Pakistan Varsity Teachers Against Proposed 'Reforms'
The Awakening of the Sleeping Giant
By Riaz Ahmed
Teachers throughout South Asia are protesting against the government policy sponsored by the World-Bank of introducing drastic reforms in universities, colleges, schools and hospitals. The proposed ‘reforms’ aimed wostensibly at governance and efficiency are actually aimed at removing teachers’ representation in senates, syndicates, academic councils of universities, forcing teachers to work on contract basis, raising fee, downsizing and finally privatisation. The WB has sponsored Task Forces on Higher Education in scores of third orld countries like Ghana, Indonesia, South Africa, and Brazil. The corporate model of universities being debated in the US is being implemented in our countries. Colleges and schools are being targeted along with hospitals and other welfare public institutions.
We give below a write up on an agitation by university teachers in Pakistan as well as the issues involved in the agitation. The author is Secretary of the Karachi University Teachers Society (the largest union of teachers of varsity in Pakistan.
Today it is a well-known fact that the government is trying to get teachers' consent into implementing the Higher Education Reforms in the varsities. At the same time it is also getting a very stiff resistance from the teaching community all over Pakistan. The Steering Committee on Higher Education Reforms comprising the Vice Chancellor of Agha Khan University, Prof Shams Lakha as President, and Dr Tariq Banuri, a USA based sociologist, as Secretary, are finding it difficult to get the reforms approved from the teaching community at the campuses. Why is that so?
Before we analyze that let us digress a little on the history of these reforms.
Back in April 2001 the Federal Cabinet formed the Task Force on Improvement of Higher Education in Pakistan (TFIHE). The Task Force included 18 members. 3 Vice Chancellors from academic public universities and 7 private sector non-academics, education bureaucrats and other functionaries of the civil society/state. The TFIHE claimed to have met 412 people in scores of meetings it held in 8 months since April. 25 Vice Chancellors, 232 teachers etc were given presentations all over Pakistan. The VCs who attended the meetings either took their advisors or senior professors to these briefings but no word was spread at the campuses despite the drastic structural adjustments suggested by the TFIHE.
In January 2002 the TFIHE came up with a hefty report digressing on the ills and the cures in the university system. The Federal Cabinet constituted a Steering Committee on Implementation of Higher Education Reforms in March 2002 with the task to suggest by August 7, 2002 "improvement of higher education “, that is, on the ways in which the reforms can be implemented. It is here that things started to go wrong.
The Task Force worked quietly and hardly ever gave a press statement on its proceedings while the administrators from various universities, the US Based Boston group of Pakistanis and University Grants Commission gave their inputs. It is true that without much obvious hindrance the TFIHE formulated its recommendations. There was no hindrance because those who were going to be affected by the reforms were not being consulted.
The Steering Committee began its work on two fronts. One was to gradually implement the recommendations of the TFIHE and the other was to identify teachers in the varsities who are willing to help implement them in a future scenario.
As part of the implementation process the University Grants Commission is being disbanded and a Presidential Ordinance is in the offing that will create the Higher Education Support Commission. On more than one occasion the President has announced that the Minister of Science and Technology who is also a KU Professor, and is to retire in September 2002, is going to head the HESC.
As part of identifying the individuals in the varsities who are willing to cooperate with the Steering Committee, both Prof Lakha and Dr Binouri began to call meetings of teachers in various varsities.
Not surprisingly, the entire exercise of the SC and the TFIHE has been done and derived by nominated individuals. Everybody in the SC and TFIHE is unelected, most are non-academics. Following their natural-nominated-instincts, the SC chose not to involve elected representatives of teachers. Now there are scores of elected members within a varsity. Every varsity has a Academic Staff Association, each has 6 or less elected members on three statutory bodies viz., the Syndicate, the Academic Council and the Senate. Elected members on these bodies form a core leadership which has considerable influence on varsity administration.
