On Monday, students of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) protested against the university administration, regarding the reversal of the decision to open campus. On January 20, 10 days before the proposed reopening of the campus, the Vice-Chancellor of the University Dr Arshad Ahmed informed the student that the varsity would only be accessible to 30% of the students who need a hostel.
The varsity campus has been inaccessible to its students since March 2020, while most of the instruction has shifted online. The university administration maintains that they are bound by directives issued by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and can only offer access to campus to 30% of the hostelites, whereas the campus would remain inaccessible to day-scholars and the rest of the student body.
The HEC guidelines, issued on September 2, read, “Hostel accommodation may be managed in accordance with the NCOC guidelines. Expected students’ density may range from 30%-50% of the designed capacity.” The students posit that the LUMS campus has enough capacity and open-air space to use 50% of the hostel capacity without endangering student health and safety.
Interestingly, the 2nd September guidelines also allow for the capacity range to vary according to varsities on the basis of facilities. The policy directs universities to regularly disinfect, create a separate authority for campus reopening, and set up a mechanism for contact tracing of individuals to be used in cases of infections on campus. Following these guidelines, the policy states that “the reopening plan for universities will follow from the above directives, especially the density thresholds relative to campus infrastructure, and success in implementing the safety protocols.”
A student present at the march complained that the university administration had no plans or outline to set up these precautionary measures which would allow for the campus to reopen for more students. “The policy says that reopening is subjective to following directives and may differ from campus to campus, had the LUMS admins done more we would have been able to return to campus.”
Interestingly, LUMS changed its fee structure during a pandemic which would impact students by practically raising the fee per semester by 41%. Another student at the march told The Correspondent, “the quality of education has gone down, other campuses and government universities that have access to far fewer funds have been able to transition smoothly to a hybrid or largely on-campus mode of instruction again, but LUMS has been increasing its fee and has done nothing to help students transition back to campus. To the point where the admins have stopped responding to student queries and emails. And Adnan Khan [the Dean for LUMS’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA)] has been dismissive of student concerns.”
The comments on Mr Khan refer to the recent virtual Town Hall by the LUMS administration to address student concerns, but students complain it devolved into the Dean of OSA lashed back on students when asked questions about the university’s preparations.
As a response to the university’s lack of response and preparations, students boycotted classes en mass and had a sit-in in front of the university in Lahore. Students raised slogans against the administration and demanded a re-opening of the campus. This is not the first time the LUMS student body is protesting against the administration, a few months ago while most varsities opened their campus LUMS decided to remain inaccessible to most students, apart from students from areas with internet accessibility issues. In the last round of protest, the students demanded a hybrid opening of their campus and were assured by the university that a comprehensive plan was under development and would be shared with the student body. Students claim no such plan has been shared by the university.
A student at the protest said to The Correspondent, “the admins have not paid any heed to student demands, the quality of instruction has been falling, fees have been raised, the university administration has been lazy and has not done anything to reopen, where is the plan? What actions have been taken? It saves them money, why would they [reopen campus]? I think Adnan Khan and Dr Ashard need to resign.”
Protest and Negotiations
The university administration requested a few students to come inside and negotiate with the authorities, however, the students refused and continued with their sit-in protest outside the university. Eventually, a round of negotiations was held between the admins, represented by Mr Adnan Khan [Dean of OSA] and Farhat Haq (the Provost) and student leaders. The students claim that the admins were uncooperative and dismissive, subsequently, the second round of negotiations was held with the Vice Provost Dr Tariq Jadoon, which was successful in reaching an agreement.
As per the agreement between the students and the administrations, a three-point agenda was reached with is as follows:
1. Communication Gap: a committee has been proposed which will include an equal number of representatives from both ends. Several meetings will be scheduled before the 1st of February to keep students in the loop of the administration’s decisions, along with discussions on the proposed policy.
2. Day-Scholar Access: the university agreed to accommodate students in addition to those who are enrolled in on-campus courses. The admins agreed that an email will be sent before the 1st of February so that several day scholars may get their campus access in lieu of in-person courses, a larger crowd will be accommodated soon after.
3. Hostel Accommodation: hostels will have a 30% occupancy cap before the 1st of February, but another email will be sent out to take the next round of applications so that within the next 2 weeks, the number can be increased to 43% occupancy. The total number of hostel accommodations listed for now is 2113. The administration plans on increasing the number progressively through the next month.
Furthermore, the agreement also stated that the line of communication is expected to get streamlined before the 1st of February so that the number of hostelites, which will be tallied with HEC directly within 1-2 days, can be increased. Seniors are to be preferred in both hostel and day scholar entries.