It’s not what you think! by Varda Nisar

There are certain perceptions that exist in the minds of people, and no matter what you do, their effect never dwindles until they take the form of “stereotypes”.

It is this kind of a perception that is also being associated with public universities. Therefore as a student of one such institution I feel it my duty to speak up in order to clear the general view.

I got this chance recently when around 25 students — myself included — were selected for a certain programme on whether the quality of education here was good enough to guarantee a nice job post graduation. The programme was also attended by a group of forced to tag along best friends who with the other curious audience members made up the “eager and determined youth” supposed to share their opinions on the topic of discussion. So began the recording but just a few minutes of hearing the exchange of comments left me shocked and appalled.

The reason for this was the mindset of our youth that was fast revealing itself in front of the cameras. There seemed to be a general trend of thinking that public universities were a lost cause with absolutely no hope, that the teachers there lacked  interest in their respective subjects and that they pressurised the teachers into copy/pasting, also that the universities were failing to provide them with the resources while practical education was simply non-existent. In other words they were just seen as places where cheating was rampant besides the several other problems thought to be synonymous with public universities.

It is, however, my humble opinion that we have set up certain ideas about what a public university is, and no amount of real interaction would ever change these perceptions. Now I am not blind and know very well that public universities do have their fair share of problems. There is the issue of funding, politics, clashes, administration, etc., but when a student of the university stands up on national television to point a finger at a teacher for pressuring students into cheating, when she accuses teachers of being 60 per cent responsible for the copy/pasting undertaken by the students, one really has to ask oneself what is really wrong with this picture?

Doesn’t someone need to question these students’ very morality? Just because they can get away with something due of the lack of infrastructure that should have been in place to catch them, does it really mean that they should be pursuing such activities?

The other questions raised in the show also included some on the lack of practical education about which I would say that it is not difficult to get an internship, especially in this time and era of the rise of the corporate sector. There is always a demand for interns and the corporate sector is famous for hiring them for free and exploiting their services to no end. Then why is it so that the students don’t try to make an effort themselves? I know tons of people who have interned every year to  put together a strong resume for themselves, too. I myself have been interning since I was 14 years old.

But my response was met with huge denial and booing, the argument being that it is completely impossible to even get an internship here. For me this raises more questions.

Is everyone with a university education qualified enough to make it in this age of tough competition? Can we then really blame the institution? Not everyone finishes first in the race. The market today demands  something unique. As much as I hate to admit it, the fact remains that the competition demands of you to come out at the top or bring something new to the table.

But when the mentality of adult university-going students is that of victimisation, can they really make it in this world of tough competition? And coming back to the original point that I was trying to make about the perceptions associated with public universities, yes, they have their problems, but my own five-year education at my university has also made me witness strict rules by the university regarding attendance, myself being stopped from appearing for a paper due to lack of it.

The university does have some of the best teachers about whom I know from personal experience that they have always been there to help students out, from getting them job interviews to internships to plain old encouragement.

So the conclusions that I have come to are simple. Yes, the university has problems, but the stereotyping it has to stop. I study at a government
university, and it is one of the best universities here. Yes we have problems, but we need to take those in our stride while trying to find a solution for them.

When I came into this university, I had hoped for an environment filled with rebellious ideas, discussions, and heated debates, a place where the students would rise to protest against a wrong, which simply indicates that no one owns the university. But we do owe it too. And until we do, it is highly unfair of us to expect anything in return from the institution, which is already doing the best it can to educate us.

The writer is a student of architecture at the University of Karachi.

This article was first published in The Education, Dawn Newspaper on 20th February 2011

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