AIOU standards going downhill

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Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) is the country’s first correspondence learning institution with a network of 32 regional campuses and over 1.4 million enrolled students across Pakistan. In terms of enrolment, it is the largest university in the country. Students of this institution are currently facing numerous serious problems regarding the examination system and other administrative matters
As the number of students at AIOU has increased tremendously over the years, so have the institution’s administrative and examination control problems. The main victims of these problems are usually students belonging to far flung areas of the country of the country. The main campus of the university, situated in Sector H-8 in Islamabad is assailed with complaints about the non-reception of admissions decisions and roll number slips — which are sent through the postal service and are not available on the internet — and the active role of the ‘booty mafia’ in examination centre. Bureaucratic attitude: Complainants who come all the way to Islamabad have to deal with the admission department’s staff, which is reported to be extremely uncooperative, stubborn and wont to pestering students on petty issues like changes in courses and mailing addresses. Due to the bureaucratic nature of the admission office, minor mistakes in an admission form can cost students a lot of inconvenience.
A student from Gujranwala, Najmus Saqib, was unable to give her exams due to the bureaucracy and inefficiency at the university, “There is lack of coordination among various university departments. A change in the examination centre goes unacknowledged by the examination department; last semester I had my examination centre changed but when I arrived at the new one, they refused to accept my documents! I told them that I had submitted all the relevant documents and deposited the fee of Rs. 600 for change in examination centre, but the office of the Deputy Controller Examination disallowed me from appearing in the exam, saying that there was no time now.”
A student of B.Ed, Kamran Khan, told Pakistan Today that after admission, regional offices are responsible for the appointment of tutors who lecture students and evaluate their assignments. He revealed that submission of assignments before the due date is compulsory for students, failure of which leads to separation from the programme for a semester. The university takes no responsibility for letters or books wrongly delivered by the postal department. Khan reported that he diligently submits his completed assignments on time but some of his fellows send in shoddy, half-done work late but still get good marks since they have ‘made contacts’ with the tutor.
No checks on tutors: Tutors have been given absolute power to evaluate and grade assignments without any cross checking or external verification. Similarly, Pakistan Today learnt that teachers who are hired to mark papers in the secrecy room of AIOU do not meet the criteria of checking papers, but this fact is overlooked by the administration.
The power bequeathed to the tutor goes unchecked; Pakistan Today learnt that a tutor had rejected a student’s assignment in the MBA programme only because she had not attended classes, despite the fact that classes are not mandatory in the programme. The student also complained she had been given a list of tutors and their addresses but her assignments were returned because the university had provided her with the wrong addresses. She had contacted the university’s administration department but it was unable to help her locate the tutors. The student said that she has decided to discontinue her studies because of the system’s injustices.
Cheating and the ‘booty mafia’: A candidate who appeared in the B.Ed examinations last semester, Bushra Bashir, said that she had attempted all her papers well and was confident about securing good marks, but when the result was declared, she was told that an Unfair Means Case (UMC) had been registered against her and she would have to appear before the disciplinary committee of AIOU to clarify her position. “I went to face the committee and was informed that the roll number on my paper had been tampered with using correction fluid. I was surprised at this accusation and clarified my position, and have now received a letter of clearance from AIOU but I have still not received my marks,” she said, adding that it seems she will have to reappear in the subject despite being cleared of all charges.
Pakistan Today was informed that during the examinations of MSc Mass Communication last semester (held in May-June 2011), the ‘booty mafia’s’ activities were rampant at one of the examination centers, located at the Federal Government Model School G-9/4. A candidate in the examinations, who wishes to remain anonymous, described the scene as such; “The examination hall was jam packed with candidates. Some of the boys went out of the hall to visit the washroom and brought back cheat sheets, and invigilators and supervisors actually helped them instead of checking them.” The candidate added that “Many of the female candidates were also found cheating. A veiled girl, when caught red handed, refused to relinquish her cheat sheet to the supervisor and threatened him with dire consequences if he dared register a case of UMC against her. The supervisor then backed down at this and let her take extra time to solve her paper.” Other means of cheating, according to the candidate, include the usage of cell phones to call and text people for answers, and all of this is done with the blessings of the supervisors and invigilators.
Employees disgruntled: Employees of AIOU are not without complaint either. They protested that those close to the ‘high-ups’ are deemed privileged, irrespective of rank or grade. They believed that this unhealthy atmosphere is contributing to the university’s falling standards in almost every department, “Complaints against the AIOU services and education system are increasing daily,” reported an employee. He further said that the internal atmosphere of the university is also reflected in the way complainants who come to the university are treated; those who are well off and have contacts are entertained while poor people, especially those coming from other provinces, are made to wait for long periods of time and are not treated properly.
AIOU responds: When contacted, an AIOU spokesman, Obaidullah Mumtaz, admitted that students are facing difficulties and that the system needs improvement. He claimed that the university has taken a number of steps to address students’ complaints; more centres are being set up for students and the entire system is in the process of being computerized. The spokesman added that it isn’t possible for the university to individually inform thousands of students about their admissions due to a dearth of resources and manpower, but AIOU has made available the facility of downloading the examination date sheet from the AIOU website, www.aiou.edu.pk.
When asked about the flaws in the examination and administration system of AIOU, the spokesman said the controller examination was the appropriate person to comment on this matter. Pakistan Today was unable to contact the controller of examinations, Hafeezullah as his cell phone was powered off.