It is interesting that people who have spent decades abroad expounding on the virtues of modern education and secularism adopt a different set of values and priorities upon returning to Pakistan. What comes to mind if asked about the shortcomings of Pakistani universities? Plenty of things on that list, but lack of religion is almost never among them. The Governor of Punjab feels differently. His initiative of making compulsory teaching of the Holy Quran with translation for all public university students is rather puzzling. Universities should not have fixed curriculums, as choice is an important matter when it comes to higher education. There is of course also the issue of students who belong to minority religions. Another important factor is that which particular translation will be used since different versions exist, favoured by different schools of thought?

Religious education is already part of the curriculum at both primary and secondary schools. If the good governor feels that the current syllabus is failing students, then he should direct his efforts at that level. Most Pakistani children not only receive religious education at schools; they are also taught the Holy Quran at their homes. By the time they reach the university, there is hardly any Muslim student who has not had access to and benefited from Quranic literature. If the aim is to counter rote learning and encourage reading of comprehensible translations, then this should definitely be encouraged at a societal level.

As far as public universities are concerned, priorities should lie elsewhere. The lamentable state of higher education in Pakistan should be a matter of urgency for policymakers. Dated curriculums, underqualified faculties, poor infrastructure and facilities, lack of focus on research-oriented study and STEM subjects – these are just some of the many aspects of higher education that require attention. Poor rankings year after year have failed to prompt real action. Ignoring all this and instead pandering to popular will will certainly not secure the future of our students.