Should private universities get assistance package amid COVID-19 pandemic?

As the government has decided to offer a special assistance package to the public sector universities, UMT Preside Ibrahim Hassan Murad asks what mistake did the 350,000 students in private universities make. Read this detailed story to understand why private universities should be considered for special packages.

As the government has decided to offer assistance packages to the public sector universities to deal with an unprecedented situation as a result of the deadly pandemic, there are some voices about the state of private institutions of higher education in Pakistan. Many academics, policymakers, and analysts are of the view that the government must address the challenges being faced by private universities in the country.

The government on November 13 ordered the closure of all educational institutions across the country from November 26 till January 10 next year and directed for holding online classes until December 24 to reduce the chances of students being infected during the second wave of the coronavirus, which global as well as local experts fear worsens during the winter season.

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The decision was taken in a meeting of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference (IPEMC), chaired by Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood. It was decided in the meeting that schools would be closed from Nov. 26 until December 24 but classes would continue online.

Private universities demand assistance package

In March this year, as the government decided to close educational institutions across the country, the Association of Private Sector Universities of Pakistan (APSUP) wrote a letter to the prime minister to seek an “educational relief package”. The APSUP requested the prime minister to help universities in making arrangements to give salaries to teaching and non-teaching staff of private universities during this period.

It was also requested to the premier that Nepra should waive off 50 percent amount of bills for all private universities while all direct and indirect government taxes of private universities, including annual fees/charges of regulatory/accreditation bodies, should be waived off for this financial year during the lockdown.

The letter read: “We have put in place multiple alternative pedagogies and technologies to ensure the students and their education do not suffer. Teachers are engaged with students through online methodology and all the coursework is being covered without any loss.”

The APSUP also assured the prime minister that in this hour of need private sector universities were standing with him to combat the COVID-19, reported The News.

Read More: Doing more with less: The challenge of higher education in Pakistan

However, no assistance package was offered to the private universities which caused disappointment among the stakeholders.

Biased treatment must end, President UMT

Ibrahim Hasan Murad, President University of Management and Technology (UMT), Lahore, has asked if the students studying in private universities were not Pakistanis. In a series of Tweets, Murad raised some important policy questions. “What mistake did the 350,000 students in private universities make? Do they not require any help?” he asked.

He urged the government that “policymakers must own & help grow #Pakistan in an inclusive manner!”

“This biased treatment towards those who invest/donate hard-earned capital to eliminate illiteracy in the motherland must end!” he added.

According to a recent report, Pakistan exported more than four million tonnes of sugar over the past five years and more than Rs29 billion had been given to sugar mills in terms of export subsidy.

While highlighting the same case, Murad asked if the education sector also deserves the same treatment.  “It is ok for the #sugar sector to get the subsidy, it is ok for the #fertilizer producers to get cheaper gas, it is ok for the #textile exporters to get low-cost electricity, it is ok for #RealEstate developers & investors to get a tax amnesty scheme,” he wrote.

In an interview with GVS, Murad had explained the possible impacts of COVID-19 impact on the education system of Pakistan. “It will take Pakistan at least two years post-Corona to be completely back on its feet. Nonetheless, I can see a much more resilient Pakistan on the other side of the crisis. I’m sure it will be a more tenacious Pakistan; a more successful and prosperous Pakistan. Anything great that someone wishes for can be achieved here. Allah has given Pakistan select challenges but our nation and people have always risen up to them,” he opined.

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