By Azeem Samar
Around eight years ago, a charter was awarded to the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) for building a university. This charter, however, is yet to be utilised, even though the DHA says that it still plans to set up its own university — not at any site at the existing DHA phases but at an altogether new location somewhere at the upcoming DHA-II project on the Super Highway.
It could not be ascertained, however, whether the charter awarded to the DHA for its Suffa University is still valid after the passage of eight years or even more. Meanwhile, circles concerned in the education sector already have serious reservations over the grant of a charter by the government to a university that has no physical existence and is yet to commence academic activities.
DHA Director Education Brig. (retd) Iftikhar Arshad said that while the authority had failed to find a suitable amenity plot in the existing phases of the DHA for establishing the university, it would now establish the university in the DHA-II on the Super Highway as part of a much wider education city project along with schools, colleges, and a medical complex.
He said that hopefully the charter awarded to the DHA many years back for the Suffa University would be useful in setting up the university at the new site.
University of Karachi (KU) Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Pro-VC) Prof. Dr Akhlaq Ahmad, who had also served as an adviser on higher education to the DHA, said that a piece of land had been initially reserved in DHA Phase-VIII near the Defence Authority (DA) O/A-level School for establishing the university. This land, however, was later taken over by the DHA’s Creek City Project.
Dr Ahmad, who was especially hired by the DHA to set up its university, said that progress on the Suffa University project stalled later despite the finalisation of the concept due to the unavailability of a suitable piece of land. Obviously the DHA is a housing authority that runs on commercial lines and it is difficult to see how setting up a university would be among its priorities for a long period of time, he said.
Higher Education Commission (HEC) Executive Director Dr Sohail H Naqvi, based in Islamabad, said that he was aware of the case of the DHA Suffa University and as such the HEC did not recognise the university as the case had been that since grant of charter to the university in question it had not awarded even a single degree.
The name of the DHA Suffa University, however, is listed on the HEC website among the list of chartered universities and degree-awarding institutes in the private sector.
Dr Naqvi said the DHA Suffa University should have been granted the charter before the 2002 federal cabinet’s adoption of a revised and stringent criteria and guidelines for award of charter to upcoming universities. After the adoption of the revised criteria it was not possible for any budding university to receive charter before commencement of academic activities. “Once the DHA builds its university and starts educational activities we will assess and evaluate it from scratch for due recognition. In the present circumstances however, we cannot recognise the university,” Dr Naqvi said.
The DHA had applied and received the charter on the basis of its existing colleges imparting degree education whose facilities and buildings would have been initially utilised for building faculties of the proposed Suffa University, Dr Akhlaq Ahmad said.
He said that as such there was no anomaly in the award of a charter to the Suffa University because for the facilities of the existing DHA colleges were shown to the authorities concerned. Dr Ahmad said that after the required piece of land was not available he had suggested to the DHA authorities that the university should be launched on the basis of existing degree colleges of the authority with a centralised control of faculties. As such the revised concept of the university was very similar to that of some of the prestigious universities of the world, including Oxford, which had a number of constituent colleges. This concept, however, could not materialise either, Dr Ahmad said.
“In the initial years, launching the university was essential for the DHA in view of frequent correspondence of the HEC and other government authorities concerned who wanted to see early utilisation of the charter awarded for the Suffa University,” he said.
The KU Pro-VC said he had initially recommended that the Suffa University should comprise of the faculties of business administration, science, social sciences, and education.
Defence Residents’ Association (DRA) Secretary Asad Qizilbash said that the DHA establishing its own university would simply mean “cheapening” the very term university. “The DHA confining itself to running schools and colleges would be a fine idea but it should not go for setting up a university itself as varsities with proper campuses and academic facilities cannot be set up in every major residential locality of the city,” he said.
DHA spokesman Lt Col (retd) Rafat Naqvi said that the DHA had stalled the progress on the Suffa University project some years back because it was running 19 educational institutions and these were enough to cater to the academic needs of the Defence residents.
He said that if the DHA wanted to set up its own university, it should establish one offering higher education in a specialised field rather than running a general purpose university similar to the academic model of KU.