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April 5, 2020

Our idiosyncrasies, our absurdities and our universities

Islamabad

April 5, 2020

“It is not easy to reach a university for many students. Higher education is a kind of luxury that everyone cannot afford in Pakistan but unfortunately the decision-makers lack the remotest idea about lives of the students on whose behalf they make decisions,” Dr Azizur Rehman opined while commenting on the latest mess universities in Islamabad and elsewhere have found themselves in.

Dr Rehman is chairman of the Department of Sharia and Law, the flagship department of International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) with a legacy of producing top-notched judges and lawyers in the country.

He has served the UN in Geneva and been part of national and international research and consultation bodies. His latest book titled Pharmacy of the Third World has set ripples off global markets.

Concerned, he told me that at least 20 to 30 percent students in public universities came from so poor backgrounds that they cannot afford to acquire the equipment needed for online education.

“I was part of the university committee that scrutinized applications for Ehsaas Scholarships. The applicants had attached photos of their one- or two-roomed mud houses in their application forms. Someone sold the one marla or half marla plot they owned to get admission in the university and others took loan. All this data is with the government. Had the authorities read those forms in a professional manner, they would never have thought of introducing online education for universities,” he said.

He said technology may not be a problem for some high-cost institutions where affluent people study but it is a major issue for public universities.

At the start, public universities began educating their students through different online means but then students lodged complaints that they were not being delivered lectures. All parts of the country do not have access to the kind of internet connections that are needed for live-streaming of lectures.

Also, there are ethical issues. Classroom provides a bond exclusively between a teacher and students and in online lectures this bond is breached, he said. If a teacher delivers a lecture and someone uploads it on YouTube or social media, it can be a cause of embarrassment as universities have all kind of teachers and students, he said.

“Just presume that universities register all regular and visiting faculty for online teaching by May 31 deadline, tell me if we have the hardware for all of them,” he said. The proposal for online education just absurd as it has no touch with ground realities, he said.

He said now is the time to ask some hard questions. For about 15 years, much of the most of funds allocated for higher education research went into basic sciences, not least bio-technology, he said. Dr Attaur Rehman set a system in place that opened doors for basic sciences and only basic sciences, he said.

“Now is the time to hold audit of these funds. No one from these big fund takers is able to offer some relief to the masses at this time of need. So a process of justice and accountability should be set in motion,” he demanded.

He said now some ministries and the higher education authorities have simultaneously launched overlapping projects for production of corona relief items.