‘We cannot achieve prosperity unless we invest in our youth’

Dr. Javaid R. Laghari Chairperson Higher Education Commission

Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): What is the status of Higher Education Commission (HEC) especially after the 18th Amendment?

Dr. Javaid R. Laghari: HEC has always been an autonomous body ‘before and after 18th Amendment’ and it is clearly written in the HEC Act. The act says that the controlling authority of HEC is the prime minister of Pakistan and it is governed by 18-member commission which is also appointed by the prime minister. It includes officials from federal and provincial governments, vice chancellors of universities and eminent educationists etc. Now after 18th Amendment the autonomous status of HEC is unaltered as in 18th Amendment list 1 and 2 clearly indicate that research, science and technology institutions and all regulatory bodies they all are part of federal government. And the Supreme Court itself has given the judgment unless the act of HEC is amended the status quo will remain so.

JWT: In September 2012 HEC is going to complete its 10 years. What are the remarkable achievements of HEC in your opinion?    

DJL: Well, the achievements of HEC are quite noticeable. We focused on three issues: First is the accessibility, second the quality and the third one is research. Accessibility means access to higher education in the last ten years. The enrolment of students into universities has been increased four times’ from about 250,000 to more than one million. Here, I would also like to mention how it has happened. The reason is today you can find campuses of universities in the remote areas like Turbat, Loralai, Shringal, Charsada, Mardan etc. We are providing higher education to the people at their door-step. Now as far as quality is concerned a large number of reforms are taking place within the HEC to improve the quality of education and research. There are more than 120 programmes. The curriculum committee which consists of deans and chairpersons of these departments reviews curriculum every three years. They meet at least twice during the review process in order to revise the curriculum as per international standards. Here I would like to add that the research has improved tremendously. It is quite evident by the number of PhDs awarded in Pakistan in the last ten years comparing far more the numbers of PhDs awarded in Pakistan in the last 55 years before the HEC was formed. Similarly, if you see the number of research publications produced by all the universities in 2002. It was about 600 but today this number has crossed 6200 only in the year 2011, so it is the eight fold increase in the number of research papers produced by the universities in Pakistan. Recently, one of the ranking agencies, CIMAGO has reported that Pakistan is the number two in the world that is producing large number of research papers. I think this alone is major recognition in terms of research. Moreover, three years back we weren’t even listed in the list of 500 universities of the world, but by the grace of Allah our six universities have been ranked among the top universities of Asia and our two science and technology universities are ranked among the top 300 technology universities in the world. Thus, these are the proof that what was the situation before the HEC and what is after the establishment of HEC.

JWT: How would you elaborate the concept of knowledge economy and where does Pakistan stand in it?

DJL: In my opinion the way to survive in the 21st century is knowledge economy, because the days are gone when countries use to rely on natural resources, now at present age the value-added knowledge economy is very important. Even the countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE etc., despite having rich natural resources, are also moving towards knowledge economy because they realised that these natural resources will runout after 10 or 20 years and they would stand nowhere in the world without knowledge economy. On the other hand, if you look at countries having no natural resources, have prospered a lot just because of knowledge economy. These countries are Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. And there are some other countries which are combination of both like Canada, United States of America and so on. For instance, Finland has half the population the city of Karachi has. It has no natural resources and today the exports of only one company of Finland is more than the total exports of Pakistan. Therefore, this is what we mean by value addition. We don’t need coal, we don’t need oil, because our assets are the people. We have population of 180 million and out of which half of the population is below the age of nineteen and two-third of the population is below the age of thirty. Thus, these people are our biggest asset as the coal can be converted into diamond, these people can be converted into value addition. Hence, demography of Pakistan is an asset and if you don’t do anything then it will be a liability.

JWT: We have not a uniform education system. Do you think that NTS and GAT is an appropriate yardstick for M. Phils and PhDs?

DJL: GMAT, GRE and GAT are always there to evaluate people with a uniform yardstick. For example, in Pakistan there are many boards of education and each one is different from the other one so, in such a scenario these modules of entrance tests are necessary to gauge the students’ calibres as well as to fulfil the course requirements. In my opinion it is very important yardstick which I think should be there especially for the higher education programmes.

If we have to improve our level, we need another 10,000 PhDs to teach at our universities and for 10,000 PhDs we need money for scholarships because our universities do not have the capacity to produce 10,000 PhDs in the next ten years.
JWT: In many of your TV interviews you have pointed out that HEC is facing budget-cuts, how does it affect the overseas scholarships?

