HYDERABAD: The teachers at Sindh's public sector universities boycotted classes on Wednesday but the protest, which was announced on Tuesday to continue indefinitely, was called off on the Sindh government's assurances.
The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association's (Fapuasa) Sindh chapter, which had called the strike, deferred the protest after a meeting with Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in Karachi.
"We found the CM receptive to our concerns and demands," Fapuasa Sindh President Prof Naimatullah Laghari told The Express Tribune. "He [the CM] said if changing the law [Sindh Universities Law (Amendment) Act, 2013] wasn't under the purview of the Sindh Assembly, he would have approved it right away."
Teachers to continue protest despite cabinet approval
Since its enactment, the association has kept opposing the Act and its implementation while describing it as a legislation aimed at usurping the autonomy of universities. Through the Act, the provincial government empowered itself to make the appointments of the registrar, controller exams, finance director and other officials in universities. The teachers feared that the exercise of such authority will open doors for political influence in the academia.
Over the last four years, several meetings between the academicians and government officials have taken place with the latter repeatedly assuring about amending the law by incorporating the recommendations of the teachers.
According to Laghari, the CM told the Fapuasa delegation that the draft of the amendment bill will be tabled in the Cabinet meeting within 15 days. The association will be shared a copy of the draft a week ahead of that meeting for a final review, he added.
Academia to observe strike in govt universities across Sindh from today
The CM approved payment of Rs25,000 allowance for PhD-qualified teachers and told the delegation that he will personally write to the governor about the matter of hardship cases. One of the demands was related to the allotment of land for establishing housing colonies for the universities' teachers. However, the Supreme Court's ban stands in the way.
Laghari said that the CM asked the teachers to submit their land requirement to his office so that he can personally request the court to relax the ban for the teachers.
Dr Asim Hussain
At a press conference in Hyderabad on January 29, Fapuasa had objected to the reappointment of Dr Asim Hussain, former federal minister and senator, as the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Sindh chairperson. Laghari and other representatives of the association had argued that Dr Asim's appointment violated the law.
They had claimed that besides being a politician, Dr Asim's credentials also did not fit the job's description, which required academic excellence and experience.
Strike observed: Sindh's varsities seek autonomy
However, during the meeting with the CM on Wednesday, Fapuasa has been blamed for not pressing the case for removal of Dr Asim and for making the provincial HEC functional without further delay.
"As expected, Fapuasa's Sindh leadership compromised on the controversial appointment of Dr Asim as HEC's Sindh chairperson," said Dr Azhar Ali Shah, former central vice-president of Fapuasa and the incumbent general secretary of the Sindh University Teachers Association. Dr Azhar has also remained part of the negotiations with the provincial government for amendment to the act. He contended that the pressure built by the call of the academic boycott was not channeled to force the government to withdraw its notification of appointing Dr Asim for a second term in the Sindh HEC
Sindh’s poor performance
Laghari, meanwhile, argued that Dr Asim was not on the agenda when Fapuasa gave the strike call on January 23 and boycotted the classes on January 24. "Yet, we discussed the issue with the CM and pointed out the performance of Punjab's HEC which is headed by an educationist." According to him, the CM assured that an academician with PhD qualification or a scientist will be appointed to head the provincial HEC.