It has been four decades now since the ban on students unions, and we’re in the second decade of the full-blown privatisation of the higher education sector. It has been a downhill journey ever since.
In a handful of cases where they’re delivering quality education, in public as well as in private sectors, higher education institutes act little better than mass-production units insofar as they merely produce technicians for the market. The vast majority of the institutes aren’t even capable of that, leaving graduates who pay hefty sums in tuition fee either underemployed or unemployed.
A related issue is that of the (lack of) affiliation and certification of many of these private institutions with higher education departments in provinces. In recent weeks, there have been several instances of students from such private institutions resorting to protests to highlight their plight.
It’s ironic that the issue emerges only when an institution has awarded degrees. Why is such an institution allowed to enroll students in the first place is a question needing an urgent response from the higher education authorities. The higher education officials and the businesses that profit from such shady ventures must realise that they are involved in the worst kind of criminal activity. And the government must take swift action against them, meaning an independent audit must immediately be conducted to evaluate all private sector institutions. Those failing the audit should immediately be closed so that they cannot embezzle any student of their precious time as well as these families’ earnings.
While this may be a quick-fix solution, for the long-run, we ought to urgently reconsider our approach towards higher education.
Firstly, it is absolutely necessary that access is made easier for students from marginalised regions, and lower-income households. While affirmative action has been taken in the past, it must continue to be a policy priority for equitable distribution of higher education dividends.
Secondly, the bureaucratisation of our colleges and universities must end. Higher education institutes ought to be islands where critical inquiry is promoted, and this is simply not possible if an administrator with no background in academia is set to call the shots. It is precisely because of such administrative handling that our colleges and universities have been reduced to policing zones, rather than spaces for higher learning. A greater role for faculty and students in campus governance is needed.
Finally, a national debate is urgently needed on the purpose of higher education. If we want to transform our colleges and universities from mass-production units to places that produces critical thinkers, we have to revive our humanities and social sciences departments. There is no shortage of qualified personnel who’d be willing to volunteer their services for this noble task. The authorities must engage these voices, and begin the process of transformation of our higher education institutions. *
Published in Daily Times, October 18th 2018.