hard to imagine that a college principle would capitulate to the demands of the district commissioner or members of parliament. From hiring new teachers, to granting promotions, to granting admissions to overlooking cases of cheating, the advent of political appointees will open up a can of worms, not to mention the intensification of nepotism.
Not to forget the implications for on-campus politics. What would happen if the dominant student party is faced with the prospect of an opposition political party gaining seats on the board of governors? Will students have to face the costs of political point scoring? Or worse still, off settling scores.
If as feared tuition fees increase by 500 per cent, public institutions will effectively marginalize students from poorer backgrounds. As fees increase, not only are students from poorer backgrounds excluded from the colleges, their interests as a whole are neglected as they no longer are part of the constituency to whom the colleges cater.
Further, one could raise the question whether the board of governors, who educate their own children in private schools, actually appreciate the issues and concerns of students at publicly funded institutions?
This is not to suggest that these colleges are ideal as they are! The status-quo is neither desirable nor sustainable. Public institutions need a lot of resources at their disposal, to recruit and train staff, to provide the infrastructure that is required to develop an enabling academic environment.
Neither does anyone doubts the merits of public representatives taking an active interest in public education. By any measure, the dismal state of education in Punjab, nay:
the entire country requires the immediate consideration of public representatives.
However, now that the Punjab government has been granted increased responsibilities in regards to education via the implementation of the 18th amendment, is the privatisation and possible exclusion of students from public colleges justified, and that to under such dubious circumstances?