A protest by students of University of Peshawar (UoP) against a hike in tuition fees and lack of facilities has entered its 14th day, with protesters now threatening to forcibly shut down activities at the varsity if their demands are not met.
The protest is being led by Muttahida Tulaba Mahaz (MTM) or united students front, a combined body of various student organisations in University of Peshawar that is demanding the university administration address various concerns affecting students at the institution.
The MTM has been protesting since November 28 and its office bearers have had several meetings with the university administration as well as KP Adviser to CM on Higher Education Minister Mushtaq Ghani, but no final settlement to the issue has been agreed upon. The demands put forward by MTM include a revocation of a 10% hike in tuition fees, provision of transport facility to hostel dwellers as well as day scholars, an endowment fund for scholarships, accreditation of degrees of some departments with authorities concerned, cancellation of decision to phase out of BA and MA programmes and regularisation of Class III and IV university employees. Other demands include PM’s Fee reimbursement scheme, special scholarships for tribal-area students, inclusion of student representatives in governing bodies, cleanliness in and around campus and provisions for new male and female hostels.
In a meeting held last week between Mushtaq Ghani, university officials and MTM representatives, officials maintained that some issues raised by the protesters fell in the jurisdiction of the federal government and Higher Education Commission, while others like financial deficits etc. were in the domain of the provincial government. They assured the student representatives that these issues would be taken up at the relevant forums. However, the issue of tuition fee hike would be discussed by the UoP syndicate meeting to be held on December 12.
The university officials sought a month’s time for settling various issues, which apparently left the MTM divided. MTM President Malik Atif, who leads the Insaf Students Federation (ISF) at UoP, announced that ISF would cooperate with the administration and give them the one month it had sought to resolve the issues. He also announced that ISF would not be part of MTM’s activities.
However, Pakhtoon Students Federation (PSF) is not buying any of the university’s assurances. In a press conference on Saturday, MTM Chairman Bilal Khan Buneri said none of the demands, except cleanliness and provision of transport, had been met and MTM would be forced to close down activities at the university if the issues were not properly resolved.
He said MTM was awaiting the decisions of the syndicate meeting scheduled for December 12 (tomorrow). If the decisions were not in accordance with MTM demands, “we will shut down all hostels, departments and colleges”, Buneri said, adding that responsibility for what follows would rest with the university administration and the provincial government.
The developments appear to echo last month’s protests at Quaid-e-Azam University that resulted in an eventual violent crackdown on students. Scores of university student were left injured and over a hundred arrested when security forces broke up the three-week long protest by various student bodies against expulsion and rustication of students.
Although attempts of UoP administration to negotiate with the protesters are commendable, the failure to arrive at a consensus and MTM’s threat to lock down the campus foretell a disaster approaching. We sincerely hope that the university administration ardently considers genuine demands of the protesters, while it is also only fair to expect agitated students to understand the limitations of the administration’s jurisdiction and time while seeking resolutions to their genuine concerns.
Universities are the highest seats of learning and their staff and students among the most learned members of a society. The administration should exercise utmost restraint while handling matters and steer clear of employing any tactic other than that of meaningful negotiations.
On the other hand, peaceful protest is the right of each citizen and UoP students should also strive to settle issues with the administration peacefully through steadfastness, reason, and logic. Resorting to violence or high handedness will certainly fail the cause of enlightenment higher education is expected to bring in a pupil. Violence will only breed violence.