Enter the remaking phase
“Excellence is not a destination; it is a continuous journey that never ends.” — Brian Tracy
Higher education system plays a pivotal role in making a country strong and prosperous. Universities all over the world perform two basic functions: teaching and research. Ron Lewis, a renowned American politician, said, “Ensuring quality higher education is one of the most important things we can do for future generations.” Provision of higher education in a country ensures the availability of highly-quality professionals in various disciplines including engineering, basic sciences, agriculture, medicine and healthcare, and other sectors.
Higher education sector in Pakistan remained almost neglected until the end of the 1990s. However, after the establishment of Higher Education Commission (HEC) in early 2000s, this sector gained much attention nationwide. All credible international ranking systems are assessed and evaluated on their ability to produce quality research which contributes nearly 85 percent to its overall score. An evaluation of our universities during the last five years, based on the abovementioned criterion, shows that our educational institutions have become only teaching institutions and there is relatively less focus on research. No new inventions are coming out of our institutions of higher education nor are we registering any new patents on national or international level. Most research carried out in these institutions is academic in nature, and doesn’t effectively contribute to the betterment of the society. In its latest report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has highlighted that the higher education in the country is facing a crisis. The deteriorating state of higher education in Pakistan is also evinced by the fact that there is a lack of communication between educational bodies throughout the country. The recent publication of QS World University Rankings 2018 shows that only one of our 180+ universities is in the top 500 universities – at 431st place on the list.
The HEC has laid more emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Researchers are encouraged to produce more publications but with no check on the quality of the research material. This leads to one of the main reasons why even a single Pakistani research journal in the scientific and engineering fields could not receive global recognition. Another reason attributed to the downfall of higher education in Pakistan is the affiliated colleges and university campuses which play a major role in degrading the reputation and prestige of the degrees. Most colleges in the country have affiliations with one university or another for their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The affiliated colleges, in most cases, have poor infrastructure, dismal conditions of laboratories and building, and ineffective and incapable teaching staff. Most disheartening part, however, is that the students of affiliated colleges do get the same degrees as their counterparts at the main campuses of universities despite the fact that they enjoy better teaching and other facilities.
The dreadful condition of our primary and secondary education is another major contributing factor toward the declining state of higher education in Pakistan. The foundation of tertiary education is laid upon primary and secondary education sector but this sector is also mired in numerous problems including poverty and unemployment, substandard evaluation system, lower allocation of budget, lack of facilities and infrastructure, high dropout and lower enrolment, and security concerns, and the list goes on. Due to these issues, students enter universities but with weak concepts and understanding of academic subjects. The government is inducting the so-called learned and highly-educated teachers through a substandard NTS test. There were no serious interviews conducted for the selection of schoolteachers, just an “Ostensible Interview” of 5 marks was organized which creates no impact of pass or fail as it cannot assess the cognitive abilities of the aspirants. Hence, a number of incompetent teachers, who can’t even speak properly, have been recruited to the government schools. So, selection of schoolteachers must be done through the provincial public service commission for better results. It must be an eye-opener that a recent study has suggested that language and mathematics skills of country’s high school graduates were equal to those of second graders in developed countries.
During the last five years, the HEC has tried to introduce reforms at various levels of education including research, faculty development, improving management and infrastructure at higher education institutes (HEIs). The infrastructure of the existing universities have been upgraded by providing them with funds, faculty-development programmes have been introduced, new opportunities at higher education level i.e. PhD, have been created to strengthen the human resource nationwide. Fake MPhil/PhD programmes in various institutions and universities have been done away with by disseminating information through print and electronic media. These steps have been a key to providing awareness to parents and students before enrolling in higher education programmes in an HEI or university. To promote research culture in HEIs and universities, the HEC has also introduced various research grant programmes including National Research Program for Universities (NRPU), with a vision to improve research facilities at the institution and to motivate faculty to make significant scientific contributions at national and international level. These groundbreaking steps enhance and step-up our research culture and in last one and a half decade, since the establishment of HEC in 2002, the number of research papers in international journals has greatly increased.
The basic cause of overall worsened situation of Pakistan’s higher education sector in the past is non-coherence of policies and the flawed priorities of our policymakers. HEC’s ex-chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed took bold decisions; he introduced radical policies and tried to implement them with full vigour. After his retirement, his policies should have been implemented with the same pace. Frequent changes in policies and continuous political interventions have also hindered progress in the higher education and research sector. There are many examples of educational policies in the past that fell prey to political interference. Similarly, development in many policies came to a standstill due to the appointment of incompetent individuals, lacking clear vision and management skills.
A greater focus should be given to primary and secondary education, which can act as a baseline for tertiary education, same as what Korea and China did in the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Once the foundation of primary and secondary education was strongly embedded, they shifted the focus toward the tertiary education. The result of this policy enabled them to establish strong, effective and organized education sectors in their respective countries. At present, their universities are competing with top European and American universities. These facts and figures should be a wake-up call for our policymakers and higher education authorities, and a combined consensus from all stakeholders is required to build a more coherent and clear strategy for higher education sector.
Performance Review 2017-18
Under the PSDP 2017-18, the government has allocated Rs 35.663 billion for 181 development projects (112 ongoing & 69 unapproved projects) for universities. During FY 2018 , twenty-one (21) projects with a total cost of Rs 46.713 billion have been considered and approved by the competent forum i.e. CDWP/ECNEC. Thus total number of approved projects have increased to 133.
However, the remaining 48 un-approved projects are at different stages of approval. During 2017-18 (July-December), the government has released Rs 11.628 billion (33 percent of the total budget) to ongoing development projects of Universities/HEC whereas, the 3rd quarter amount Rs 4.233 billion is being released.
In addition, HEC has been given the responsibility of designing, implementation and execution of the project titled “Prime Minister’s Laptop Scheme-HEC (Phase-II)”. The case for release of an amount of Rs 5.287 billion for PM’s Laptop Scheme-HEC (Phase-II) is under process at Ministry of Finance.
Similarly, the case for release of supplementary grant of Rs 0.600 billion for the project titled “Award of 3,000 Scholarships to students from Afghanistan under the Prime Minister’s Directive” is also under process at Ministry of Finance. Under this scheme, the Government of Pakistan offers scholarships to 3000 Afghan students in various field including medicine, engineering, agriculture, management and computer sciences.
Source: Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-18