Daily Times Editorial 19 September 2019

Lifting university rankings

 

There has long been some controversy about the credibility of ranking higher education institutions but two or three firms have acquired reliability over the years in this respect. The Times Higher Education (THE) is counted among reputable firms which rank universities of the world at regular intervals. This year’s ranking has drawn an abysmal picture of Pakistan’s higher education sector as only one university could make it to top 500. Digging further, only seven universities fall in the top 1,000. This is a dire situation, requiring immediate government attention. We are a nation with youth forming over 60 percent of our population. They have a right to education and the government is responsible to grant them this right. But the decay in the standard of higher education is not a good omen. This breakdown has not been registered overnight. Higher education has been slipping from the priority list of successive governments for a long time. To the astonishment of everyone, this year the government has cut almost by half what low budget was set for higher education in previous years. Our spending on higher education is counted among the lowest in developing countries.

Against the backdrop of this obvious disregard for higher education, it is a justified statement that our universities are performing well and we have a cause to celebrate that Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) is among the top 500 of the world. Dictators have built universities that look like castles and forts. High security pomp, tight monitoring and a culture of refined protocols have stifled any chances of critical thinking there. They have robots passing out of them every year. In contrast, the QAU is thick with encroachments and beset by shortage of funds. But it has a system in place that promotes research and dialogue. It has been observed that interfaith dialogues are held as a matter of routine on campus. Its fees are lower which leads to growth of a culture of merit. The students who meet merit put up hard work to retain their positions.

This is the secret of success that other universities should also learn from and implement. Notwithstanding the marketing aspects, ranking universities at least draws a line for all stakeholders to know who is who and what is what. It, overall, is a positive practice that generates healthy competition, which is welcome. *

 

 

Unsafe cities for children

 

Children in neighbourhood love to play on streets. Yet the streets of Kasur district’s Chunian tehsil and other areas might have become deserted after the discovery of bodies of three minor boys. The bodies of the boys – of them, two missing since August and the third one for the last three days – were found in sand dunes near Chunian bypass. Two more children of the locality have been missing since June. We pray for their safe recovery. The discovery of the bodies, though painful for families and friends, however will help them embrace the fact that the dear souls are with their maker. The deceased were between eight and 12 years old.
The incidence of serial kidnapping and killing after rape in Kasur district has sent a wave of shock across the country. People are still negotiating with the grief of such serial incidents which rocked Kasur in January last year. Over a dozen children went missing before the countrywide outcry shook everybody after the kidnapping and murder of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur last year. An extensive search for the culprit ensued. DNA tests of hundreds of people were conducted until the culprit, Imran, was traced, arrested and later executed. It seems that predators and pedophiles are again out, this time in Chunian, hardly one hour drive from Kasur, challenging the writ of the state.

Prior to the Zainab case, the district hit the headlines for a child abuse scandal where more than 200 children were forced to perform indecent acts, and blackmailed into repeating them for the gang that had filmed them in Husain Khanwala village. They also sold clips to organised child porn sites. The largest scandal of child abuse in Pakistani history was also able to provoke stern action after a nationwide uproar.

Despite making examples out of the culprits of Zainab case and Husain Khanwala village, the recurring of child abuse cases demands a wide study of the roles played by law enforcers, social scientists and civil society activists. According to NGO Sahil, child abuse related cases went up by 11 per cent in 2018 from 2017. In a way, every day, more than 10 children are abused one way or another. In most of the cases, the predators happen to be close family members, mohalla shopkeepers, teachers or tutors. Moreover, mostly families do not speak out against such cases as well. *
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