Apr 172008

Fasi Zaka
Last week Ghazi Salauddin was right on the mark when he questioned the disproportionate media focus on the roughing up of Dr Sher Afghan Niazi and Arbab Ghulam Rahim when another compelling story slipped away from the radar of the electronic fourth estate, the lynching of a factory worker Jagdesh Kumar for alleged blasphemy.
Jagdesh was lynched by his colleagues in view of the police who did nothing to save him, they only intervened when the factory workers with blood on their hands went for overkill by trying to burn the dead Jagdesh’s body. The savagery of Jagdesh’s death was not only gory, but gratuitous, one of his eyes had been punctured with a screwdriver.

Again, one of the real stories that haven’t been given the right attention is the public manner of the announcement that the new CM secretariat of Punjab will be converted to a women’s IT university by the new government in a bid to rationalize the use of resources.

As is common in times of the assumption of any new government in Pakistan, public displays of austerity are quickly announced. Unfortunately since this cycle has been repeated several times, the people aren’t in a mood to buy these announcements. We know that eventually 1600cc cars will prove to be underpowered, that the cabinet will start to swell with the creation of ministries of dubious needs to keep the coalition well greased.

But the question is, how did the PML-N government come to the conclusion that the real need of higher education in the province is an IT university, and that too only for women? What does the HEC have to say about this, and was it even consulted?

One of the great debates in Pakistan has been the questioning of what exactly constitutes a university, and Pervez Hoodbhoy has argued this eloquently over time. An IT University is simply a grandiose department; it does not have all the other subject areas that make it a truly educational experience. It is mislabeled as a university.

The old presidency in Rawalpindi was converted to the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, and one look at its breadth in academic programmes shows that it has done its job in fulfilling its mission to be considered a true multidisciplinary university.

Lahore has the Lahore College for Women University doing much the same. But the question really is, in much the same way the Chaudrys replicated their CM Secretariat lavishly on 8-Club Road, are we doing the same with this proposed IT university for women?

Why reinvent the wheel? Has the LCWU been consulted if they need space, or for that matter Kinnaird? Could not the existing universities that want to branch out their existing programmes make better use of the space rather than starting everything from scratch? And what about the truly well performing universities that could use satellite campuses in the field of Computer Science and IT, like NUST? Do female faculty resources exist in Pakistan to provide for a female-only IT university?

It may very well turn out that yes, we do need an IT university for women. And that’s fine, if the due process in identifying a project has been carried, like a need survey and feasibility. But much like the criticized new CM secretariat, a simple feasibility that had an opportunity cost element would have demonstrated that no, the government should not be spending Rs489 million on bulletproof cars in Punjab. The same is now true for this IT university, what is its opportunity cost in terms of higher education, is this the optimum choice?

But the real question being posed here is that policy should not be subject to random whim, which I suspect it has because IT has been the buzzword of prosperity for Pakistan (never realized) and the seclusion of women a popular cause.

Already, higher education in Pakistan has the women’s university’s some people wanted. Either hand this building over to one of them who can put it to use, or even better, stop the renewed efforts to segregate education at this level. If the new government in the Punjab wants austerity and efficiency, then they can start with good governance which makes everything inherently cheaper, and what is central to it is full disclosure on how decisions are arrived at, and they can start with explaining why they think the CM secretariat should be a women’s IT university.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@ yahoo.com


Courtesy: The News, 17/4/2008

 Posted by at 10:00 am

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