It was a disgraceful scene to watch two former vice-chancellors and senior professors handcuffed, under probe for alleged corruption and illegalities while in office. I am not sure if handcuffing of accused under the law is permissible, if it is, then professors, politicians, businessmen and media persons, when accused, must be given the same treatment. It is against the spirit of rule of law to demand or justify any special treatment of any accused for his status, achievements, social standing or profession. We have seen a number of politicians and former public office holders being presented before the courts without handcuffs. It seems the handcuffing law leaves discretion to the police and NAP officials, which shouldn’t be the case.
It was sad to see the professors who held top positions in the administration of two universities of the Punjab humiliated. Having said this, we must recognise that corruption—financial, moral and professional—is a big issue in public universities. What we know publically is just a tip of the iceberg. And, it is not for the first time that vice chancellors and professors of public universities have been arrested and sent to jails, removed from office and facing cases in courts. A former professor and Vice Chancellor of Bahauddin Zakriya University (BZU), Multan, now on bail by a higher court, is facing a case of franchising BZU to a private party in Lahore. A couple of weeks back, the NAB arrested a former VC of Sargodha University, a professor of Islamic Studies, for financial ‘corruption’ and franchising of eight branches of the university to private parties in different cities of the Punjab—one of the colleges establishing 10 campuses under the same license. A former VC of the University of Gujrat was the first to go on this corrupt track. He franchised two campuses. He has been rewarded by a much higher position in the Punjab higher education system.
Franchising is a tool of expanding businesses all over the world, to make more profits, which means lending a credible name for fees to an interested party to run it in other places. The questions is, can or should public universities be treated as private businesses, and the Vice Chancellors use emergency powers to grant franchising licenses to businessmen and politically connected individuals? Some years back, when the news of the VCs of University of Gujrat and Sargodha University granting franchises was splashed in the news, I called them up and questioned their wisdom of doing so. Not convinced by their thoughtless logic, I wrote a column in this paper “Franchising public universities?”. That was a weak voice, didn’t register with the administration of the Punjab, and the deals went on.
The previous Punjab government was a party to this big fraud in education in granting university charters to questionable characters and overlooking franchising in the name of private-public partnership in education. Having been educationists, they should have known there is only one Oxford University and one University of London at one place, the model we and other countries have followed for decades.
No good university, anywhere in the world, can make profits—they have to raise funds from public, charities and governments or establish their endowments. Pakistan is another country, where private colleges and universities are a big flourishing business—that inverts the spirit of higher education.
Many of the public and private universities have stories of corruption, low quality of instruction and a reputation of awarding ‘paper-degrees’. We need to refocus on reforming public universities and turn them into a driving force of intellectual, scientific and industrial growth.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2018.