Many of the institutions have been operating for many years with enrollment running in hundreds

Mar 01 - 07, 2004

Those who fail to learn a lesson from their past mistakes are doomed to repeat them, so goes an old and time-tested saying. The prologue is prompted by the Sindh Government's directive to almost three-and-a-half dozen higher education institutes, most of them based in Karachi, to close down their illegal operations. The action prompted by instructions by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) based in the federal capital.

The Education Department's Task Force on Higher Education served final notices to the administrations of 42 private higher education institutions, of whom 39 are located in Karachi and one each in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Nawabshah, to get their institutions registered by March 20 or face 'forcible' closure of their campuses.

Many of the institutions have been operating for many years with enrollment running in hundreds. Many of them have already closed down their operations years ago. The provincial government's charge-sheet against these private institutions, which were allowed to operate without any hindrance thus far, include a range of charges the foremost being their failure to get the approval from the HEC or provincial education department. Many of them are also charged as "fakes".

All these institutions are offering degree programmes and many of them claim to have collaborations with foreign universities the validity of which should have been verified by the relevant authorities in the first place. However, as usual the institutions which have been allowed to operate with full impunity are suddenly being declared "illegal and fake" by the provincial education department.

The question is, what takes the Sindh Government that long to "find out" that these institutions were "illegal"? Is it a matter of mere failure of registration with the Sindh Education Department or offering degrees without the approval of the HEC? The primary reason for the action taken against these private institutions as cited by the Additional Secretary Education Sindh was to "ensure authensity of these 42 institutions" as directed by the HEC.

A more important question, however, is that if the registration of these institutions would make them "clean" to operate once again even if the foreign affiliations they claim are fakes? The stress on the "registration" and absence of any mentioning to ascertain the quality of education and the claimed affiliations are another areas of concerns particularly as it fails to justifies accusing many of these institutions as fakes.

What happens if many of the institutions choosing to register as per the official directive to make them "legal" later turns out to have fake foreign affiliations? Would that still make them legal because they got the approval of the HEC to award the degrees and got themselves registered with the provincial education department. Isn't the latest drive to cleanse the province of unscrupulous private institutions which charge hefty fees half-baked for its failure to include investigations of such important matter of whether a institution is really affiliated with a foreign university?

Yet another question is that why these institutes were allowed to operate in the first place if they did not fulfil the conditions required and why no action were taken against them till now. Either the relevant authorities were wrong then or they are wrong now. When the provincial education department accuses these private institutions as "illegal" and "fake" it is actually pointing one of its own fingers towards itself for failing to do its job. These institutions were working out in the open for many years and were not something that could easily be concealed under the very eyes and nose of the relevant departments who for reasons unknown have only awaken from slumber recently.

While many of the institutions named by the education department have already wrapped up their operations there are many which have hundreds of students on their enrollment lists. Needless to say, the parents of these students have invested enormous amounts of monies, energy and time to ensure their children get a degree that promises them lucrative jobs in the future. However, the hopes of these parents who have invested in the future of their children so heavily in more ways than money have can be smashed if they don't register by 20th of next month.

It is not hard to visualise the impact that the education department's latest move may have on the careers of students enrolled with these institutions, many of whom boast enjoying affiliations with prestigious foreign universities. It has happened before and it seems to happen yet again. If our memories serve us right we may remember that in not-so-distant past, hundreds of students enrolled in private medical colleges in Karachi suddenly found themselves that they don't have any classes to go to. Their medical careers were cut short midway when private medical colleges were closed under similar circumstances resulting in heavy financial losses to the parents who paid enormous fees and other expenses well in advance.

And yet, we never learnt a lesson to check the workings of private higher education to help ensure that no such incident happens in the future to protect the public interest that can have such dire consequences. The education department has failed us before and it has failed us again.