We often hear that the Government of Pakistan is paying full attention on higher education in order to meet the international standards. Although government figures on higher education present a brighter picture of the development and growth of this sector, yet ground realities are starkly different. Most universities in Pakistan are highly politicized and have fewer resources at their disposal and have largely incompetent staff. They are incapable of producing original research which rings alarm bells for every Pakistani. There are almost three million educational institutions working in the country at present, imparting education to more than forty-five million students through 1.8 million teachers. Nearly thirty-five percent of these institutions are in the private sector. The Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 guarantees education as a fundamental human right of every Pakistani but problems of access, quality, infrastructure and inequality of opportunity remain.
The biggest impediment in the way of higher education is not the issue of management only as some deep-rooted social and cultural anomalies are making the situation worrisome. A radical change is required in the mindset of the people to establish and promote primary education, and then the higher education, on very firm basis. Other big hindrances that effect low enrolment rates of girls include poverty, socio-cultural constraints, illiteracy of parents and their concerns about safety and mobility of their daughters. A culture of doubting modesty of a, girl if she goes to acquire higher education and the menace of child marriages in many parts of Pakistan limits the willingness of parents to send their daughters to school.
As regards the matter of people’s access to quality education, it is undeniably true that almost all schools, colleges and universities in the private sector charge exuberant fees and they are located in urban areas. Although they provide comparatively better and quality education to the students, their heavy fee structure and their location make them virtually inaccessible to the common masses. Adding fuel to the fire are the malpractices of some institutions that compromise on the quality education only to show better results and attract more and more students.
War against terrorism has also impeded the promotion of literacy campaigns in the country. The bestial militants targeted schools and innocent students; several educational institutions were blown up, teachers and students were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan.
In addition, Pakistan spends nearly 2.5% of its total GDP on education. But even this meagre amount is mostly spent on paying salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff—about 89% of the total budget for education— which means that only 11% is available for spending on development projects and it is not, in any sense, insufficient to raise the standard and quality of education in Pakistan. No serious attention has been paid on the promotion of technical and vocational education in the country. Institutions that provide such education are extremely scarce and the ones working somehow, are in serious want of infrastructure, teachers and tools that are necessary to provide training to the students. Skilled population is always considered a national power of the country as they are the people who contribute to high employment levels while unskilled population is not only a burden on the national exchequer but some part of it may resort to illegal activities which destroys the prospects of national development. There is a pressing need to implement the National Education Policy and Vision 2030. Admittedly, it’s not possible for the government to implement a uniform system of education in the country but at least uniform curriculum can be introduced. Doing so will help a lot in providing equal opportunities to the students of rural and less developed areas for overcoming the challenges of the modern-day world.
Now coming back to the higher education, it is a sad reality that our universities are not the institutions of producing quality research. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has been largely a failure in this sector as it hasn’t been able to devise any check-and-balance policy on effective use of its grants. The oft-claimed standards are only found in its annual reports and papers, and ground reality is really worst. At MPhil level, things are disastrous as there is no robust policy on, and check over, writing the theses, plagiarism detection, topic selection, quality of the stuff and other research-related areas. Some private sector universities and degree-awarding institutions are producing only the heaps of MPhil scholars who don’t have any idea as to what research actually is. Instead of making them capable of conducting a research by themselves, they are taught only the techniques to avoid plagiarism and the ways to reshape an old thesis and present it as a new research.
The HEC needs to root out this menace if it is serious in promoting quality higher education in Pakistan. New, robust policies must be introduced wherein a provision to have advance board meetings on and foreign evaluation of MPhil thesis must be provided for. This would encourage students to conduct original research which, in turn, will promote a research culture in our universities and degree-awarding institutions. Students will also become better researchers who would have better foundation of research before stepping into the PhD level of research. There should be, at least, one HEC member in the committee at the time of viva and open defence of MPhil theses. These theses must also be uploaded and made available on HEC’s online research repository, and they must also be accessible to everyone. Only a certain number of seats should be offered for MPhil in all disciplines as it will stem the disastrous flow of MPhil aspirants who don’t have any taste for research. It is often witnessed that private sector universities and DAIs enrol more than even 200 students for MPhil in a single discipline, in a single semester. If necessary actions are not taken at the right time, MPhil, which is a research-based degree, will lose its worth.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy opines: “Pakistani university teachers had roughly the same moral and ethical standards possessed by our policemen, politicians, generals and shopkeepers.” He further adds that the academic research being conducted in Pakistani universities is “kill count” based on “wholesale plagiarism” which has pushed academic ethics into a “free fall”. In his recent article titled “Enough PhD’s, thank you” (Dawn; Nov 21, 2015), he severely criticized the government policies and structure of higher education in Pakistan. He lamented the research standards in Pakistan as having no quality, just quantity, in it and comes up with very harsh remarks “Pakistan now has legions of highly-paid ignoramus cartoon professors.”
In Pakistan, there are numerous researchers who are endowed with talent and abilities to serve their country but, unfortunately, they have been lost and mixed up with a flood of “so-called researchers”. The HEC is spending a huge amount of money in the shape of grants and foreign and indigenous scholarships to facilitate research but all this will be a futile exercise, if authorities just rely on statistics and annual reports—which actually are often opposite to the ground realities. Government must pay a keen attention to solve these major problems, and a quick response can save the future of the country.