The new campus of the University of Punjab has been in turmoil for the last few days. When feuding groups consisting of Pakhtun, Baloch and Seraiki variety on one side clashed with the formidable Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), belonging to a religio-political party, the battle spilled over to Canal Bank roads passing through the campus. As a result, long lines of stranded vehicles, including blaring ambulances, had to wait helplessly.
If you’re a frequent commuter on the Canal Bank roads as yours truly, you would face long traffic jams as a matter of routine. And take it that the IJT — the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) — would invariably be part of the tumult. It’s not only Punjab University where this wing interferes in the administrative matters of the institution, a similar situation prevails more or less in other public-sector educational institutions.
The Pakhtun, Baloch and Seraiki students would not have grouped together if there were no IJT on the campus. These groups emerged to counter the influence of the JI through its IJT wing. In other words, the academic environment of the centre of excellence has been vitiated by grouping on parochial lines. Is it not ludicrous that the JI, which has failed to make its mark in national elections, controls educational institutions through its network?
Whenever groups of students clash with one another and the university administration clamps down, the authorities realise how many hostel rooms are illegally occupied. Many of these occupants have nothing to do with the university but they use the hostel rooms as their everyday living accommodation. Thanks again to the IJT. It’s well known that many members of the IJT never surrender their hostel rooms. These rooms later serve as their dens in a big city. This malpractice could not carry on without the university administration closing its eyes to it.
It’s painful to note how the standard of education in our universities has fallen. During the ’60s and ’70s, many students from the Gulf countries joined our colleges and universities. Students from Jordan studied in our institutions in large numbers. Punjab University, Forman Christian College and Government College had separate messes for the foreign students to serve them food of their choice. Then came Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Private colleges of standing were nationalised. The FC College suffered the most.
First change appeared in the name of the Forman Christian College with ‘government’ prefixed to it. Soon thereafter, the IJT sprouted its wings and took control of the college. It began to manipulate appointments and promotions of the teaching staff keeping merit at sidelines. During my time in the college around the ’60s, the principal of the college was mostly a foreigner with educational accreditation obtained from a foreign university. So was the case of the heads of the various departments. But after the nationalisation of the institution, merit suffered the most.
Not to mention, with the degradation of the educational standard at the FC College, sports suffered too. The large playgrounds, which were once the hub of sports activities, began to grow crops for the college management. Grass tennis courts where I once played tennis were covered by weeds. More than a century old majestic buildings suffered due to negligence and disrepair.
Years later a rational act that Pervez Musharraf did was to denationalise the FC College and return it to the Presbyterian Church to which it belonged. Since its return to the old management, quite a few new academic blocks have been added. The standard of education has regained its lost excellence. Let’s ask ourselves how many of our universities occupy any ranking in the list of world’s top universities. Why degrees obtained from our universities don’t enjoy the same respect in the outside world as they once did? We know the answer, which lies in the political interference and favouritism that plagues our educational institutions.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2018.
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