Ihsan

Thursday, December 06, 2007

movements and elite higher education

The continuing protests in Pakistan have been a minor focal point of the US media, and some US liberals, such as Media Benjamin, have also jumped in - traveling to Pakistan, getting arrested, and getting deported back to the US. Benjamin went to Pakistan "to show support for the secular progressive communities in Pakistan" - she apparently has little concern about the not so secular communities who have been terrorized by the puppet regime - who have not just been arrested, but bombed and slaughtered by the thousands, with even more tens of thousands internally displaced due to the puppet's F16 bombings. I don't recall hearing even a peep from her, when Busharraf slaughtered hundreds and perhaps thousands of women men and children in Lal Masjid, just a few months ago.

Benjamin was hosted by one the most exclusive universities of the country: LUMS. "On the ground in Pakistan, we will be assisted by professors and students from the Law and Policy Program of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)."


The protests in Pakistan continue to only be concentrated around nebulous demands of "democracy." Another (valid and important) demand is to re-instate the deposed judges, and another nebulous demand calls for the "rule of law."

However, as of yet, there has been scant little attention to the fact that 84.7% (year 2000) of Pakistanis live under $2 a day - or a mere Rs. 120 - that will barely get you by in the country. The gross national per capita income of the country is $652 or Rs. 37495.

Now, lets look at the cost of attending the two universities that have been the loudest in their calls for "democracy" - the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST).

LUMS: Rs. 375,000 (annual), or, about 10 times the per capita income.

FAST: Rs. 130,000 (Rs. 65,000 per semester, assuming two semesters a year) or, about 3-4 times the per capita income)

Lets put this in perspective, so readers can understand the classist nature of this kind of "higher education" and then also we'll begin to understand why issues of exploitation, and questions about poverty, are not being raised in Pakistan by this "movement.''

The annual tuition cost of attending the Imperial University of Harvard is $35,000 - this is, infact, one of the most exclusive, elitest, and expensive universities in the US. Yet, the cost is 1.6 times of the per capita income of the US of $21,000 - and well under the median household income of $44,000. The average cost of US universities are about $14,000 - again, well under the median and per-capita incomes of the US.

Leaving aside whatever financial aid that these types of Pakistani universities are offering, the fact remains they are not just catering to the elite of the country, they are catering to the princes and princesses of the country who have accumulated huge amounts of wealth. And these are still minor compared to those who somehow have the wealth to actually go outside of Pakistan, to the US, and pay the full cost of a US university that amounts to a minimum of $15K to $25K a year, and some much more. (That amounts to at least 25 to 40 times the per capita income of Pakistan.)

Clearly few, if any of these students are about to question just how their families managed to accumulate this wealth that is now paying for their incredibly exclusive stay at these universities. It is just not possible for any run of the mill Ahmed, Ali or Fatima or even Ayesha to just "save" 10-15 times and more of their annual income, not even just one year of their income.

LUMS also gets funding of over Rs. 100 million from the notorious USAID that has been involved in a destabilization campaign in Venezuela.
The LUMS website lists their funders, and is worth a look to understand the university's ideological outlook.

Essentially LUMS is engaged in creating the next generation of Pakistani "leadership" who will tow the neo-liberal outlook of the US that has wrecked havoc not only for Pakistan, but throughout the planet. The few areas, where countries have broken free (most notably parts of Latin America, and Iran) the US, through its aid agencies, psuedo-think tanks, and "civil society" projects, has been exerting extremist pressures to bring these areas back under its control.

Now, there are universities in Pakistan that are not so elitest, relatively expensive, but not completely out of reach. Punjab University's Law school, for example, costs Rs. 6,670 per year. OK - so this compares favorably with a per capita income of Pakistan of Rs. 37,495 - doable, with some struggle. But the students of this university have been mostly quiet - there have been protests, most notably the protest during which Imran Khan was arrested - but no where near the activities that the exclusive LUMS and FAST are seeing.

Some commentators have stated that this is due to students being apolitical, and that FAST and LUMS students are more "educated." This is just nonsense, I think the opposite is true - the working class students are far more politically astute, and aware of the classist nature of Pakistani society. They are not about to join up with a movement that is only about "democracy" that is only going to mean replacing one elite with another - and that too with one who is as corrupt as Benazir and Sharif.

If the "movement" is Pakistan is not to fizzle out - then these students of elitest backgrounds, will have to begin to question this corruption - question their own families - exactly where did this Rs. 375,000 per year come from to pay for LUMS? Is what they are learning, and studying at universities such as LUMS really going to contribute towards economic and social justice, or will it makes things even worse?

The answers, if they get any, are not going to be pleasant - but ask they must - if they are genuinely concerned about the future of the country. At least that might be a first step towards something more meaningful than mere "democracy" ...

5 comment(s):

  • zabardasth yaar! This is a (perhaps THE) key point about this movement, and obviously extends to the nature of the movement outside of the universities as well: it is being led and pushed by "civil society," i.e. not Pakistani society at large but by elite neo-liberal forces within it -- many of whom have as their main claim to fame as being able to do a "better job" at implementing the "war on terror."

