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Student unions’ restoration: Right or wrong?

The Educationist Review

By Shabbir Sarwar

LAHORE: A debate is currently on the agenda of media and universities regarding restoration of student unions. Many people are in favour of lifting a ban imposed after a Supreme Court decision in 1993. They say the nurseries of future politicians have been closed and the leadership vacuum is due to this reason.
However, those who are against restoration of unions, they argue that already right wing unions are working in a de-facto manner and disturbing academic environment on the campuses and giving them legal cover of restoration will be a serious disaster.

If we review the opinion of some politicians, PTI Chairman Imran Khan is in favour of student unions and he believed ‘all human being are political and only animals are apolitical’. JI leader Liaquat Baloch, federal minister Ahsan Iqbal, veteran politician Javed Hashmi and Chairman Senate and PPP leader Raza Rabbbani also support restoration of student unions.

A Senate committee meeting held under the Chairmanship of Raza Rabbani in the second week of January decided to draft a resolution for the restoration of student unions after taking recommendations of senators. Raza Rabbani believed that SC 1993 judgment prohibiting the student unions does not restrict the Senate to make a law to restore student unions. He said due to the SC verdict successive governments have restricted student politics.
Senator Farhatullah Babar wants restoration of unions through a new legislation in the federal capital only, while giving a choice to the provinces to decide the matter at their own.

Senator Babar Awan said industrialists entered the national and regional politics due to lack of political leadership, which was earlier trained through student politics.
Senator Nehal Hashmi was in support of bodies under the democratic norms. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed also demanded student unions role on the pattern of the Pakistan Movement. Senator Kareem Khwaja suggested replicating the foreign countries model of student unions.

This is a second organized effort of PPP in this regard. Earlier, PM Yousaf Raza Gilani in his maiden speech announced lifting the ban. In the follow up HEC formed a VCs committee led by the then PU VC Dr. Mujahid Kamran. The VCs committee strongly recommended against restoration of unions in varsities. However, it suggested formation of student societies to promote co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. 

In Lahore on January 20th, a seminar on “Negative effects of the student unions revival,” was organized by Pakistan Institute of National Affairs (PINA) at Jinnah Library.

The speaker included Javed Hashmi, Altaf Hassan Qureshi, PILDAT Director Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, journalist Mujeebur Rehman Shami, Ghulam Abbas and Hafeezullah Niazi. They said that working of student unions as per rules was good as it would help develop leadership qualities among the students.
However, some speakers made it clear that the student leaders should realise their mistakes. It is always difficult to get the student leaders abide by rules.
When we see the ground realities, it is already difficult to control union in Karachi University, Punjab University, Bahauddin Zakriya University and Peshawar University. Now after a government policy of quota admission, Balochistan Students have also formed their associations in many universities. Group politics and cross union activism is a serious threat in universities at the moment.

If the unions are restored the next demand will be membership in Syndicate. The teachers will use students for their agenda as in the past and teacher-student relationship already damaged due to semester system may collapse further. Student politics as a pressure group to take undue advantage from the administration is also a serious issue, analysts believed.

However, Dr. Shahzad Ali, associate professor of media studies in Bahauddin Zakriya University, has raised a serious question that what good professors, associate professors, assistant professors and lecturers and other members of  most powerful institution of the universities – the syndicate, which actually remains in the clutched of vice chancellors. He said if a student union leader of the respective university is also made a member of the syndicate after restoration of unions and their proper election, there is no harm. “Teachers elections and employees elections are allowed in universities but the main stakeholder, the students have been deprived of their right. This is injustice,” he remarked.

It is note worthy here that in a recent incident of students roughing up with Dr. Zia-ul-Qayyum, VC University of Gujarat, after his administration denied a demand of illegal relaxation in attendance and CGPA, is a an example.

When asked whether these students belong to some union, Dr. Zia told The Educationist, “No, this is an old legacy, they are active against me and the university system. How can we give permission to those students who have short attendance in all academic session. Now their case is in the Academic Council.”
The Vice Chancellor said that students and external elements broke window panes of VC office and damaged official vehicles. The university has requested the District Police Officer Gujrat to proceed against this incident and those involved should be punished as per law.

NOTE: Teachers and students views/comments are welcomed on “Student unions’ restoration: Right or wrong?” The comments will be included in this post with their pictures. 

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