By Intsab Sahi

 

LUMS landed in hot waters once again earlier this month for an alleged 41% fee hike during a time of utter distress in the country and worldwide, as the global population finds itself battling an unforeseen foe in the form of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

 At a time when the education systems across continents are in a state of disarray, the lack of regard shown by the administration of one of Pakistan’s top institutions for the current socio-economic situation most students find themselves in is troubling.

The LUMS fee hike may have gone unnoticed if it was not for the student outcry on social media outlets. Students quickly took to the web to express their added apprehensions regarding the decision, and the news soon spread like wildfire – so much so that even the Federal Education Minister, Dr. Shafqat Mehmood, took notice and tweeted for clarification on the matter, urging the varsity to reconsider their decision deeming the increase ‘unacceptable.’

Even though LUMS stands tall amongst its domestic peers, the new fee policy is still considerably damaging to its student body.

The university issued a statement shortly thereafter, claiming that a 13% fee increase for the academic year 2020/21 was decided prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The official statement went on to justify the shift from a blanket fee model for 12-20 credit hours to a per credit hour one by stating that the new policy would benefit the students taking fewer credit hours per semester. In terms of the statement, the proposed shift is to discourage students from taking on an unnecessary work overload every semester, and fan-out the credit hours required for graduation reasonably.

  Read Between the Figures

At first glance, there is a considerable difference between the percentage increase in fee alleged by the students and the one quoted by varsity officials. Anyone would be perplexed -and rightly so – by the two starkly varying figures of 41% and 13%. Speaking to Academia Magazine a recent LUMS graduate explained how the 41% figure is in fact a more realistic estimation of the fee hike. “The university’s decision to discredit the blanket fee means that anyone taking more than 12 credit hours per semester would have to pay almost double the fee they would have in the past.”

For instance, for the year 2015-2016, the undergraduate blanket fee for 12-20 credit hours was Rs. 252,000 which translated to Rs. 21,000 per credit hour which was measured taking the lower limit in consideration i.e. 12 credit hours per semester.

As per the new fee structure, the per credit hour fee is now Rs. 28,350. However, students are no longer able to pay the same set amount – as they would under the previous fee structure – whether they enroll for 12 credit hours, or 20. If the new fee is calculated using the lower limit of 12 credit hours, the final payable adds up to Rs.340,200. Alternatively, if the same calculation is made using the upper limit of 20 credit hours, the grand total adds up to a startling Rs.567,000.

This is not the first time LUMS has managed to create a stir. It seems every few months one news or the other of the premier institution’s indiscretions starts making rounds.

According to the HEC policy guidelines, for completion of a 4-year undergraduate program, a student has to take 124-140 credit hours over 8 semesters. Therefore, a student taking 20 credit hours a semester is not uncommon. “At times, we were unable to take our desired courses so, we would pick them up later when they were available, and that would automatically increase the number of credit hours taken that semester. I always took more 12 credit hours a semester, but never had to pay extra for them because it was all covered under the blanket fee”, said the LUMS alumna.

The 13% increase is, therefore, not indicative of the actual probable increase, and the student outcry is more than justifies because not only has a well-established university increased its fee unreasonable, it has revised the fee model without warning at uncertain times for the country’s economic wellbeing.

This is not the first time LUMS has managed to create a stir. It seems every few months one news or the other of the premier institution’s indiscretions starts making rounds. Whether it is a case of students lodging sexual harassment complaints against a professor who then mysteriously disappears, or the not-so-notorious change for name proposal from LUMS to LUMSU, it is apparent that the Lahore based university knows how to get the Twitterati all riled up.

 On The Pedestal 

LUMS enjoys a high rank amongst all private and public institutions in the country and usually for the right reasons. The varsity is one of very few Pakistani institutions making a regular appearance on international ranking tables. Times Higher Education places it in the 801-1000 category on its world university ranking list, whereas QS Ranking places it in the 701-750 bracket for the year 2020.

The international outlook for LUMS is the highest of any Pakistani university at 49%. Not only is LUMS internationally recognized, but is also the first choice for most capable students domestically. LUMS has stricter admission requirements of all private universities and so it is deemed an achievement to gain admission into the university.

However, international outlook scores or social status are not enough to justify such drastic fee hikes. Though LUMS may have scored top marks for appealing to the international community, it is significant to note that other public universities such as Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamic International University, and NUST scored higher in citations they received for various contributions to several academic disciplines. Furthermore, they are housing more international students than LUMS and even have better teaching scores. Take for instance, the University of Peshawar with a teaching score of 25.2% compared to 19.7% for LUMS.

Even though LUMS stands tall amongst its domestic peers, the new fee policy is still considerably damaging to its student body. The LUMS brand sells and it is likely that the next time the admissions open, students will once again flock to its doors hoping to secure a coveted seat. They would, however, have the opportunity to make a conscious decision to paying the fee on a per credit hour basis. Conversely, currently enrolled students have been caught off guard, “the students are enraged because the shift is too sudden. They have no option, but to pay the humongous fee to graduate on time,” said the alumna who wishes to remain anonymous.

For now, the LUMS administration is adamant to implement the new model, and a Twitter trend has not been able to dissuade them from revising the change in policy. Only time will tell if the abominable fee challans will eventually push the students away or keep them coming back to LUMS and its inflated prestige.

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