Only a few years back, it was like a dream to have a prestigious institution like the Higher Education Commission (previously the Universities Grants Commission) in Pakistan. When we take a retrospective look at the status of higher education in the country, we find that the benefits brought by the HEC for Pakistani students are numerous — though it still has a long way to go to achieve its original goals. The HEC has been providing the much-needed material support to all students aspiring to get higher education.
There is no denying the fact that higher education institutions in Pakistan have the capacity to make great headways in today’s globalized world and that they can play a key role in the development of the country. Since the establishment of HEC, more than 50 new universities have been established where thousands of students are being imparted quality education. Prior to that there were only half a million students in various universities across Pakistan but the number has now doubled to cross one million mark. Enrolment of female students in the universities has also encouragingly increased. Moreover, numerous needy and deserving students have been provided with scholarships — including 10000 local and foreign scholarships — and the efforts are still on in this regard. It is also a fact to reckon with that since then more than 5000 PhD degrees have been awarded to various scholars in various disciplines. It is also to be remembered that before HEC’s establishment, only 3,281 PhDs were awarded since Pakistan came into being.
At present, there are 177 HEC-recognized universities and degree awarding institutions (DAIs) in Pakistan; among them 103 are in public sector and the rest in the private one. A standardized criterion for PhD and MPhil has been formulated. Every PhD thesis is externally evaluated by a foreign university. A standard criterion for the recruitment of the faculty has been made to attract the best talent to institutions of higher learning. The HEC effected a new research trend and offered scholarships in multiple disciplines.
It’s a known fact that resources allocated to higher education in Pakistan are scant but the problem is that we fail to utilize even those available. Education in Pakistan has been divided into different levels. Standards of education are altogether different for the rich and the poor. There is no proper monitoring system that may help in regulating the country’s education system. We are witnessing an unprecedentedly fast mushrooming of educational institutions and universities but no care is being shown for the standard and quality of education. Supposedly private sector universities and DAIs matter a great deal in the promotion of higher education in the country, yet there are certain problems which may prove to be a stumbling block in this regard.
One of the major problems of higher education in Pakistan is poor management which has been the country’s biggest problem since its inception. Barring some highly educated individuals, our political leaders, generally, are less educated. That’s why they have no idea as to how to run the country. In an environment where untrained and inexperienced people are being recruited as teachers in a sheer disregard to merit, then how on earth we can expect that inept and unskilled persons taught by these people would efficiently and effectively run country’s institutions.
This violation of merit is especially rampant in private sector universities and their sub-campuses — save some prestigious institutions — because there is no fix criterion for recruitment of the teaching faculty. The affairs of these institutions are being run by a handful of business-minded people who only want to mint money and have no interest in improvement of quality and raising the standards. The HEC has granted charter to numerous private sector universities and DAIs but most of them lay principal emphasis only on demand-led subjects and they produce graduates in the fields of management sciences, medical, engineering and information technology. But, this increase in the institutional capacity of private educational sector does not ensure employability.
Neither the government nor the HEC is ready to pay attention to the issue that most public sector universities have only a few seats for the MPhil and PhD candidates for ‘maintaining standard’. Moreover, students are asked to take advanced type of entry tests for admission purpose. Furthermore, different types of rules regarding admission criteria, plagiarism checking of the thesis, its advanced evaluation and publishing of research papers before the award of an MPhil or a PhD degree are compromised in many of the private sector universities; they grant admissions to the students just for the sake of fleecing students with heavy fees. They don’t follow the rules and regulations set in this regard. They don’t even require documents like NTS test score at the time of admission. They just focus on granting admissions to more and more students. In this way although the quantity increases, yet it adversely affects the quality of education. The curriculum and pedagogy techniques are mostly inappropriate or at least inadequate for the set goals.
There should be at least a same and clear outline of the subjects and curriculum during the course work, and it should be implemented in public as well as private sector universities. This would bring the harmony among the higher education institutions of the country and would be helpful in maintaining a uniform standard throughout the country.
In developed countries, a huge chunk of national budget is spent on education but unfortunately that’s not the case in Pakistan. Ever year education sector is ignored and no significant investments are made for the advancement and improvement of the education system. The challenges are growing exponentially and the HEC is, at present, faced with numerous difficulties on funding, quality, administration and management. To tackle these challenges what we require is a durable policy for investment as well as better infrastructure, better collaboration and solid business-industry links.
Finally, it is the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to draw up policies for the expansion and advancement of higher education in the country. Regardless of the paced growth in recent years, the education sector is still plagued with a number of problems. These include the lack of higher education opportunities for the country’s youth, flawed pedagogy techniques, unending brain drain of capable and skilled human resource and inadaptability to changing paradigms of academic research.
It is worth mentioning here that by the end of the year 2022, the country would need to create more than forty million new jobs if the economy grows up to six percent annually. Therefore, it is the fundamental duty of all universities to produce graduates who would fulfil the national, social and economic needs of the country.