Universities should have autonomy for political and social discourse for empowerment of students, it was said by Prof Dr Asghar Zaidi, the VC of Government College University (GCU) Lahore, on Monday raising a question that we talk a lot about “jamhorait” (democracy) but are we truly giving awareness to “jamhor” (people)? Prof Zaidi was addressing a panel discussion titled “empowering youth for future leadership” at the University’s Bukhari Auditorium.

Punjab Minister for Higher Education Department (HED) Raja Yassir Humayun chaired the panel discussion which marked the formal beginning of the Second All Pakistan Summit for the Students’ Societies organized by GCU in collaboration with Shaoor Foundation for Education and Awareness (SFEA) and Superior University. Student representatives Hamza Mudasar, Fareeha Hashmi and Affnan Hafiz were also among the panelists.

VC Prof Zaidi said universities have failed to fulfil responsibilities and their current situation truly reflects in Iqbal’s poetry “Shikayat Hai Mujhe Ya Rab! Khudawandaan-e-Maktab Se, Sabaq Shaheen Bachon Ko De Rahe Hain Khaakbazi Ka” (Slaves of custom are all the schools of old; they teach the eaglet to grovel in the dust).

The Vice-Chancellor said higher education is changing rapidly, and the industry is also demanding new skillsets in graduates but we are struggling with a structural lag. He said the main objective of this summit is to bring students, academicians and stakeholders together to conduct a dialogue on the challenges and issues faced by students.

Prof Zaidi said empowerment means giving someone authority and power to claim their rights and independence. Therefore, he said, the question for us is in what ways we can empower our higher education students and what policies need to be adopted.

Punjab Minister Raja Yasir Humayun lamented that in the past Student Unions in Pakistan had been taken in a completely wrong direction and controlled by political parties for their ulterior motives, so ultimately banned.

The minister said that providing a student representative system to higher education institutes was on his agenda. “First of all, we need to empower the students by making them run affairs in the institutions by having access to the allocated funds but instead of a students’ union we may call it a student representation system so that it could be kept away from politics,” he added.

The minister encouraged students to actively participate in co-curricular activities, saying the job market has become competitive and you cannot get jobs just on the basis of your marks, rather your communication skills and leadership qualities help you more in securing your dream jobs.

Advocate High Court Ms Aaminah Qadir highlighted the importance of acknowledging fundamental human rights. She also stressed the need for a proper and regular communication channel between student bodies and administration to avoid protests.

Secretary Youth Affairs and Sports (YAS) Department Punjab Ehsan Bhutta, University of Sindh (SU) pro VC Prof Dr Azhar Ali Shah, BZU Multan Law College Principal Dr Samza Fatima, Raja Shoiab Akhtar from Shahoor Foundation and GCU Youth Development Center Director Mubashir Awan also addressed the two-hour long panel discussion.

Student representatives were also asked about the reforms they would want to see in the educational system. They mentioned three main points; collaboration between students and teachers for effective communication, the need for awareness against intellectual bullying and third was to develop such a curriculum that instigates critical thinking.

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