    By Anonymous abu dharr, at 12/11/2007 09:50:00 AM  

  • Yes, and also that there has been very limited critiques that might address these kinda concerns... so all i see are articles that either only barely touch these issues, or some might privately acknowledge, but say that they'll address "other issues" later... I think the reasons for a lack of critique also has to do with some level of classism.

    By Anonymous altaf, at 12/11/2007 02:24:00 PM  

  • also, a reason for lack of inclusion of lower class voices for western journalists, is that most do not speak urdu, punjabi or other local languages so it is easiest for them to speak with english speakers, usually middle and upper class members. of course, it would be ideal if even they used interpreters to access a more diverse range of respondents.

    however; to dismiss the organizing of the elite thoroughly is also problematic. the elite can take action with less risk that lower class individuals who don't have connections to get out of jail easily but may languish for long periods of time and face serious abuse. also, the risk for a breadwinner of a poor family to be imprisoned is far more serious than for a lums student with mommy and daddy paying the bills. while i agree that there will not be significant transformation of society's inequalities unless those impacted hardest are at the center of the movement, i also think those with privilege have a responsibility to use it to the best of their abilities which traditionally, few have.

    some of the elite kids really are questioning the larger social structure that has given them such privilege while the majority of society suffers, others obviously are not. i have interviewed bystanders at rallies, those who have chosen not to participate publicly, many of whom are of lower classes than the protesters, and the majority of them support the actions of those protesting but for may reasons (often fear of consequences) don't directly participate.

    issues of class inequality are paramount in pakistan, and the current political system shows no signs of changing that any time soon... however; it's not either or. to ignore the abuses of a military dictator and to dismiss those agitating against them because they're not calling for a socialist revolution is as foolish as those who are focused on only the current crisis without looking at long term issues of economic inequality.

    i must say, however, that a significant minority of the activists i've spoken to here have a strong class analysis and are working towards longer-term efforts to transform society.

    finally, the first commenter says the elite liberal forces want mostly to do a 'better job' at implementing the 'war on terror.'

    my experiences, from attending some events at LUMS, the most elite university in lahore, shows there is a strong religious, conservative contingent who are extremely hostile to america's imperialism. additionally, even most of the 'liberals' are fiercely anti-american and have harsh critiques of the so-called war on terror. i don't mean to be an apologist for the elite, as if they need any, but simply trying to complicate the assumptions i've read about here.

    --a.


    By Anonymous asmaana, at 12/19/2007 08:08:00 AM  

  • also, a reason for lack of inclusion of lower class voices for western journalists, is that most do not speak urdu, punjabi or other local languages so it is easiest for them to speak with english speakers, usually middle and upper class members. of course, it would be ideal if even they used interpreters to access a more diverse range of respondents.

    however; to dismiss the organizing of the elite thoroughly is also problematic. the elite can take action with less risk that lower class individuals who don't have connections to get out of jail easily but may languish for long periods of time and face serious abuse. also, the risk for a breadwinner of a poor family to be imprisoned is far more serious than for a lums student with mommy and daddy paying the bills. while i agree that there will not be significant transformation of society's inequalities unless those impacted hardest are at the center of the movement, i also think those with privilege have a responsibility to use it to the best of their abilities which traditionally, few have.

    some of the elite kids really are questioning the larger social structure that has given them such privilege while the majority of society suffers, others obviously are not. i have interviewed bystanders at rallies, those who have chosen not to participate publicly, many of whom are of lower classes than the protesters, and the majority of them support the actions of those protesting but for may reasons (often fear of consequences) don't directly participate.

    issues of class inequality are paramount in pakistan, and the current political system shows no signs of changing that any time soon... however; it's not either or. to ignore the abuses of a military dictator and to dismiss those agitating against them because they're not calling for a socialist revolution is as foolish as those who are focused on only the current crisis without looking at long term issues of economic inequality.

    i must say, however, that a significant minority of the activists i've spoken to here have a strong class analysis and are working towards longer-term efforts to transform society.

    finally, the first commenter says the elite liberal forces want mostly to do a 'better job' at implementing the 'war on terror.'

    my experiences, from attending some events at LUMS, the most elite university in lahore, shows there is a strong religious, conservative contingent who are extremely hostile to america's imperialism. additionally, even most of the 'liberals' are fiercely anti-american and have harsh critiques of the so-called war on terror. i don't mean to be an apologist for the elite, as if they need any, but simply trying to complicate the assumptions i've read about here.

    --a.


    By Anonymous asmana, at 12/19/2007 08:09:00 AM  

  • If you look at the history of social movements, people will join movements regardless of consequences when those movements hold some meaning for them... People will take risks even when their own lives are at stake, but only when there is a worthy reason to take those risks.

    Focusing only on the current crisis is actually meaningless, because as we can see, it is going to lead to one of two or three very corrupt individuals returning to power. My own conversations and contacts in Pakistan have said that it does not make a difference who is in power, of-course they want Busharraf to go, but does not mean they want BB or Sharif or other collaborator to come into power either.

    If the liberal-elite are saying things that are anti-imperialist and oppose the "war on terror/islam/muslims" then please do link me to those articles/statements - because I have yet to read anything from these people.


    By Blogger altaf, at 12/19/2007 08:21:00 AM  

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