The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Associations (Fapuasa) has called a strike to protest against the actions of the government that usurp the autonomy of the universities to appoint their own staff. The Sindh Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill gives full authority to the chief minister to appoint vice-chancellors, registrars, examination controllers and other administrative staff. It also empowers the provincial government to determine and shape admission policy. Except for the appointment of vice-chancellor, all these powers were previously held by the universities. The strike effectively closes down all public sector universities in Sindh, postponing exams and disrupting annual schedules for students.

These strikes have been on-going since last year so the disruption that the students have to face is not new, neither is the lack of compromise and solutions on part of the government. In September 2013, teachers of the Karachi University boycotted the Sindh Universities Amendment Bill and academic activities were suspended. In February, the academic staff of universities across Sindh observed a full day strike on Tuesday to protest the delay in revising the Sindh Universities Law Amendment according to their demands. The Sindh University in February protested police raids in teachers’ homes. There are reports that similar laws may be enacted by the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The controversial bill was tabled and passed in the Sindh Assembly on August 19, 2013 and was protested by the MQM. Under the law, the control of public sector universities has been transferred from the governor to the chief minister. At the time of the enactment, none of the Sindh universities were on board. Though the movement of powers from the governor to the chief minister is legal under the 18th amendment, the loss of autonomy over appointing staff was always a sticking point. And it is not unwarranted. Bureaucratic interference in education has played havoc with education not only in Sindh but in other provinces as well and appointments by the government have been prone to corruption. Not to say that the track record of these universities is stellar either. Many of these universities are plagued by political conflict, under-performing academic records and a lack of good teachers. However, education is a profession, and needs to be autonomous and self-controlling. Autonomy does not mean privatisation; these are still government funded institutions, and the VC will still be appointed by the government. More autonomy allows public universities to operate with less red tape and with greater freedom to raise revenue and academic targets.