Ignoring the elected members was the need of the SC and the TFIHE. The entire focus of the reforms is to remove elected representation of teachers in the statutory bodies and replace them with nominated individuals. These will be either picked by the new Governing Body (which will be picked by the Governor, again a nominated non-academic) or by the teachers working in some official capacity, eg., as Deans or Senior Professors.
The reformers follow their mentors. So, like General Musharraf who usually is trying to ignore the political parties but is also creating new parties, though the new ones have little grass-root support, the SC has begun doing the same thing. It was here that it created a direct confrontation with the teachers in general and the elected representatives of the teachers in particular. What followed is an intensive mobilization of teachers on a Pakistan-wide basis, which can only be compared to the mobilization of 1969. Here is how it happened.
On May 2 the President and Secretary of the Karachi University Teachers Society were invited by the KU Registrar for a meeting on ‘important university matters’ which was to take place on the same day. The meeting was cancelled at the last moment. Later it became known that the meeting was held at the Agha Khan University with officials and some selected teachers of two universities of interior Sindh. The participants were shocked by the details of the report of the TFIHE. This was the first time the report was made public. The meeting was informed that no press statement will be issued.
On May 10 the President and Secretary of KUTS again received invitation for a meeting to be held at KU, again for “important university matters”. But this time the list showed 18 other participants. All of these were serving in some official capacity and included Deans, Hostel Provosts, Advisors to the VC. Even more, the President and Secretary were not invited as KUTS office bearers but were referred in their individual capacities. They went to the meeting and protested against this blatant insult to elected teachers.
The KUTS Executive Council, a body of 21 elected members from 500 teachers, rejected the SC meeting and condemned the attitude of the reformers against the elected representatives of teachers. Nonetheless, the KUTS invited the Secretary of the SC to a discussion on Higher Education Reforms. The website of the steering committee (sche.gov.pk) itself admits that in the discussion the teachers and KUTS expressed severe criticism on the report of the Task Force and termed it as anti-education, anti-teacher and anti-Pakistani. They expressed the view that the reforms will make education inaccessible to the poor, end teacher’s representation on statutory bodies and will make them vulnerable by the tenure system.
A supposed objective of every 'reformer' is to minimize resistance. Thus the SC was picking up one or two universities at a time. The KUTS feared that a combined opposition would then fail to materialize. Soon KUTS Executive Council met and decided to contact other varsities. On May 24 a meeting of the Sindh Chapter of the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Association, a central body of all the associations in various varsities, was called. Six elected representatives of varsities of Sindh unanimously rejected the ordinance stating, “The FAPUASA Sindh Chapter re-iterates its stance about the formation, processing and the recommendation of the Task Force on Higher Education in a number of meetings. The teaching community was never informed about the goals, objectives and the achievements of the same.”
This resolve led to the formulation of a detailed working paper, which was accepted by the representatives of the Sindh varsity teachers at another meeting on May 29th. At a press conference in Karachi University the elected members of six varsities of Sindh demanded, “The Steering Committee for the Implementation of the Task Force recommendations be disbanded and all work being carried out in its name should be stopped forthwith”. Earlier the Punjab University association had similarly rejected the proposed reforms.
Meanwhile KUTS called a consultative meeting of staff members at the science faculty office, which was attended by a charged crowd that demanded speeding up the campaign against the reforms. The KUTS formed three committees to mobilize opinion amongst the teachers, and the political parties and journalists. The rapid pace of work with the involvement of the Sindh universities meant that the press started to give serious coverage to the various resolutions rejecting the proposed reforms. The KUTS Committee for Teacher’s Awareness quickly called a meeting in an applied science department where a number of teachers discussed the proposed reforms, which were again rejected. It was also decided to call another meeting at the political science department.
That meeting went excellently. By now the Peshawar University teachers association in a general body meeting had also rejected the proposed reforms.
