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Student unions - a distant dream?

Karachi, June 17, 2008: Tidings given by the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gillani about the revival of student unions in the educational institutions have proved to be a political stunt as both the government and the educational heads are dragging their feet on the issue.

Meanwhile, the government is engaged in wasting their time on useless meetings to derail the revival of the student unions. The fact, as stated by Vice Chancellor (VC) of a university, is "All the vice chancellors talk publicly about the revival of the unions but secretly they are all against it".

The government began this exercise in futility with the formation of the Vice Chancellors committees headed by the VC of the University of Punjab (PU). The meetings have discussed the possibility, methodology, law and order situation and general reaction in the educational institutions after the revival of the unions.

The meetings were always non-starters as the vice chancellors, most of them, were apprehensive that the revival of the unions will bring chaos in the universities. A senior professor at the University of Karachi (KU) commented in this regard, "Vice chancellors and the teachers have become accustomed to a comfortable life in the campus. They do not have any moral pangs about the students who are an important part of the university, without their bodies to defend their rights. It is pathetic and is a form of dictatorship."

One such meeting between the vice chancellors of the Sindh universities was held on June 7 to establish some modalities for the union. The vice chancellors had reservations about the Student Union's representation in the university Syndicate. They also thought that one Faculty Representative (FR) was enough from a faculty. There used to be three in the past when the unions were in the universities and managing the students' affairs in an admirable way. An insider informed that the VC of the University of Balochistan had the opinion that he did not need any student unions in his university.

Prof. Pirzada Qasim, VC, KU said that all the vice chancellors agreed on the points that a new system, pre-conditions, political atmosphere in the universities should be considered before allowing the revival of the student unions. "There was apprehension that the bloody situation will crop up again with the revival of the student unions," Prof. Qasim added.

The federal government has aggravated the matter by creating a Tripartite Committee headed by the Federal Secretary Education. The other members include HEC Executive Director Sohail Naqvi, the Vice Chancellors of PU, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and student delegates from Balochistan and Peshawar universities.

It may be recalled that the VC of PU is well known for his animosity towards students and their unions. In the recent past he closed the university to prevent the holding of a book fair by the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) and then held the university's own book fair that failed to attract the students and other book lovers because of mismanagement and less number of books. The revival of the student unions by such individuals appears to be a far-fetched possibility.

There was another point of contention that surprised many. That was the selection of students of Balochistan and Peshawar universities. "Why from these two universities?" A final year student from Mass Communication department asked. In response, Prof. Qasim said, ""It was an order from the Federal Education Secretary through a notification."

The irony becomes all the more apparent with the passive and detached attitude of the teachers and their elected bodies. They, who were supposed to be firmly behind the students, are least bothered about the revival. For example, the Karachi University Teachers Society (KUTS) has evaded the show of any moral support for the student unions. They are pleased with their newly acquired glory and influence while the students' interests are being ignored.

The trade unions are revived and even the elections have been held in the industrial units including the Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation (PSMC). Unfortunately the right of the students is being denied by the government and the teachers. The News

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