PESHAWAR: Student demand for laptop donations under the Higher Education Commission’s “Prime Minister Laptop Scheme” has far outstripped supply, creating lags in delivery of computers. According to the Higher Education Commission (HEC), a total of 315,227 students applied for laptops against a quota of 100,000 computers in the ongoing phase-II of the scheme. “Delay in delivery of laptops is caused because a large number of students applied for laptops and it takes time to check the validity of students and shortlist the deserving ones,” Director Media HEC, Ayesha Ikram, told News Lens. But students at the University of Peshawar (UoP) who had applied for laptops last year and their names verified by HEC have yet to receive one. “It was in the first year of my master’s degree programme when I registered myself for the laptop scheme and I am about to complete my graduation without one,” said Noor ul Huda, a student of UoP. The ‘Prime Minister’s Laptop Scheme’, initiated in 2013 by the federal government, aims to provide laptops to master’s degree and Ph.D. students of 26 public sector universities across Pakistan. The scheme seeks to encourage and support deserving students to digitalise the mode of studies in public sector universities. Bilal Ahmad, a student of the Islamia College University, said that among the deserving students are the ones who could afford bought laptops. Others, he said, just kept hoping to get one under the HEC’s scheme but graduated without one. “The objective of HEC to benefit the students through the laptop scheme cannot be achieved if lags continue to get in the way,” said NaeemGul, a focal person for the HEC laptop scheme in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at UoP. Gul said students complained that merit was violated and the criteria disregarded in distribution of laptops. He said students also had reservations over the decision of HEC to not issue laptops to those who had graduated and had jobs. “Students blame the focal persons at the departments for favouritism in the scheme but we have little to do with the whole process other than confirming eligibility of students to HEC,” said Gul. Officials at HEC said under the scheme, 500,000 laptops would be given to students in five phases – with 100,000 laptops provided in each phase. HEC, said Ayesha Ikram, was making sure that all public universities had Wi-Fi available on campus to facilitate the Smart Class Project wherein students would attend and study virtually, and had online access to content taught in classrooms. “There has been an exponential rise in the interest of students in laptops, given free under the scheme, over the two phases,” said Ikram. “Presently, distribution of laptops under phase-II is in progress and 45,000 laptops have been delivered to universities for onward distribution to students.” She said HEC was mindful of the concerns of students and would ensure speedy delivery of laptops to them in the coming years. About the accusation that merit was violated in the HEC’s PM Laptop Scheme, Ikram said beneficiary students were selected purely on merit through well-defined, transparent criteria. “Last year in phase-I (for the year 2013-14) around 97,203 laptops were distributed among young and talented students purely on merit, against the allocated quota of 100,000,” she said. Akhtar Amin, a Public Relations Officer at UoP, said the distribution of laptops received from HEC under phase-II was in progress. It was, however, delayed for some weeks due to Ramadan and Eid holidays and would resume soon. This article originally appeared in News Lens and has been reproduced with permission.