Red tape

15 Apr, 2019


The writer is a mechanical engineer from UET.
The writer is a mechanical engineer from UET.

AS is the case with most public sector institutions in Pakistan, I found myself facing red tape in one of the country’s most prestigious universities — University of the Punjab (PU). I am a graduate from another renowned university — University of Engineering & Technology (UET), Lahore, and recently had the unfortunate experience of trying to get enrolled for a private exam at PU.

Not so long ago, when I was trying to study abroad, I researched a lot of universities on the internet for suitable programmes. From the basic course search to queries, application, and fee payment, I always found each process as easy as pie and seated at my laptop, I was able to secure admission to some of the world’s best universities.

My horrific experience with our very own Punjab University started with an information hunt on its website. The old-fashioned HTML tables-based website was scattered and complex. Initially, I concluded there are no programme admissions open currently. After a while, when I looked up the website again, out of the blue a page popped up stating that the admissions for M.A/M.Sc were open. I searched some more and found a downloadable admission form from which I came to know that a “registration number” is needed.

In my quest to get the registration, I found an online application system. It was a pleasant surprise, which vanished seconds later when I read that this online form once completed, will generate a fee challan which must be deposited manually in the bank and details must entered online. After this, the form can be printed; that print must then be posted or submitted to the admissions office by hand.

The admission process required attested photocopies of every document on planet earth.

Attested photocopies, photographs and two documents — NOC and degree equivalence certificate — had to be attached with the form. I had to go to UET for the NOC. UET is no better than PU in matters of red tape. There was a form, a fee, and a procedure which required two to three days and at least three trips to the university. Finally, I got the NOC which merely stated that UET did not have any objection to my getting admission in some other university.

Now there was the question of that degree equivalence certificate. As a ‘proud’ engineer having an HEC recognised degree from one of Pakistan’s top public-sector engineering institutes, I thought that the equivalency would not be required of me. However, when I tried to submit the form without the equivalency certificate, a clerk with a deadpan expression and the supercilious air of a supermodel told me to bring the certificate, whether I had studied at UET or Oxford. Patiently, I inquired about the procedure and he sent me to room 25 in the adjacent block.

The room 25 clerk was sleeping with his head on the desk. I knocked on the table to wake up the sleeping beauty who told me that I had to get a form and submit a fee of Rs2,360 and the certificate would be produced the next day. He informed me that the form could be acquired from the “new building”. When I asked for its coordinates, I discovered that it was the same building from where I was instructed to go to room 25.

I walked back and got a lengthy four-page form in which all sorts of details had to be entered, and to which attested photocopies along with photographs and the original degree had to be attached. By this time, after spending days trying to enrol for just a private exam, I was annoyed enough to think about quitting everything. I took the form and exited from the university.

The entire procedure recounted here was only in order to get registered. After that, there was the ‘admission form’ which required a separate fee, attested photocopies of every document on planet earth, attested photographs and manual submission.

The overall ordeal that I had to suffer through raises several questions. Why can’t we develop comprehensive, modern websites for our universities? Why can’t the online system be used to submit the complete application along with uploaded soft copies of the documents? Why does a state university require equivalency of another state university degree which is already duly recognised by the HEC? Why does a university require an NOC from the previous university when the degree is proof of clearance of the student? Overall, why is the admission process so hideously difficult?

Automating a university’s administrative processes does not require any new programming techniques or developing some cutting-edge technology which only Elon Musk can provide. The universities of the world which we idealise have all done the same years ago and are continuously improving — automation is leading them towards simpler processes, less paperwork, lower expenditures, and happier students. Universities in Pakistan are also in dire need of the same.

The writer is a mechanical engineer from UET.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019