Adhering to its earlier call of observing a black day on Monday, the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) held protests in all major cities across the country.
The move comes in wake of the government’s decision to withhold nearly Rs12 billion from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and revoke its autonomous status by placing the commission under the purview of the ministry of professional and technical training.
The day was marked in all public sector universities in Lahore, Quetta, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Muzzafarabad, Multan, Gujrat, Hyderabad, Nawabshah and Gilgit, with much pomp as protesters sporting black armbands and carrying placards shouted anti-government slogans.
Withholding funds in the last quarter of outgoing fiscal year will not only prevent universities from paying salaries to its staff, it also means a number of research and development projects will have to be abandoned.
Office-bearers of academic staff associations led the protests in their respective institutions, while some teachers also addressed news conferences in press clubs.
“We condemn the move and demand the government to revisit its decision,” President of FAPUASA professor Kaleemullah told a gathering in Quetta. “This is the first phase of the protest. We will decide our future course of action in a meeting to be held on June 28 in Islamabad.”
University of Agriculture’s (UAF) Academic Staff Association President Dr Sheikh Munir Ahmad told protesters in Faisalabad: “The university will suffer a loss of Rs181 million because of the decision, which has created much panic and resentment among the teaching and non-teaching staff alike.”
He warned that public sector universities will not be any better off than the infamous government-run schools unless the government changes its attitude towards higher education.
The UAF association’s general secretary Saeed Rana said they would continue their protest and wear black armbands till Thursday. He added that the university’s entire staff will launch a “massive protest” and hold a sit-in on Jail Road on Friday.
Rana threatened that they would not hesitate in locking up their offices and classrooms if the need to do so arose.
The University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, is the largest institution for farming studies in the country. A setback to the varsity can deprive poor and neglected farmers of the only means of accessible and affordable education.
University of Peshawar’s Teacher Staff Association President Fasil Shezad noted that insurgency-hit Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa deserves immediate attention in the field of higher education.
He appealed to the provincial assembly to address their demands and to increase the retirement age of teachers, as promised by the HEC earlier, from 60 to 65 years.
Meanwhile, the Central Committee of Vice Chancellors, which represents 74 public sector universities, held an emergency meeting in Islamabad to discuss the matter.
Presided over by the committee’s chairperson Imtiaz Hussain Gilani, the conference took notice of the inevitable turmoil and vowed to chalk out a strategy to address the issue.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.