KARACHI: The provincial bureaucracy has apparently set up obstacles in the path of the Sindh government’s move to provide relief to the people affected by coronavirus and subsequent lockdown in the form of 20 per cent reduction in fees of educational institutions as public or private sector universities have not provided the benefit to their hundreds of thousands of students, it emerged on Wednesday.

With a few exceptions, many private schools and almost all the colleges and universities have not been following the directives regarding 20pc fee reduction, as the relevant government departments, especially the Sindh universities and boards department, have not taken any genuine interest in implementing the PPP government’s directives.

Effective from April, the Sindh government had in May promulgated the Sindh Covid-19 Emergency Relief Ordinance, 2020 and then the Sindh Assembly made it an act.

The law aims at providing “relief to the people of the province in an emergency situation arising due to the widespread pandemic of coronavirus disease, which has badly hit, hurt or affected the population of the province, directly or indirectly by the measures adopted or taken by the government to stop the spread of the disease for the general welfare of the public and to mitigate challenges emanating from the ban/lockdown imposed by the government throughout the province”.

Section 3(2)(a) of the ordinance reads: “No educational institution shall charge more than eighty percent (80%) of the total monthly fees. The relief amount, reduced equivalent to twenty percent (20%), under this Ordinance, shall not be recovered as arrears under any circumstances or under any existing or new head of account.”

All schools, colleges, universities, seminaries are bound to provide 20pc fee concession during pandemic

Section 2(a) of the ordinance says: “‘Educational institution’ means any preschool, elementary or secondary school, college, university, higher educational institute, madaris or any vocational, commercial, professional whether in public or private sector providing formal or non-formal education.”

When a senior official of the Sindh universities and boards was asked why the universities were not reducing students’ fee by 20pc as directed by the provincial government, he said that the ordinance was applicable only to private schools and not to universities.

‘State within a state’

Parents, however, slammed the public and private universities for what they called making “a state within a state” by wilfully ignoring the government’s order in connivance with the provincial bureaucracy, which they said only wanted to facilitate the powerful educational institutions.

A student of Karachi University told Dawn that he had deposited his full semester fees only last week as there was not even one per cent reduction in the amount.

“I heard that the university is planning to apply massive late fees so I rushed to the campus and deposited the amount,” he said, adding: “At the queue people were discussing that the university administration had raised degree verification and other fees by 100pc during this pandemic.”

A student of Habib University said that during his entire previous semester, which was completed during lockdown period, and the current semester that began from last month the varsity didn’t provide the government announced 20pc concession to its students in pursuance of the legislation.

He said instead of providing relief the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) has raised fees significantly from the current semester.

Similar accounts were shared by parents as well as a number of students of several public and private universities.

All Sindh Parents Association (ASPA) vice president Syed Rizwan Ali told Dawn that there were a few educational institutions which were following the government’s directives but the majority had ignored them, especially after May.

“They are least concerned about the current situation, [they] increased the fees for new session without having any approval ... additional charges other than tuition fee are being charged as well,” he said.

Relief can’t be taken back: Ghani

Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani told Dawn that the provincial government had provided the 20pc fee relief initially for the months of April and May but later through an ordinance (which was later made an act) it was extended to the lockdown period.

He said many schools had given the concession but there were also schools which didn’t because parents did not deposit fees and they had to shut their operations.

“Now everything has reopened and we are trying to restart educational activities, I think educational institutions no longer require it [concession],” he said.

He made it clear that the relief provided by private schools during the past four-five months could not be taken back and the amount could not be recovered in any head.

While the directorate of inspection/registration of private institutions, which comes under Mr Ghani, has been taking measures to implement the 20pc fee concession law on the directives of the Sindh High Court, no such steps have so far been taken by the universities and boards as well as the college education department.

No complaint cell has so far been formed where parents can file their complaints against the public and private sector universities for violating the government’s directives.

Chief Minister’s Adviser on Universities and Boards Nisar Khuhro was not available for comments.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2020