Higher education does not know how to speak for its interests
Since the creation of Pakistan, higher education system of the country has been a matter of great concern among various circles, especially the educationists, government, policymakers and general public. Ranging from socioeconomic system to religio-cultural lives of people the issue of higher education has several dimensions. In 1974, to address various challenges in higher education, the Government of Pakistan established University Grants Commission (UGC). However, having no real financial powers, the UGC remained an ineffective institution and this impotence resulted in a steep decline of the standard of higher education in Pakistan. Therefore, in 2002, the government established Higher Education Commission (HEC). The HEC paved the way to revitalize invigorate, support, legalize, standardize, sponsor and made functional the endeavours undertaken by the various respective institutions. The instant write-up is aimed at analyzing the reforms in higher education system in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s edification in expressions of investment and planning dates back to 1947 with the thoughtfulness of universal primary education, eradication of illiteracy and making available the technical education after the pattern of high-level institutions. The first resolute attempt in the policymaking and giving the country a system of education was geared by the Sharif Commission on Education (1959). The report by the commission covers the promotion of agro-technical education, science education, development of curriculum, switching over to three-year degree programmes and four-year programmes for engineering and medicine. The proposals were extremely relevant and, if adopted, could have been very effective. After the Sharif Commission report, several succeeding policies did emerge, e.g. education policies of 1970, 1972, 1979, 1992, 1998 and 2009.
The targets set in each education policy were arduous and gruelling. All these policies met the same fate because sound planning and investment was missing. The new universities could not deliver because the problems faced by already functional universities were not adequately addressed. It is important to note here that these were not only the educational policies; the financial plans in succession of five years were also given alongside them. The plans did highlight common problems faced by education in a broader spectrum. These problems included the issues related to industrialization, globalization, continuing education, education-industry linkages, quality of education and skills, and so on. In addition, non-availability of well-trained teachers, lack of motivation on the part of teachers, boring and insipid content, no relevance of content with the job market, non-fulfilment of social, physical, economic and financial needs through education, gender and class disparities, student discipline, insufficient financial input to education and nonexistence of research culture also impeded the growth of education in the country. Even today, good teachers are not attracted towards education because of lesser remunerations, slow promotions and lack of incentives.
There are other factors that also contribute to unsatisfactory learning of students. They include high teacher-student ratio, least concern for conceptual learning, political interference in the educational institutions, transfers of teaching staff, placements and provision of incentives. This state of affairs gave birth to a generation of degree-holders with the least mastery over the required skills.
The growth of higher education over the years has also resulted in educational malpractices, which exist in the form of exorbitant fees being charged by the private institutions. The entry of a large number of private institutions has also resulted in rapid increase in litigation involving students, teachers, employees, management of higher educational institutions and universities as well as other stakeholders that has negatively impacted the quality of education and efficient functioning of the institutions. Stanley Fish remarks, “In general, higher education does not know how to speak for its interests. It offers a stance that is defensive, cowardly and likely to be ineffective.”
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The number of educational institutions as well as the enrolment of students in colleges and universities has registered an exceptionally fast growth. But, in spite of quality control and consolidation, the problems faced by this sector will continue to grow for a long time to come. The condition of higher education in universities and colleges is not satisfactory in the eyes of students. Lack of physical and educational facilities is bringing much hindrance in the way of development. Teachers are less motivated to do research work. Most teachers, currently teaching in higher education institutions, have limited knowledge about subject matter they teach and many of them have even no clear idea about the basic concepts. Even the teacher at MPhil and PhD level are not competent enough to supervise research owing to a sheer lack of knowledge about research methodologies. The HEC has been providing financial assistance for faculty-improvement programmes which are aimed at enabling the teachers to keep abreast of the latest developments in their subject and also to conduct research studies. These programmes are supposed to improve the professional competence of teachers so that they can impart high-quality education to their students and contribute significantly to raising the standard of higher education. It is really alarming that after spending huge amount of money on those scholars, the results are still the same as they were previously.
Misconduct and frauds in academia have always been a mighty problem for researchers and organizations like the HEC. Pakistan has been struggling to block this dark side of science by blacklisting the academics involved in these unethical practices. Moreover, recent reports highlighting the issue of black market of scholars and fake graduates draw our attention to address this issue more seriously. These reports have highlighted a major concern of selling and purchasing of theses and dissertations, damaging not only the institutions but also the country’s reputation and progress. Unfortunately, unlike the developed nations, there are very few research repositories in the institutions in the developing countries like Pakistan. The Directory of Open Access Repositories (DOAR) from Pakistan and the Pakistan Research Repository is the largest collection of theses and dissertations but they do not include undergraduate and MPhil theses. It is necessary to resolve this issue and ensure that there is minimum probability of theft of unpublished undergraduate and MPhil theses and dissertations. The HEC should take this issue seriously and should allow inclusion of undergraduate and MPhil research in its repository so as to improve the research dissemination and avoid scientific misconduct and fraud.
Hence, the problems that have plagued the educational system of Pakistan are many, and multidimensional as well. They include the population explosion, lack of resources, scarcity of qualified manpower, inconsistency in the policies of various regimes, political instability, inefficient educational management system, wastage of resources, poor quality of intake, managerial inefficiency, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate student services, scant material resources, non-accountability of institutions, inefficiency in teaching, poor research and lack of research opportunities and poor implementation of policies and programmes.
The quality of higher education can be ensured through regular review of the functioning of institutions, either through self-assessment or by outside agencies and by putting in place a system of accreditation.
Special initiatives are required to enhance employability. Curriculum and content has to be continually renewed through authorities and skills development networks. Collection of data on job market trends, its analysis and dissemination is also important. It needs to be re-emphasized that the curriculum should be broad-based, general education-based; and quality-based scientific and technical education. Moreover, worldwide networks of emigrant Pakistani scientists should be established to upgrade educational methods and resources through organization of conferences, creating information exchange systems, and facilitating exchange programmes.