DJL: Yes, we are facing budget-cuts therefore our first priority is to support our scholars who have gone overseas for studies. We shall continue to support them till they complete their studies. Whenever there is a budget-cut as it exactly happened two years back ‘when we are not able to send our students abroad on scholarship’ very few students went abroad during those years.

JWT: Plagiarism is known as ‘Academic Theft’. HEC has adopted a policy for plagiarism in 2007 but where is the implementation. We have a case example of Dr. Azmat Hayat, the Vice Chancellor of University of Peshawar?

DJL: Let me admit there were some deficiencies in that policy, but since I have taken over as chairperson HEC, I have corrected. One deficiency was that there was no timeline for such cases so, I have introduced a reform, i.e. timeline of three months. The universities have to decide the case in three months after that HEC committee will take up the case and decide. I think it is something very positive. Secondly, at the time of making of this policy nobody had thought that even the VC himself could be involved. The policy actually said that the VC would form a committee to investigate the charges of plagiarism but here, as we know the charge of plagiarism was on the VC. That is why, I had to write a letter to the chancellor to take the action and now the chancellor authorised the chairperson of HEC to initiate the inquiry. The chairperson of HEC has set up a committee which has sent the charges of plagiarism to the chancellor, i.e. governor KPk since it is an administrative matter between the chancellor and vice chancellor so it was for the chancellor to take action not the HEC and it is entirely a different case comparing all other cases. At the end of the day the vice chancellor was made to resign from his position. Hence, implementation of the policy did take place.

JWT: Our population is increasing at the rate of more than three million a year, but we have only 132 universities. Why the number of universities has not been increased considering the increase in population?

DJL: Yes I fully agree that our people have low rate of accessibility to the higher education, i.e. 8% which is very low indeed. While Bangladesh is at 12% which is 15% more than us, India is at 18%, even Muslim countries are way ahead of us like Malaysia is at 27% and Indonesia is at 30%. In fact, today we need to double up this percentage, then we can make a difference. Unfortunately, to increase accessibility we need to increase faculty, we need to increase Ph.D faculty and we need to increase campuses and in all this process a large amount of money is involved. If we have to improve our level, we need another 10,000 PhDs to teach at our universities and for 10,000 PhDs we need money for scholarships because our universities do not have the capacity to produce 10,000 PhDs in the next ten years.

JWT: You have always said that private sector is providing good education but it is costly. On the contrary private universities are producing only 3% of the total PhDs in the country?

DJL: Well I have been a president of a private university and usually private universities emphasise on undergraduates, i.e. bachelors’ education and somehow on masters programmes. Thus, a few universities are focusing on PhDs. That is why, they are providing less PhDs than the public sector universities.

We do not have any role in the appointment of vice chancellors because universities themselves are autonomous therefore, we cannot take any action when sometimes an inappropriate or unqualified person becomes vice chancellor of a university.
JWT: As you say HEC is a regulatory body. How does HEC regulate because some of the private universities have very bad reputation, e.g. PIMSA and many others. They are selling degrees instead of awarding degrees?

DJL: We have banned the campuses of Alkhair University. Recently they opened a campus in Islamabad which we banned too. We have our own procedure. Our teams inspect campuses then we issue an NOC to a university for working. But we are not police. When we receive a complaint we send our team to visit and if a campus is found unauthorised or substandard then we issue them a notice that says, ‘Shut down the campus, otherwise we are going to advertise in the newspapers to declare you blacklist.’

 So, this is our procedure. I do not know about any PIMSAT working in Lahore, but we shall take action if information is provided.  Apart from this I also want to mention here that HEC is made under an act. Universities are made according to an act so the universities themselves are autonomous too. It is difficult for us to regulate those who are also made under an act.

JWT: Don’t you think there should be a mechanism which may define the jurisdictions of either side?

DJL: Yes, there should be a mechanism and I also raised this issue in the last meeting of standing committee that today after ten years we should review the difficulties which we faced and we have to empower HEC by removing these difficulties. We need some more powers e.g. we do not have any role in the appointment of vice chancellors because universities themselves are autonomous therefore, we cannot take any action when sometimes an inappropriate or unqualified person becomes vice chancellor of a university. That is why we have to seek an extended role for HEC in future.

Any Message
We cannot achieve prosperity unless we invest in our youth because youth is the most valuable asset of Pakistan and future of Pakistan is also dependent on Youth. Thanks


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