It is not unusual for universities to award financial aid to deserving students who cannot afford the high fees demanded by seats of higher learning. But when a varsity awards an exemption – meant for the underprivileged – to the two daughters of the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Mohammad Anwar Khan Kasi, eyebrows are bound to be raised.*

According to documents available with Dawn, the management of the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) halved the fees of two sisters in contravention of all stated rules.

Violating their own rules

IIUI Director Academics Shagufta Haroon briefed Dawn on the process adopted to select students for the award of financial assistance, saying that every student has to fulfill the requirements before they can be considered.

As per a notification dated June 3, 2008 and signed by Haroon herself, students are required to apply for financial assistance via a detailed form. According to the notification, only the “most deserving and needy students can apply for fee concession in the second semester on the basis of Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA)”.

The form asks students to provide minute details of their family background, assets, sources of income, employment and household expenses, among other details. But no such form is available on file at IIUI in the case of the two sisters.

In contravention of existing rules, on March 7, 2013, Haroon herself marked for approval an application submitted by one of the students in question, asking for a fee relaxation on the basis of merit. The application was addressed to the university’s vice president of academics.

Sahibzada Sajidur Rehman, a friend of the Chief Justice, – who occupied the post at the time – immediately approved the request and a notification was issued the same day, announcing a fee exemption of 50 percent for both sisters. The basis for the exemption, according to the notification, was that “both the sisters have (a) good academic record”.

The elder sister, who was pursuing a Masters in Business Administration (MBA), had a perfect CGPA of 4.00, while the younger sibling – a student in the Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA) program, had a respectable CGPA of 3.5.

Following the fee waiver, the semester fee for the MBA student was reduced from Rs 65,200 to Rs32,700, while the BBA student’s fees came down from Rs68,400 to Rs37,800. There are a total of seven semesters in the MBA programme and eight semesters in the BBA programme.

But when asked about the case of the two sisters, Haroon said: “I don’t know if any student has been awarded financial assistance without following the due process.”

An IIUI official said that there were several other students with excellent academic records, who had never been considered for financial assistance, because they did not meet the criteria for deserving students.

This particular exemption also contravenes the rules for award of scholarship set down in the minutes of the 47th meeting of the university’s academic council, which stipulates that a faculty’s scholarship committee must consider the cases of deserving and needy students and submit their recommendations to the university president.

This case, however, was never put before any such committee.

A source inside IIUI said, “Interviews are held to select the most deserving students out of the several who apply for assistance each semester. Since we can only give fee exemptions to 10 per cent of the students in each faculty, the screening process is quite stringent. After interviews, a consolidated list from all faculties is sent to the management for approval. Most other applicants for the exemption were either orphans or the children of non-gazetted employees, who earn less than Rs30,000 per month.”

In addition, IIUI Director General Administration Gulzar A. Khawaja said it is not university policy to award scholarships on the basis of outstanding academic performance.

Varsity rules also back up his claim and in the minutes of the 47th meeting of the university’s academic council, it is clearly stated that “Fee waiver shall be granted to most deserving and needy students … on the basis of having secured a minimum GPA of 3.00 out of a total of 4.00”.

In the June 3 notification, Haroon notes that the director for academics asked that this requirement of a minimum grade also be removed and deserving students be awarded scholarships even if they could obtain minimum passing marks.

In June 2013, the court of the Chief Justice issued an order staying Rehman’s removal from the position of VP Academics, which remained in force until his retirement, three months later.

When approached, former IIUI VP Academics Sajidur Rehman said: “Justice Kasi has never asked me to extend fee exemption to his daughters. I have approved financial assistance for many students but always insured that all the necessary requirements are fulfilled and that assistance is extended on the basis of merit.”

IHC Assistant Registrar Shafeequr Rehman, who deals with the press on behalf of the court, said that he was not authorised to comment on the issue and only the court registrar could speak on the chief justice’s behalf.

IHC Registrar Meeran Jan Kakar could not be reached for comment, despite repeated attempts.