After an unyielding struggle over the last three years to wrest autonomy for public sector universities from the Sindh government, the varsity teachers appear gloomy. Manifesting hopelessness with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s provincial government, the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (Fapuasa) has written an open letter to the party’s deceased leader Benazir Bhutto.
The letter, issued by Fapuasa Sindh’s general secretary Dr Shakil Farooqi, was issued on Monday on the eve of Bhutto’s ninth death anniversary which will be commemorated in Larkana. It lodges a complaint to the former prime minister about the alleged inimical approach of her party’s government towards the academia.
“When the dream of autonomy materialised in the form of the 18th constitutional amendment we thought political intervention and influence in the higher education institutions would end … only the educationists would be given the responsibility of making decisions [in a university] and no one [politicians] would try to influence their academic decisions.”
However, the letter lamented that the subsequent developments shattered the teaching community’s expectations, as the Sindh Assembly passed the controversial Sindh Universities Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. Fapuasa declared the new law ‘antithetical’ to their demands for decentralising authority to the universities’ statutory bodies like syndicates and senates.
Through the amendment, the powers of appointing the pro-vice-chancellor, registrar, director of finance and controller of examinations were seized and vested in the chief minister. “The Sindh Assembly, without a thorough review and positive thought, made this dreadful change in the law which has caused irreparable loss to the higher education institutions,” reads the letter.
The teachers bemoaned that the provincial lawmakers failed to consider the function of universities in society and equated them with the other government departments. They also complained of being ignored in the process of legislating the 2013 act.
The letter also accused Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah of evading a dialogue with the teachers’ community, which launched a protest movement in immediate reaction to the act. Several rounds of negotiations were held with ministers of former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah’s cabinet.
The association, according to former Fapuasa vice-president Dr Azhar Ali Shah who led the association’s delegation in the meetings, was assured that the 2013 Act would be amended by incorporating their recommendations. In January, 2015, the act was indeed amended but powers were not given back to the varsities and sparked further controversy by allowing more than two tenures to the vice-chancellors of Dow University of Health Sciences and Mehran University of Engineering Technology.
The teaching community described the move as a ‘person specific favour’.
“Treading on your steps, your son has also acquired education from the world’s leading universities. He has also inherited the mantle which once you held. In your name we demand your son withdraw the 2013 Act,” the letter read.
The decision of writing this correspondence was taken at Fapuasa’s executive council meeting on December 19. Fapuasa Sindh president Prof Dr Shahnawaz Talpur, at the meeting, vowed to continue the struggle to free the province’s universities from the bureaucracy’s control.
After its aborted initial attempt to appoint administrative officials in the varsities, the Sindh government advertised in July, 2015, 16 posts of BPS-20 registrars and 18 of controllers of examination for 19 varsities. But a fierce reaction by Fapuasa forced the government to withdraw once again.
The teachers contend that through these administrative positions the government intended to control the academia to the latter’s detriment.