Hostels at public-sector universities, like the one at International Islamic University Islamabad are insufficient to cater to students who then rely on private hostels. — White Star
Hostels at public-sector universities, like the one at International Islamic University Islamabad are insufficient to cater to students who then rely on private hostels. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: Due to a combination of weak regulation and financial constraints, the shortage of accommodation is a burning issue at public-sector universities, while private ones do not provide living facilities at all.

Thousands of university students in the capital are forced to live in private hostels in the absence of accommodation at their institutions.

This October, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) even tried to seal a private hostel in E-11, leading to unrest among university students in the city. Although they managed to thwart the operation at the time, students now remain fearful that their residences could be shut down, as the CDA sealed a private hostel in G-9 the same month.

The lack of appropriate accommodation and the eviction of students from private hostels were also brought up at the Student Solidarity March in the capital last month.

Local MNA Ali Nawaz Awan, the special assistant to the prime minister on CDA affairs, has raised the shortage of hostels in universities in several parliamentary committees. He told Dawn that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) should not allow universities that do not provide living facilities.

“The HEC is the regulator. In the latest committee meeting, I raised my voice as to why the regulator allowed universities that do not have or have a shortage of hostels,” Mr Awan said, adding that the HEC should only issue no-objection certificates (NOC) to new universities when they provide accommodation.

“Islamabad, the capital city, has been facing this grave issue. Thousands of students are forced to live in private hostels, which is an injustice,” he said.

He added that if the HEC needs stringent rules and procedures to issue NOCs to new universities, lawmakers and standing committees would aid the regulator in this regard.

Mr Awan noted that students that live in private hostels face the constant threat that their hostels could be closed down because, under the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) regulations, hostels cannot operate in residential areas.

The CDA even sealed some hostels in residential areas, upsetting many students.

The authority has since kept quiet on the issue.

Many public-sector universities, including the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics and Comsats, do not provide living facilities for their students.

The ones that do – such as Quaid-i-Azam University (QUA), International Islamic University Islamabad and the National University of Modern Languages (Numl) – do not have enough room to house all their students.

Many non-federal chartered institutions whose main chapters are in the provinces and who run sub-campuses in Islamabad do not provide accommodation for students either. These include Preston University, Hamdard University, University of Lahore and Sarhad University, among others.

As a result, many of students from public and private institutions end up living in private accommodation in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

“I was not allotted accommodation in my university’s hostel despite repeated requests, so I have been living [at a private] hostel. This has affected my studies, as students who live in the university’s own hostels have better opportunities for academic discussion,” a QAU student, who lives in a private hostel in Bhara Kahu, said.

He added that students who live in private accommodation cannot spend as much time at the university’s central library, whereas those who live on campus have ample time to do so.

A woman from Numl, who lives in a private hostel, said: “I am from Sindh. I applied for the hostel, but due to a shortage of accommodation I could not get the facility.”

QAU Registrar Dr Shafiqur Rehman told Dawn the university recently constructed two new hostels and the PC-I for two more has been prepared.

“We are trying to accommodate the maximum number of students,” he said.

Meanwhile, a university official blamed the university’s accommodation shortage on the admissions quota, saying that students from around the country are admitted to the university every year, which is why they face hostel accommodation problems.

“Our 10 hostels are already operational and one more will be made operational soon. We are planning to construct two more hostels in the ongoing fiscal year,” the official said.

An official at IIUI said the university also has around 10 hostels, but students are still facing a shortage of accommodation.

“Even today, I received a call from a parent from a far-flung area in Punjab seeking hostel accommodation for her daughter, but despite my efforts so far I am unable to help them,” he said, adding that financial issues are a major impediment to the construction of new hostels.

A Comsats official said the university could not provide accommodation facilities because of a funding shortage.

“We were running hostels in a rented building, but there were audit issues so we have closed down the facility. We are not offering hostels to new students, but our old female students are living in a rented hostel that is being supervised by the university,” he said.

An HEC official said that it is primarily the university’s responsibility to provide residential facilities to students.

He said that when the HEC granted NOCs to public-sector universities such as QAU and IIUI, they had planned and constructed hostels but “problems increase when these universities do not improve their facilities with the passage of time”.

He added that the HEC is a regulatory body and providing living facilities for students is the responsibility of the universities, which operate independently.

When asked why most universities do not provide adequate living facilities and why such institutions are allowed to operate, HEC spokesperson Ayesha Ikram said: “In order to ensure quality education, a university should have good quality faculty, adequate classrooms and laboratories. For this purpose, HEC has been facilitating institutions of higher learning, both in public and private sector.

“Every year, HEC provides recurring and development grants to universities. The university management, depending on their needs, allocate resources for various activities and tasks.”

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2019

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