Franchising public universities

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 9:55:24 by

Public education is the key to human and national progress. No society or a nation has progressed without funding public education adequately and devoting attention and energy to its governance. We firstly have a problem of arranging sufficient resources for universities, and on top of that, there is a crisis of poor leadership and governance. Governance, in whatever way you define it, is the central cause of our decay in every sphere and department of the state. This reality strikes in the face when you visit public universities in different parts of the country. There are many heart-breaking stories of departments and faculties, which are in disarray and about the general standards of education going down with no discernible effort to stem the rot.

Even in the worst of times, the centres of excellence in some of the public universities have survived, and we see very dedicated teachers, researchers and administrators continuing to work as hard as ever. But these are exceptions, and don’t make up a general positive picture of higher education in the public sector. Private universities are now mushrooming with the aim of profit-making and are run as family businesses. These are, of course, no substitute for public education. The issue is that parents and students cannot wait until public sector universities are reformed. In the hope of a better future, they appear to be willing to pay higher fees and to opt for any alternative that offers them a better opportunity of learning.

The decay of public universities is primarily due to the corrupt nature of those who have held top offices. Corruption in a broader sense is a compromise of standards and comes about by the hiring incompetent faculty and by promoting cronies to positions of influence. True, there have been and are cases of financial irregularities in universities, but then who cares.

We are witnessing a new phenomenon of legalised corruption of public university education in which the university’s name is franchised to private individuals and groups so that branches can be operated in other cities. I was shocked to find that the University of Gujrat had granted franchises in Sialkot and Lahore. The Bahauddin Zakariya University of Multan had done the same in Lahore. The University of Sargodha is on top after it lent its name to seven places. Such practices are detrimental to quality higher education.

Universities embody sacred public trust and must devote themselves to learning, research and preparing young men and women for leadership roles in society, in business and in intellectual life. A university is not a business venture and should never be run like a business. The sad fact is that only a few private universities are run under charitable trusts and the rest are business ventures. Individuals wanting to start a university business obtain licences from public universities. In every case, the syndicates and the vice-chancellors have played the facilitating role. These licences are often granted because of certain vested interests.

The need to raise funds by franchising public universities and providing educational facilities in other cities is very absurd. The individuals and families in the university business seem to have the right political connections and lot of money to throw around.

The opening for the university businesses using the charter of public universities came with the so-called policy of public-private partnership between the Punjab government and the Higher Education Commission a couple of years back. As applied to franchising public universities, this is a bizarre conception of partnership. It is, in fact, a partnership between public office holders. Where are we heading? Indeed, we are heading towards moral and institutional collapse.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2014.

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