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HEC retracts opposition to revival of student unions

Contrary to the stance it shared with a parliamentary panel last week, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) on Thursday said it supports student unions in higher educational institutions.

The HEC said a document showing the commission`s opposition to the revival of student unions was `inadvertently` shared with the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education in response to a proposed bill.

Based on the document, which is a part ofthe parliamentary record, Dawn on Jan 27 had highlighted the issue.

But the HEC in a statement on Thursday actually said the document in question was an analysis prepared by `junior staf f` of the HEC as an input for the final decision of the commission.

`The staff analysis appears to have been circulated [and shared with the standing committee] inadvertently and has led to the confusion,` said the statement, adding: `The inadvertent error is deeply regretted.

Opposing restoration of student unions the HEC in the document shared with the committee had proposed other healthyactivities such as debates, declamation contests, poetry, music and sports for the students However, the HEC clarified that the standing committee, which would discuss the bill moved by MNA Kesso Mal Kheeal Das, would be given the `actual` document which opposes an amendment to HEC ordinance but supports `objectives and reasons behind the bill to revive student unions. We are mindful of the concerns expressed by several stakeholders including a majority of vice chancellors that in the past student unions had become a means of channelling political pressureand political influence into the functioning of universities.

The document to be submitted to the HEC (available with Dawn) stated that there were several arguments in favour of student unions, including the fact that they are a manifestation of the constitutional right of free association. They can also play an important pedagogical function namely they provide students an opportunity to gain essential social and political skills in public speaking, diplomacy, debate, coalition building, negotiation and compromise and leadership.

`Unions can also become vehicles for expression of grievances, monitoring of governance and access to information. On the other hand, past record suggests that student unions were a grave danger of becoming vehicles for undermining campus peace and civility, proliferation of arms and narcotics on campuses, capture of university property by organised groups for their personal purposes, importation of extraneous political agendas and ulterior motives and coercing or pressuring university officials for self or group agendas.

More importantly, these practices led in the past to undermining of academic standards and robbing of future prospects of the students. None of this is acceptable or should be encouraged.

The objective should be to achieve positive goals of student associations without reopening the doors to negative outcomes witnessed in the past. One option is to tread carefully by supporting alternative structures such as studentcouncils, associations, organisations or clubs. Such institutions have worked well in severalcountries to facilitate productive, peaceful and healthy co-curricular activities.

They adopt such practices as debates and declamation contests, poetry festivals, music events, sports, interfaith events, entrepreneurial activities, environmental activism and support for welfare activities.

Selection through competitive processes to become members of such associations provides an excellent opportunity to learn the significance of merit and acquiring organisational and interpersonal abilities.

Another option, the HEC proposed, was to make the formation of unions contingent upon the formulation of guidelines and a code of conduct. HEC said there was no need for fresh legislation to the HEC ordinance to make rules and protocols to regulate student unions as well as associations.

`HEC shall exercise the powers vested in it by the existing legislation to make rules and guidelines for the formation, elections, purposes and code of conduct of student unions, student councils, student associations, student groups or student organisations. The resulting guidelines may be reviewed by the parliamentary committee to assess whether or not additional legislation is required, it said.

Title : HEC retracts opposition to revival of student unions
Author : Daily Dawn
Type : News
Role Performer : Corporate author
Subject : Higher education commission
Publisher : Daily Dawn
Publication Place : Islamabad
Date : 2020-01-31
Language : English