Out on a Limb: Displaced students in a fix as UoP demands fees

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Peshawar:  At the tribal hostel in University of Peshawar, Rahimullah, a student from North Waziristan, mulls the consequences of an incomplete education.

When he came to the Peshawar as a student displaced from North Waziristan in the month of June 2014 – when the military started operation Zab-Azb against militants in the agency –  authorities had offered displaced students like Rahimullah free education.

Rahimullah and other students from his agency went through the complicated process of migration from a college in the tribal areas to one in mainstream Pakistan, enrolled and attended classes for months.

Now it is March – time when the students have to submit their forms to take the annual examination. And the university administration has asked Rahimullah and other displaced students to submit fee to take the the examination.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Rahim, who comes from Miranshah, the agency headquarters of North Waziristan. “Should i leave the education or go on protest. I have no means to pay heavy fees of the university.”

Rahim said he can’t pay different kinds of fees – hostel fee, exam fee, migration fee and others.

“My father’s business in Miranshah was ruined by militancy,” said Rahim. “Where can i bring the money from?”

Among the group of displaced students from North Waziristan that spoke to News Lens was Imtiaz Wazir, leader and representative of the students from the tribal area. He said the decision of the university administration has caused anxiety among the students from North Waziristan.

“We cannot focus on studies when they ask us daily to pay fee when we cannot afford it at all,”  said Wazir. “The education of students from North Waziristan is already in doldrums and this decision, if not taken back, would be a serious blow to higher education of students from the tribal areas.”

Iftekhar Dawar, a student from the group, said it was decided in a meeting of vice-chancellors in September 2014 that the enrollment of IDP students in mainstream universities would be free.

Bearing copies of the meeting minutes, he said: “The university administration has now issued another notification saying displaced students should submit hostel fee and exam fee because the university is facing a financial crunch.”

However, Adil Dawar, a student of M.Sc psychology, said he was exempted from all kind of fees by his department.

“The chairperson of our department has told me my education is free but i am afraid now that i see the situation with other departments,” said Adil. “If students of other departments are being asked to pay fee, they might also ask us to do so.”

A student from the law department said he and others from Waziristan called on Mushtaq Ghani, Provincial Minister for Education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and told him about the dual policy of the university.

“The minister said the provincial government was given no funds to support the education of displaced students – neither from the federal government nor the international donors,” Ahmadullah said.

Ahmadullah said that the provincial government had made announcements about supporting the displaced students but it seems they were grabbing funds in the name of internally displaced people.

“We don’t know how much they gained in our name but now they have shown us the red flag,” Ataullah, a student of economics, added.

The students in the group were anxious, most of them poor and not in a position to afford fees.

A student requesting anonymity told News Lens that he was waiting for money from his family who sends it through the Zong money transfer facility.

“My father has died and I worry about sustaining myself here in Peshawar, away from my family and friends,” he said. “I get money through Zong which is not often and often late. Under the circumstances, i can’t support myself, let alone pay the university fees.”

News Lens tried to contact the vice chancellor of university of Peshawar but he was not available. One of the officials in the administration who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media said the university was facing severe financial crunch and it was impossible to bear the burden of displaced students.

“We announced free education for them because we expected funds from the Higher Education Commission and the federal government but none extended any support to us,” he said.

He said the displaced students should bear the cost of their education themselves.

Regional Director HEC at Peshawar, Zaheer Ahmad Awan told News Lens they had not promised any assistance to the universities.

“This was their own decision,” he said. “And now they have  created this situation where the students are unhappy.”

This is not the case with the students of University of Peshawar alone. Other universities of KPK have also now started demanding fees from students displaced by the the military operation in NWA.

“In my opinion, the situation is very dangerous,” said Imtiaz. “These students may become susceptible to the ways of the militants if their education is not supported.”

The students of University of Peshawar warned that they would  protest if the university administration did not took support their studies.

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