The battle for control of SMIU's Victorian-era campus

Published: January 7, 2019
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Sindh Madressatul Islam University. PHOTO: SMIU.EDU.PK

Sindh Madressatul Islam University. PHOTO: SMIU.EDU.PK

KARACHI: The Sindh Madrassatul Islam University claims that the SM Government Science College is built on its property. [The former and the latter will henceforth be referred to as University and College, respectively.]The varsity’s administration recently wrote a letter to the Secretariat of Universities and Boards, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, asking either for the College’s administration to be handed over to it or for the College to be relocated from its premises. Should either of these requests be accommodated, the College’s current administration and over 2,500 enrolled students will be sent into a state of frenzy. Both institutes claim administrative reasons as their major cause of concern.

Whose land is it?

The beautiful Victorian style historic buildings, constructed on plot numbers 1 and 1A on Shahrah-e-Liaquat, on approximately 8.5 acres of land, currently house both the University and the College. The administration and management of both institutes is separate, however. The former falls under the jurisdiction of the Secretariat of Universities and Boards while the latter operates under the Sindh Education Department.

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The SM Government Science College was initially built as a school designed by Architecture Gems in 1880. It was inaugurated on September 1, 1885 as a madrassah-school for Muslim children during the British Raj. Qauid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah attended the school from 1887 to 1892. On June 21, 1943, the school was upgraded to a college which was inaugurated by Jinnah. Several pre and post-partition leaders, educationists and politicians, including Pir Ilahi Bux, Abdullah Haroon, former Sindh chief minister Muhammad Ayub Khoro and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s son, Shahnawaz Bhutto, attended the institute. The College, affiliated with Karachi University, claims to own the land it is built on. The College is established in an L-shaped building comprising Sardar House, Kharipur House, and Hassan Ali House which functioned as hostels back in the day. It has been around for over a century but it is located within the jurisdiction of the University.

On February 16, 2012, the Sindh government chartered the Sindh Madrassatul Islam University and allocated the land to the University for which documented proof is also available. “In accordance with Section 6(2) of the SIMU Act 2011, no other educational institution, affiliated with any other university, can work within the premises of SIMU,” states the University’s letter. The University claims that the presence of two educational institutes within the same premises has given birth to a host of administrative and managerial issues, which are hampering the growth of both educational institutions.

Mi casa, not su casa

There are two options that have been presented in the University’s request letter. They ask for either the College’s administration to be handed to them or for the College to be relocated entirely. The Sindh government itself has gone back and forth on the relocation. The matter is also currently under trial in court.

In 2012, as per an article published in The Nation, the Sindh government issued a notice announcing the merger of the College with the newly founded University. Around the same time the Sindh education department announced the decision to shift the College in the premises of the principal bungalow of the Sindh Government D.J Science College so as to avoid giving administrative authority to the University.

Both notifications were withdrawn, as reported by The Express Tribune in 2013, when the students of the college and their parents filed a petition at the Sindh High Court (SHC) claiming that the relocation would jeopardise the studies of more than 1,500 who were enrolled in the college at the time. The court issued a stay order and the matter remains sub judice till now.

Shift in power

If the administration of the College is given to the University’s administration a number of issues will be faced by the students and faculty of the college.

Fees

The College currently offers free education till the 12th standard. Should the administrative authority be given to the University, the students at the college might be liable to paying a fee for their education.

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Rules and regulations

The University operates under the Secretariat of Universities and Boards, while the College falls under the authority of the Sindh Education department. The two departments of the Sindh government have different systems in place for the day to day rules and regulations as well as general administration of their respective institutes. Some of the concerns of the college are whether their timings will be changed, how the curriculum will be affected, and who will the staff and faculty of the College report to.

As it stands currently, the staff and faculty of the College have only their principal to directly answer to. If the administrative rights are given to the University, the management will also shift, disrupting the system in place at the College.

The students are also concerned, since at College level, they have a bit more flexibility in terms of the day to day rules and regulations. The shift in power might mean a stricter, more rigid governance of their education.

Contested grounds

Currently a ground on the premises is being used by the University as a parking facility. Students of both institutes come and go from it as they please as do other individuals compromising the security of both institutions.

“There are three gates to the premises and two of these are under our control while one belongs to the College. We would like all three to come under a unified command for proper security,” said University Vice Chancellor Dr Muhammad Ali Sheikh, as quoted in an article published in Dawn on October 23, 2012.

The condition of the ground has also dilapidated over the years. Neither party is willing to provide for its maintenance and yet, both are reluctant to relinquish their claims.

Budget allocations

The education department receives contingency funds from the Sindh government for the institutes operating under it while the University gets it funds through grants from the same. The reluctance to give administrative control to the University is on the part of both, the education department and the current college administration.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Regional Director Colleges Muhammad Mashooq, said that the land of the College and the University is separate. The College is the property of the Sindh Education department and will remain so, he said, adding that a case in this regard was under trial at SHC and the University’s administration cannot occupy the College’s land at any cost.

When asked about the letter written by the University, he said that the letter is the University’s own matter and the education department was not taken into confidence in that regard. The University has several acres of land in Malir Education City and Hawksbay, it should construct its campus there and stop bothering the College administration, he added.

Should the administrative control go to the University, budgetary allocations would likely be affected. Who would receive the funding and who would decide how it was to be spent?

This in turn would also affect the salaries of the staff and faculty causing another point of concern for the College. The University’s administration had claimed in 2012 to be willing to raise the status of the College’s faculty but the offer was viewed at with scepticism by the College. “We were even willing to give their lecturers a higher grade, Grade 18 instead of the usual Grade 17,” read an article in Dawn, published in 2012, quoting the University’s VC.

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What now?

The immense confusion about who is rightfully located on the premises has been under debate since the University was first established. The government had attempted to merge the two administrations under the University at first but that did not work as the education department preferred attempts at relocation of the College as opposed to giving control to the University.

Due to the petition in SHC, however, it was forced to withdraw that notification. Even now, if the University is given administrative control, it might attempt to relocate the College. Till the matter remains in SHC, however, the College is unlikely to be relocated. As for the administrative shift, either which way it is the 2,500 students currently enrolled at the College and their faculty and staff who will be most affected.

The College has been around for over a century and has its own historic claim to its buildings whereas the University has the charter granted to it by the Sindh government in 2012 to make its claims. Whether the letter will change things or the turf war will continue remains to be seen.

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