It is heartening to recall those memories of higher education where we were not just students but part of a larger family, stated Saima Khalid, an alumnus of the arts department at the Karachi University (KU).
The teachers were not there only to teach us ‘bookish knowledge’ but prepared us to face challenges of the world, she added while sharing her experience of student life at the varsity where she graduated from around 20 years ago.
“There wasn’t a single day we got bored or tired of going to KU, nor did our teachers allow us to leave any lecture unattended. They worked tirelessly to teach us in the best way they could do. I still remember Sir Nabeel Ahmed Zuberi going up and down the lecture hall, sweating from top to toe just to ensure every individual was getting the lesson being delivered.
“I still remember the way he used to ask ‘Are you getting your academic needs met?’ I do remember my professors in prayers to date. We had to reach the classrooms on time. The hands got tired of writing while one teacher would go and the other would stand outside. Our teacher used to write some seven to eight other variations of the terms. Even without Google, we could have got a bombardment of knowledge. The central library was the source of our information where we used to spend hours.”
Saima Khalid, speaking to Bol News about the KU fees at her time, said that the semester fee was very nominal and had “never been an issue for a girl like me belonging to a struggling family.” On the other hand, Maimoona Aziz of KU’s business school stated her parents had to borrow money to pay Rs71,500 in fees for her last semester.
Sarfaraz Ali, a current student at the KU’s Department of Economics shared his grievances over the fees and lack of interest of teaching faculty. “I have to come to KU all the way from Keamari, [changing] two buses. It takes me almost two hours making it to the department. Unfortunately, often after we reach the department, we would come to know that there would be no class conducted. Last week, one of my teachers cancelled the class because his friends were visiting him. Such reasons to cancel class, and the timing of such cancellations, have become common now.”
Hafiz Mohammad Umair, a spokesperson for the student union Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, stated that tuition and examination fee increases annually by around 10 per cent, which is lawful. “Even if the law of 10pc annual increase in fees is accepted, we question the facilities provided to the students in return. The students have to wait for the teachers to come and deliver lectures for hours. None of the teaching faculty and non-teaching staff who are being paid by our fees are doing their duty for what they are officially being paid for. The varsity’s buses are almost non-existent; students commute through public buses with no discounts for students. In the past few days, six new buses have been handed over to the KU administration but they have not been operational till today.”
He argued that it is embarrassing for a public university that the fees of professional degree programmes in public and private universities are almost equal. “Compared to private universities, KU lacks facilities. In private varsities, students have well-equipped labs with modern technology and in KU, even water is not available through taps. Last week, students in the mathematics department collected donations and got their department painted. The mathematics chairperson also contributed Rs3,000. Why have the funds not been allocated for the department’s maintenance?”
According to former KU vice chancellor (VC) professor Khalid Iraqi, the increment in fees was ‘unavoidable’ because of the lack of funds in the current budget and the varsity’s existing financial crisis.
Professor Iraqi told Bol News that, aside from the funds it receives from the federal and provincial governments, a higher educational institute has just two ways to increase its financial inflow. “It has the choice of engaging in commercial activities or increasing student fees. However, as per the Supreme Court rules, no institution can be utilised for commercial activity. But the KU’s only resource is the vast amount of land it has. Because the premises cannot be used for commercial purposes, KU’s only alternative is to raise student tuition. It must be evaluated to what extent the fees can be increased.”
Prof Iraqi, who had been the KU VC for the past three years, had also served for six years in the admission department. He said that the university syndicate has decided to increase the fees by 10pc every year. “The Higher Education Commission (HEC) was cutting the fund of the higher educational institute by 10pc per annum and on the other hand, the Sindh government was increasing the salaries of the staff. It was necessary to increase the fees to cover the expenses of the educational institute.”
When questioned that the fees of professional degree programmes equalled the amount charged at private universities, he further said that the fees for arts faculty have risen from Rs3,200 to Rs23,000 in the past 10 years. He acknowledged that the fees for some degree programmes have increased by more than 10pc. At the same time, he said that some programmes were started under self-finance for which the contribution is supposed to be made by the students.
He also admitted that the fees for physiotherapy, computer science, law and business administration programmes are ‘high.’
Prof Dr Pirzada Qasim, who has been associated with the teaching faculty of KU since 1966 and had also served as VC, said that the “lack of resources” was the reason for the seriousness of the problem. He suggested that the varsity should focus on resource generation instead of relying on grants. “Unfortunately, education has never been a priority for the government. It will not be the case that suddenly higher educational institutes will start receiving huge grants. In order to overcome the issues, [the] administration along with the teaching departments need to adopt an approach of solving problems by creating resources.”
Dr Qasim further said, “We know that varsities are short of funds but with the available resources, a lot can be done.”
During his tenure as VC, Dr Qasim reportedly also tried to create an opportunity for departments to generate resources. He advised the mass communication department to create an ad agency of the department and he had collaborated with a private company for a venture. He also suggested that information technology (IT) also has vast opportunities in terms of resource generation by providing services in the IT sector.
Dr Qasim also believed that by using common facilities instead of separating them, the expenses may be reduced. “It is not necessary that a position holder would be a good teacher. To deliver good lessons, there are some qualities which not everyone possesses. To produce good teaching staff, the KU administration should conduct training sessions for them. After the training, teachers must be asked to submit a quarterly report of their work to assess their learning. That’s how the teacher would be accountable for their service.”
He pointed out that the delayed transfer of funds gave room to corruption. “At the time of the receipt of the grant, it should be stated in what manner the money is to be spent. And, after the expenditure, an annual report should be made as to how the grant was used. ”
There are systems built in the public sector from which all the files pass through, he elaborated. “It is important that the files also speak or state the truth. The registrar should be allowed to do his work without interference. Similarly, the director of finance should be free to do his job to ensure transparency.”