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Fragmentation of Higher Education —A Suicidal Move




  • There is an impending disaster looming right in front of us. What is being proposed by a Parliamentary Committee on devolution by Mr. Raza Rabbani is to tear the higher education apart and fragment it into five pieces, with each province having its own independent programs. 

    Atta-ur-Rahman 

     

    There is an impending disaster looming right in front of us. What is being proposed by a Parliamentary Committee on devolution by Mr. Raza Rabbani is to tear the higher education apart and fragment it into five pieces, with each province having its own independent programs. What has not been realized by our policy makers is that the process of socio-economic development is through a central strategic planning which is intimately connected to a country’s higher education, science & technology programs. The minimum quality requirements and the numbers of engineers, scientists, doctors, economists and social scientists needed for nation building have to be determined through carefull central planning regarding the human resource requirements in various sectors. The quality assurance systems have also to be centrally implemented by the national regulatory agency as a multiplicity of standards and regulations would only add to confusion. 

    Pakistan made good progress during the period 2001-2008 in higher education. There has been a 600 % increase in scientific publications in international journals and a similar increase in citations (the number of times the work of our academics is cited by others in their references) in this period. Today several of our universities are ranked among the top 600 (National University of Science and Technology, NUST was ranked at 350 in the overall world university rankings (Times UK Higher Education rankings, November 2009). In the disciplinary rankings, University of Karachi was ranked at 223 in the world, NUST at 260 in the world and Quaid-e-Azam University at 270 in the world in the field of Natural Sciences. This is no ordinary achievement after decades of stagnation.
    University enrollment has been tripled from only 135,000 during the 56 year period from 1947 to 2003 to about 400,000 by 2009. There were only 59 universities and degree awarding institutes in 2001 in Pakistan. These grew to 127 such institutions by 2008 and have grown to 132 such institutions today.
    Pakistan established one of the best digital libraries anywhere in the world: Every student in every public sector university today was provided access to 45,000 textbooks & research monographs from 220 international publishers as well as to 25,000 international research journals completely free of charge.
    Over 11,000 scholarships were awarded including about 4,000 scholarships for study in technologically advanced countries with about a crore of rupees being spent on each student being sent abroad. Some 3,000 indigenous Ph.D. scholarships were also awarded. There was a phenomenal increase in local PhD output, with the number of PhDs produced in 7 years (3028 during 2003-2009) being about equal to those produced in 55 previous years(3281 during1947-2002) with the quality being guaranteed through mandatory evaluation and approval by examiners in technologically advanced countries.
     

     

    India Concerned!

     
    India became deeply concerned at these developments. In an article entitled “Pak Threat to Indian Science” published in the leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, India, on 23rd July 2006, Neha Mehta reported that Prof. C.N.R. Rao, (Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council) made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister and expressed serious concerns at the remarkable progress made by Pakistan in the higher education and science sectors under the Higher Education Commission. It was stated that as a result of the reforms brought about in Pakistan in the higher education sector “Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.: Unquote (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1082216661.html, Neha Mehta, “Pak Threat to Indian Science”, Hindustan Times, 23 july 2006). Pakistan won four prestigious international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought about by the Higher Education Commission. These include the TWAS (Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Italy) Award for Institutional Development at the 11th General Conference of TWAS in Durban, South Africa in October 2009, the Austrian high civil award “Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande” (2007), the Fellowship of Royal Society (London)(2006) and Honorary Life Fellowship of Kings College , Cambridge University (2007) conferred on former Chairman Higher Education Commission.

    An educational expert, Prof. Wolfgang Voelter of Tubingen University, who was conferred two Civil Awards from the Government of Pakistan for his contributions to the development of science in this country, paid glowing tributes to the Higher Education Commission in an article in Dawn on 28thNovember 2008 under the heading “The Golden Period”. I quote: “ A miracle happened. The scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan changed dramatically as never before in the history of Pakistan. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced it as “Pakistan’s golden period in higher education.” Unquote. (http://epaper.dawn.com/artMailDisp.aspx?article=23_11_2008_123_003&typ=0)

    Prof. Michael Rode, Former Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development wrote, and I quote: “The progress ( HEC ) made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects. To name just a few, the establishment of a free access to scientific literature by high-speed Internet for all universities, the thousands of promising young scientists who were granted PhD studies at top universities abroad, the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country and the programme of establishing new universities of science and technology, including technology parks attracting foreign investors, prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country enabled by the HEC’s chairman. The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that (the) policy and programme is a `best-practice’ example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.” Unquote. (http://dildilpakistan.wordpress.com/tag/dr-atta-ur-rehman/).

    HEC was created as an autonomous institution with the Prime Minister of Pakistan as its Controlling Authority. Composition of the Commission reflects a balanced Federal structure with representation from each Province as well as the Secretary Education and Secretary Science and Technology together with eminent Academic and Research experts. All the Vice Chancellors of Public Sector Universities located in all Provinces of the country in a meeting held on November 27, 2010, unanimously resolved that HEC functionality should not be changed and the status quo should be maintained since the HEC has performed exceptionally well and it is completely covered under the 18th amendment. The Higher Education Commission is responsible for standards of higher education and research in the Universities in all disciplines including the professional disciplines of Engineering, Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Information Technology, Architecture, etc. The HEC is in fact the regulatory body for higher education in the country since it prescribes conditions under which universities are opened and operated and also has ultimate authority for recognition of degrees, diplomas, certificates etc. issued by the Universities.

    All powers and functions of the HEC defined under its legislation are covered and protected in the five provisions of the 18th Amendment listed below. The passage of the 18th Amendment, amended the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution and added the following key provisions (having links to higher education) to the Federal Legislative List a. All regulatory authorities established under a Federal law b. National planning and national economic coordination including planning and coordination of scientific and technological research. c. Legal, medical and other professions d. Standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions. e. Inter-provincial matters and co-ordination. The lower level education has been a complete mess, because of half-witted plans and lack of a national commitment towards education. Our parliamentarians have now come up with this strategy to destroy the higher education sector since they do not appear to understand the critical central role of higher education in nation building. My plea to the government is: please stop this suicidal madness. Something good happened in Pakistan after some 55 years of neglect. Let us not destroy this wonderful initiative.

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