DERA ISMAIL KHAN: The remote and underdeveloped tribal region on Pakistan border with Afghanistan is to have its first ever Fata University, commencing regular classes from October this year.
“We’re making hectic efforts to better prepare our students to tackle challenges head-on and the university was a long-standing demand of tribal masses,” Vice Chancellor of the university Professor Dr. M. Tahir Shah told News Lens Pakistan.
According to his track record, Dr. Shah is among the leading geoscientists in Pakistan having presented 75 essays in the proceedings of national and international conferences and more than 160 research papers in the journals of international repute.
According to official documents reviewed by News Lens Pakistan, the establishment of FATA University was announced by the previous Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) government.
The plan for setting up the FATA University of international standard was finally conceived by then prime minister of Pakistan Yousaf Raza Gillani, and had announced its establishment during a meeting with FATA lawmakers on January 16, 2009, the documents reveal.
However, later former President Asif Ali Zardari had approved the FATA University Regulations in May 2013.
Afterwards, the present PML-N government had included a project “Establishment of FATA University” in Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) 2015-16 at an estimated cost of Rs 4.7 billion with the allocation of Rs. 250.00 million for the fiscal year 2015-16.
Dr. Shah said he would “leave no stone unturned” to produce competent batches of students to efficiently compete in the market.
Initially, he said the university offers admissions to 100 students in Political Science, Management Sciences, Sociology and BS mathematics on open merit basis to students from across the country.
The Federally Administered Tribal Area—largely known as tribal belt— saw mayhem and turmoil following bloody clashes between security forces and Taliban.
At least 80,000 Pakistanis (insurgents, security forces, civilians) have been killed during the last decade in violence across Pakistan, according to Physician for Social Responsibility (PSR) Body Count.
Ayla Neelum, a FATA student at Degree College Peshawar, said the establishment of the university will start an era of progress and revolution in the area.
“The tribal belt faces serious challenges such as lack of education, health and agriculture facilities, which need to be addressed on priority basis,” she remarked.
The latest survey conducted by FATA Secretariat and the Bureau of Statistics shows that the overall literacy rate in FATA is 33.3%; far less than the national average of 58% as estimated in 2013-14.
Similarly, the adult literacy rate in FATA is 28.4% while the national average is 57%. There is a marked gender gap in literacy. Male adult literacy rate in FATA is 45% whereas the same for women is a mere 7.8%, the survey stated.
Muhammad Asad Jan, manager finance/planning and development of FATA University, said that once the first batch of students’ admission is completed then gradually seats for students from FATA would be reserved.
When contacted Alam Shah, a tribal elder from Khyber tribal region, he said that entire FATA belt had no university before, and the students had to undertake long journey for admission in country’s universities such as Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi—far from their hometown.
The establishment of FATA University would offer education opportunity irrespective to male and female purely on merit basis, he said.
The tribal elder hoped, “The functioning of the university and enhanced education activities in the region will help remove extremist tendencies among tribal masses.”
The vice chancellor said the university’s administration is planning to open more branches in remote parts of tribal areas such as Mohmand and North Waziristan regions.
The university is situated in Kohat district, a town close to Peshawar city, the documents reveal, stating that FATA Secretariat has purchased land measuring over 33 acres while procurement another 25 acres is under negotiation.
By the end of August this year, the vice chancellor said appointments on all vacant positions would be completed.
According to official figures of Ministry of Education report on ‘Status of Education in Pakistan 2004-2005’, there were total of 674, 567 educational institutions in FATA. They included primary schools, middle and high schools, higher secondary schools, colleges and seminaries, community schools etc.
The Taliban in the region, the report by FATA Research Center stated, were vocal critics of the educational institutions, particularly against women education on so called religious pretexts.
It stated that out of 458 destroyed educational institutions (primary, middle, high and higher secondary schools and colleges) 317 were for boys and 141 were for girls.
Gul Wali Dotani, a lecturer from FATA region, said it is really a bold initiative by the government to setup a university where students would get education at their doorstep.
“The university will trigger educational activities in an area plagued by militancy,” Dotani hoped.
In his research paper “Education in FATA” by Nazakat Awan, published in 2013, stated that under article 37 of the 1973 Constitution it is the responsibility of state to remove illiteracy and provide compulsory and free education to all citizens of Pakistan.
The paper states that allocation of education budget for FATA has been consistently low as 1.5 billion rupees till 2001 which was raised to 2.7 billion for 2004-05.
Sajid Hussain Turi, a lawmaker from the tribal region, said, “We (FATA lawmakers) are working to press the government to open more educational institutions in remote parts of the tribal land.”