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Has LUMS Really Messed Up Its Financial Aid Affairs?

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The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) has been caught in the middle of a social media backlash after several students reported being struck off the university’s financial assistance program without prior intimation despite no changes in their curricular or monetary  situation.

Financial aid is often the educational lifeline of dozens of students that wish to achieve their education dreams at LUMS; one of the top, and possibly the most expensive, universities in Pakistan. In recent days, several students have taken to social media to voice their concerns, angst and disappointment over the decision of LUMS to suddenly discontinue aid to students already receiving it.

A student explained that he had been left in a lurch by the administration’s decision in a Facebook post and the only options left for him were to either drop out or kill himself – an alarming thinking path the young man has been forced to tread, any way you look at it.

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While another explained how students were suddenly taken off the financial aid list.

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Money, Where Art Thou?

The question that has probably boggled everyone concerned with the development is: where is all the money that the institution has actually going?

LUMS is certainly one of the richest private universities in Pakistan, which happens to be one of the poorest performing nations in the region. LUMS’ own financial statements reveal that the university has plenty to go around for a small section of people who it thinks are worthy of its assistance. According to the university’s financial statements as of June 30, 2018, it had total assets of over Rs 5.8 billion, of which current assets (cash or equivalent) amounted to more than Rs 3.25 billion. It also reported a surplus of revenue over expenditure of Rs 820 million.

The numbers are impressive as they are, but even more is the growth in numbers that the university has seen over the previous year. LUMS’ total assets (assets&liabilities) have seen a growth of 16.5%, while the current assets (cash or equivalent) have seen an awe-inspiring growth of 106%.

Broken down into specific funds, the university’s current fund was worth Rs 1.6 billion (grew by 23%), its endowment fund had Rs 1.54 billion (grew by 8%), while the fund for scholarships – something that LUMS has decided not to offer to several previous recipients – had Rs 97 million as of June 30, 2018 after registering a whopping growth of 70% over the previous financial year.

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Figures In Millions Of Rupees

That apparently leaves LUMS with pretty decent amount of resources to continue providing complete, or partial, financial assistance to its students who merit the aid. Or at least inform them beforehand of the financial troubles the students are potentially looking at to give them decent enough time to look for other sources of funding.

Heartbreak

The current fiasco is not only an opportunity for students aspiring to get into LUMS on financial aid to rethink their plans for higher education, but also a time for donors to reflect if the generous donations they mete out to LUMS actually go towards making educational dreams of the financially constrained pupils possible. Students must keep in mind that a LUMS journey buoyed by financial aid could end in cold discomfort, without a warning, as has been the case with several students this time.

Donors, on their part, should be asking if LUMS really needs all the money it says it does. After all, all major infrastructural projects at LUMS are backed by hefty names, corporate and private. The fees, even for those who can pay, are nothing short of astronomical and the donations continue to pour in. Still, students are being denied the aid their life and future depends on.

LUMS say 35% of the students receive some sort of financial aid. That it disbursed close to Rs 880 million in aid to its students in 2018-19. However, the stories emerging from students left in the lurch speak otherwise. Most of the students who are relating their ordeal are not first-time applicants for aid; they are the ones who the LUMS authorities chose to fund for studying at the university initially and now chosen not to, without any particular degradation in their academic performance or improvement in their financial status. As expected, people are flaying LUMS and asking how it expected with no money to raise thousands of rupees overnight.

The problem here is really not who LUMS decides to assist and with what amount while it finalizes its aid decisions. It is an independent authority and has its own parameters that dictate its operations.

The problem really is leading someone on. Making someone believe that the good times will last forever. That he or she can expect to continue working hard and be rewarded for their efforts with continued support from the institute. That generosity is not yet dead, and that transparency and professionalism can be expected from an institution that is considered to produce some of the finest professionals in Pakistan.

The student council at LUMS has responded by asking students to file appeals against the decision.  That only amounts to more waiting, more anticipation, and possibly a bigger heartbreak.  LUMS has been accused of many things over the years,  but even its detractors have always acknowledged it for upholding principles of merit  and transparency.

This time though, the wails of unethical treatment of students have emerged from within its very perimeter.  And they could well be enough to snap many out of the dream that is LUMS.

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