The Government College University (GCU) found itself in the middle of a controversy on Monday following former prime minister Imran Khan’s speech targeting his political opponents at the varsity’s Oval ground. This was apparently part of an orientation event of ‘Taleem and Hunar Saath Saath’ organised by the Punjab Information Technology Board to help equip students with digital skills that are in demand now or will be in the near future. All the headlines, however, were dominated by the speech of the former PM and its content, which also gave rise to a tangential discourse on whether such political events should be allowed in educational institutions, and if so, how they should be moderated.

Leaders of the PML-N were particularly vociferous in their opposition to holding such events at universities, which is understandable considering how they were targeted in a characteristic fashion by Mr Imran Khan during the speech. Governor Balighur Rehman also put out a statement arguing that there is no scope for such political gatherings in universities and that children are our future and should not be dragged into politics.

This of course is an extreme and out-of-touch take considering how top universities the world over host political events and talks where the student body is quite well informed of what is going on in the political sphere. This is precisely why many have been arguing that student unions should be restored which were banned about 30 years ago. However, those defending this event by citing international examples are perhaps being a bit disingenuous because the ground reality in Pakistan is very different.

Given how polarisation has increased significantly in recent years due to deteriorating political rhetoric, inviting just one side to present its views is bound to cause controversy, especially when the university management also stated that it is “bound” to follow the directions of the provincial government. There is also the issue of how events are structured and moderated. Roundtables and debates are commonly held in universities which encourage dialogue and raise awareness, however hosting a rally-like speech does not do a lot of good as we do not want to expose our younger generations to a culture of slander and personal attacks. Therefore, while political events should be welcome in educational institutions, educators do have a responsibility in tailoring and structuring those events which should be taken seriously.