‘PEACE’ is a sacred word that should be in the heart and mind of every individual on this Earth. This word acquires special significance in the context of its relevance to schools, colleges, and universities. In recent times, the brave struggle of Somalia’s for bringing peace in a nation riddled with civil war was celebrated with a graduation and convocation ceremony held in the third week of June, an event for which Somali National University (SNU) waited for 30 years – A symbolic manifestation of nexus between peace and universities. According to a Somali’ scholar, “The graduation means our higher education institutions are growing and peace dividends are paying off,” These golden words highlight the importance of peace in higher education institutes. Importantly, peaceful higher education institutes thriving with social, cultural, and professional activities are the indicator of progressive national economies and well-being.

Pakistan, a nation with ~195 universities, has limited resources attributed toward promoting peace in higher education institutes. The relative proportion of youth in any university exceeds the workforce governing that institution, including faculty. As such, the major stakeholders in universities are young students contributing to university social fabric and peaceful environments. In fact, if all students of a school/university decide to quit, that will be the last day of institution on the face of Earth. The nearest antonyms of the peace as outlined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are “conflict, contention, discord, dissidence, strife, trouble, tumult, turmoil, unrest, and upheaval” have relatively higher importance. Name any higher education institute, either public or private; there will be a presence of few or all antagonistic situations as described in the list. Realizing the prevailing circumstances in Pakistani universities and to promote peaceful campuses several like-minded Vice-Chancellors gathered in the Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan in the year 2012 to establish first-ever Inter-University Consortium for the Promotion of Social Sciences Arts and Humanities (IUCPSS). The importance of this consortium can be ascertained by the honorable presence of then Executive Director of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, Professor Dr. Sohail Naqvi at the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing ceremony with strong support by then Chairman of this federal body. I was appointed as the Founding Vice-Chancellor and Murtaza Noor then serving at the HEC as Coordinator-General. Since then the consortium is on its pursuits for the promotion of educational excellence in peaceful environments of universities across the country. Although the past seven years journey of IUCPSS has seen several ups and downs, the credit goes to the Coordinator-General to keep the ball rolling through tough times. His efforts have been reflected in the form of two big student conventions in recent past one in Islamabad, second in Lahore with strong support from the federal and provincial ministries and accolades from the international organizations.

The 3rd Edition of IUCPSS student convention is scheduled to be held on October 2019, however, worth quoting is ongoing consultative meetings of Vice-Chancellors, Directorate of Student Affairs, media and several other stakeholders who could play their decisive role in the promotion of peaceful campuses. A most crucial aspect of these high-level meetings is the exchange of experience in promoting peace at institutional levels between the academic leaders of higher education institutes from Punjab and Sindh. The program is yet to be expanded to other provinces. However, over the past couple of months, a dozen of such gathering were held with the visit of Vice-Chancellors from University of Education Lahore, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Muhammad Nawaz Shareef University of Agriculture, Multan and Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan. Generally, the consultative meetings have received a lot more interest in the Sindh province higher education institutes evident from broad participation of academic heads. Among several, the most impressive gatherings of academia heads were in the Karachi University. The brainstorming session focused on the main idea of “Best practices for peacebuilding at university campuses.”

Historically, students in Pakistan and across the globe have always contributed to national cohesion, creating peaceful environments, and producing highly capable leadership. In the earlier days, there used to be student unions got banned in the year 1984 in the pretext of creating law and order situation in the country because of their ideological divides. Unfortunately, the reinstatement of student unions has never been looked in seriously. The jury is still out, whether continued students’ union ban is beneficial for the country or not. Almost in every meeting, the issue of student union/societies towards peacebuilding was highlighted without a strong consensus for their restoration. Academia leaders from both Sindh and Punjab though agreed on issues like enhancing student participation in curricular and extracurricular activities; promoting volunteerism and community involvement of students. It was also ascertained in these consultative meetings that we live in a different environment than in the past. Youth is very much IT savvy compared with their peers. Usage of IT is increasing day by day in the delivery of educational material, and there is a need that teaching communities should equip themselves with the latest technologies. Furthermore, modern ICT, coupled with the arrival of artificial intelligence in education, has led to a variety of pedagogical practices where the role of the teacher is being converted into a facilitator. So, there is a need that our educational system should get ready to assimilate and incorporate contemporary modern instructional practices.

The consensus statement from several Vice-Chancellors meetings aimed at bringing peace in the universities and enthusing tolerance among students’ communities concluded for rationalizing relationships among students and their parents, teachers, and university administration. Students grievances need to be heard, and a mechanism should be established for their real-time solutions. Besides expanding the boundaries of students’ extracurricular activities, their voices need to be heard in improving pedagogies and bringing flexibility in the delivery of the educational material. Blended learning is a unique pedagogical practice that can be very successful in Pakistani universities. All this is possible if universities have certain mandates regarding this aspect from the controlling authorities like federal and provincial higher education commissions. Last but not least, since the banning of students’ unions, the national education system has not been able to provide any alternative during the past 35 years. It is timely to harness the potential of youth and most important university students in bringing peace, a culture of tolerance in the university campuses and expanding this horizon for their potential role in communities through recognizing volunteerism as a curricular activity.