The country stands witness to the historical service of the National College of Arts, Lahore. As perhaps the most revered art institution in the country, generations have passed through NCA’s gates and continue to be testaments to its diversity, its talent pool, its merit and literary freedoms. Every school takes great pride in a strong institutional culture, which forms the very soul of its people. Today, NCA’s soul is threatened, and we refuse to watch it perish. It is for this reason that we are writing to inform the public at large what we, and indeed the country, stand to lose if what the administration has planned is successfully executed. At the time of the writing of this piece, hundreds of students are gathering on the Mall Road to lodge their official protests. To quell increasingly loud frustrations on campus, the administration has extended our Muharram vacation to ten days; it is the only way they can carry on with what they have planned without interference from gravely concerned students.

And their plan is as follows: to begin an evening session of classes, where an additional class of 150 students willing to self-finance and pay double the normal fees, can attend the college. Let us be clear on a few facts. The NCA does not have the facilities to cater to 150 extra students. It barely possesses the facilities to cater to its existing student body, from its outdated labs to overcrowded lecture rooms to delipidating hostel roofs. In fact, even the PCATP accreditation for architecture students is still pending, because the accrediting body has not deemed existing college facilities suitable to fulfil its conditions. As a result, there is a very real possibility that 5th year architecture students will graduate only with diplomas.

Let us also be clear on this: we are not against an evening session, or another 150 talented students learning at NCA. However, on principle there are a number of problems with this proposal. For one, it does not cater to students who cannot pay for themselves. The beauty of NCA has been its dedication to diversity and merit across every province of the country, regardless of economic background. The proposal for an evening session will cater only to the elite willing to pay double of everyone else, and one can reasonably assume, will not include representative students from FATA, Gilgit Baltistan and rural Balochistan, focusing largely on urban Punjab. It is clear that the idea of a second shift is based only on making more money, at the expense of students already enrolled. It is essentially akin to selling off NCA.

Despite paying for them, as it stands, we don’t get lockers. We don’t have enough lecture rooms. We don’t have enough faculty, and much of the faculty we do have is stretched thin. Where exactly will the teachers come from and be funded, to cater to the almost two hundred extra students occupying the campus? And if the primary aim is to generate funds, are there no non-destructive means to pursue that end? Opening its gates to an entire class of students is not a solution; it is a nightmare, an ill-thought out plan that might lead to the generation of funds in the immediate short term but will prove disastrous for the medium to long term, as the campus, overcrowded as it is, disintegrates completely under maintenance and faculty issues.

Some time ago, a body of students had to personally complain about rampant teacher absenteeism to a clueless administration. Perhaps that would be one place to start cutting costs. Many teachers who are paid by the hour simply do not show up to teach for their allotted number of hours. After a second shift of students, who is to ensure that existing faculty won’t be stretched over 2 shifts, that one session won’t have to go without because the institution might favour a group willing and able to pay double of everyone else? Where will the quality and teaching and learning standards of the National College of Arts go?

There is no worse time to bring a second shift of students in than now, when the administration can barely manage one shift. The only way forward is to look to other funding options, holding diploma programs in the summer, generating money, building up facilities to cater to the existing student body, and then looking to a parallel evening group; all the while ensuring that the culture and diversity that makes the NCA what it is does not get sacrificed. There have to be other options explored to save the college from complete institutional collapse. Over the years, the NCA has produced great artists, literary legends and national giants. It must be valued, and cared for painstakingly. We the students, refuse to let the college down; to let education, inspiration and art fall by the wayside for a bit of quick money that can be generated by other means. The spirit of this school holds our integrity to greater standards than that.