Now, with the growing support of other teachers the faculty at the KU campus gained further confidence. Young teachers with little experience of movements joined senior faculty members in heated debates and arguments in the meetings, which were being attended by greater numbers of teachers despite the fact that the KU was virtually closed for summer holidays. The initial hitch amongst the experienced teachers about the possibility of resistance soon gave way to a new combination of fighters willing to take on the challenge of the 'reforms'.
The increasing confidence meant that the teachers were moving a step ahead of merely rejecting the proposed reforms; and they began to discuss ways of improving the existing setup. There was a round of applause at a crowded meeting in Political Science department when one teacher argued that by 1981 even the Dean of Faculty was elected by the teachers and ‘we should demand that the Vice Chancellor be elected as well in the new reforms proposed by us’.
The KUTS office bearers got the increased participation they so much desired and now the work of mobilizing the teachers was being done by a whole lot of teachers, not just the elected members of the KUTS. This meant that the leadership of KUTS could focus on the more important task of contacting other segments of the society and teachers.
The effort paid-off and the much-awaited meeting of the Central Body of FAPUASA met on June 20th to finalize recommendations against the proposed reforms. The increased mobilization at the Karachi University meant that even the day-to-day decisions of the President and Secretary are widely consulted before they are finalised. This increased local democracy means a huge leap forward for the teachers.
The Steering Committee was obviously upset by the rapid development of teachers' opinion against the reforms. In a short period of time beginning May 11, when they met the KUTS representatives, it had generated a massive awareness. The SC was under severe pressure from the higher-ups because one of the most celebrated and widely anticipated reforms amongst the higher echelons and the international financial agencies was being rejected by one university after another. This happened within a matter of two weeks. In some ways the reformers had anticipated this because they mention that reforms should only begin amongst 'reform-minded’ varsities!
The demand of the Sindh Chapter of FAPUASA that the SC is disbanded and any reforms without approval of elected representatives of teachers will be unacceptable got a huge publicity in the national press. By May 31st the pressure was so severe that the SC approached a senior faculty at KU and asked them to arrange a private meeting with selected few teachers at the campus including the KUTS President and Secretary. On the day it was supposed to be held the news of the proposed meeting was leaked by a participant at one of the teachers awareness meetings. Soon the pressure on the KUTS President and Secretary was so severe that they approached the mediator and informed them that they will be boycotting any meeting with the Steering Committee Secretary Dr Tariq Banuri. The elected representatives were of the view that since the universities of Sindh and others in the country have rejected the proposed reforms and have demanded disbanding of the Steering Committee therefore meeting the same committee members will be of no use. The KUTS sensed that the Steering Committee was under pressure and was asking for a meeting only to create disunity amongst the united varsity teachers of the country.
The entire confrontation with the implementers of reforms shows that ‘the teachers united can never be defeated’. It also shows that with greater mobilization and mass contact greater public participation is achieved; participants are more involved and above all begin to feel more confident about challenging those who are bent on making education a privilege.
This mobilization is massive. Nevertheless, it is not without its twists and turns. The past apathy of teachers, the reformist attitude of elected representatives goes along with the capitulation, blunders and opportunism. It will be stupidity to expect a broad movement not to have the muck of the past, the perverseness of the dispossessed and the inner-fear of the repressed. Without mutations it is near impossible to survive in a hostile environment but it is these mutations themselves that find ways of expressing a diversified but collective opposition to change the environment.
Above all it has begun to show that, if mobilized, the teachers move from apathy to levels that make them more confident to take control of their own lives, to spread out and reach out to the distanced and different. The same may be true if we are to get rid of the dictatorship in the country as well.
The teachers are even now in the middle of a movement against reforms in education which has suddenly spread all over the country with tens of thousands protesting against the denationalisation of schools, colleges and formation of private boards in hospitals. Unions of teachers, doctors and now lawyers have joined the Joint Action Committee.
Since Oct huge massive protests have been taking place in many cities of Punjab, culminating in a huge demonstration at Karachi University against the Model University Ordinance on November 18.
In the meanwhile the Pakistan government has enforced the Model University Ordinance, opposition to which continues in the universities.
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