Institutions in Pakistan rarely, if ever, appreciate the challenge to the status quo. The latest example in this regard is the Higher Education Commission (HEC) opposing the restoration of student unions in academic institutions. The education commission instead emphasises on initiating “healthy activities” — poetry, debate, music and sports. But are some of these “healthy activities” not what students unions normally do? And are a few of these “healthy activities” not subversive — poetry and debates? And do the so-called healthy activities not already constitute the broader culture of our educational setups?

Besides, HEC suggestion to hold the “healthy activities” show how remote the body is from the problems the students face on varsity campuses. For HEC harassment of students is not a point of concern. For HEC increase in fees is not an issue at all? The pathetic quality of higher education will not set HEC in motion. Students’ deaths due to the negligence of universities’ administrations are not HEC’s worry. Lack of basic facilities on campuses and hostels are things that HEC conveniently ignores. What HEC cannot overlook is a possibility of students emerging as stakeholders in deciding matters all educational and academic.

And while these issues are there, the HEC has nothing to offer but such a regressive suggestion. When HEC should have made a strong case for the restoration of student unions, it is busy making documents opposing the student unions. Worth asking is this question: why is HEC afraid of student unions? HEC, perhaps, forgets that students in the developing countries have played an instrumental role in liberating their lands from the yoke of colonialism. The HEC also ignores that the students are always in the vanguard to protect civil and political liberties.

Moreover, opposition to the restoration of student unions means that HEC does not want Pakistan’s future leaders to groom. In the absence of student unions, the students can neither appreciate freedom of expression nor understand the value of dissent. HEC maintains that allowing student unions will make students involved in active politics and violence on the campuses.

However, worth asking is if the universities are not strongholds of certain student wings of certain political parties. And what about the instances of deadly violence that occur quite frequently even when the student unions are banned? Has HEC taken any steps to address these problems? No, it hasn’t, and perhaps it will not. HEC’s opposition to student unions’ restoration is nothing but a reluctance to allow other stakeholders in the decision-making process.