Student protests compels Pakistani administration to hold online exams

Nationwide student protests forced the country’s Higher Education Commission to agree to holding online examinations after earlier announcing on-campus examinations from February 1

February 01, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Pakistan students protest
Students stage a protest in front of Islamabad’s national press club on January 28. (Photo: Abdul Qadeer Twitter)

On Wednesday, January 27, following week-long protests that rocked university campuses across Pakistan with thousands of students demanding #RejectOnCampusExams, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) finally agreed to the students’ demand of holding examinations online. The HEC had earlier announced the conduct of on-campus examinations from February 1.

Federal education minister Shafqat Mahmood announced the HEC’s decision, tweeting that he is “happy to note that HEC has formally allowed the universities to conduct online exams with adequate safeguards.”

The students’ protest began on January 21 with students from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) demonstrating in capital Islamabad. The protest also attracted hundreds of students from the Arid Agriculture University. In the following days, students across Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Multan, Faisalabad and other cities continued the protest campaign.  

On January 26, during one such protest in Lahore in Punjab State, the district administration baton-charged a number of students resulting in scores of injuries. Two students from the University of Central Punjab were reportedly in a critical state and rushed to the nearest hospital. The students had gathered on the highway and staged a day-long sit-in. The security forces also fired tear gas canisters to disperse them. A section of them were reportedly detained but released subsequently. 

Protesting under the slogan “#StudentsKoInsafDo (Justice for Students)” for over one week, thousands of students have been rallying against the decision to hold on-campus exams. They have also highlighted that the universities conducted the last semester online despite not offering students any facilities like internet access, electricity, computers or laptop. The slogan “when classes were on zoom, why the exams in the room?” went viral on social media.

In another incident on January 26, students from the University of Central Punjab, which is headed by prominent media figure Main Amer, were tear gassed and beaten by the university’s private security officials. One of the university students, Shah Jahan, received critical injuries and was shifted to the nearest hospital’s intensive care unit. Other students wounded in the police action were Progressive Students Collective president Zubair Siddiqi and general secretary Ali Aftab, among others, Dawn reported. As per reports, at least 36 students were arrested and cases were registered against hundreds others for allegedly “throwing stones and disturbing law and order.”

Following this incident, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan responded that it “is gravely concerned at the arrest of these students.” “They should be released unconditionally and the cases against them including charges of terrorism dismissed. The government should also note that such situations are precisely why student unions need to be restored to resolve students’ concerns peacefully and pragmatically,” the commission added.