Until about two to three decades ago, educational units – schools, colleges and universities – working under the public sector played an efficient role in providing quality education with nominal government fees. But over the years, materialism, lack of long-term policies, political interference and sectionalism have become part and parcel of public education departments and literally deteriorated the entire fabric of the Higher Education sector in Pakistan.
Private institutes and evening tuition academies did step in to fill the gap that emerged for providing quality education, but they only ended up further damaging the sector following a decadent indulgence in a mad race of making money. An increasingly expensive private sector has potentially taken control of the educational sector, right from elementary to higher education levels, in Pakistan. As a consequence, a wide majority of people cannot endure educational expenditure incurred at private schools and universities. Education is the basic right of every citizen living in any country and this right is provided amicably by all developed countries on a priority basis. But in Pakistan, consumers of educational services – parents and students – have been left with little choice or idea when it comes to seeking quality education.
Foresight, Or Lack of It
Speaking particularly about Punjab, former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif promoted terrible “sectionalism” in the sector. Instead of ameliorating the efficiency of all schools and colleges, he somehow – apparently for political mileage and self-projection – selectively introduced the culture of “Danish schools”, “model colleges” and even “model police stations”. These special outlets only resulted in further affecting the performance of other schools, colleges and police stations that did not bear the special credentials of being a ‘model’.
Shahbaz Sharif promoted terrible “sectionalism” in the sector. Instead of ameliorating the efficiency of all schools and colleges, he somehow – apparently for political mileage and self-projection – selectively introduced the culture of “Danish schools”, “model colleges” and even “model police stations”.
While ignoring a majority of schools and colleges, these special institutions were given the blue-eyed treatment with additional grants and perks, all for short-term, political objectives. The institutional discrimination not only disappointed staff, but also caused a drop in enrolments of students in institutes that did not bear the title ‘Danish’ or ‘model’. To add fuel to the fire of education woes that are burning bright, formation and execution of educational policies has for long been entrusted to civil servants who have no expertise, training or experience in education and its allied services.
Who’s In Charge?
At the university level, the plight of higher education in Pakistan has been made worse by a shambolic division of power between various quality-controlling bodies at the federal and provincial level. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan has turned into a degree attestation department ever since Dr Atta Ur Rahman resigned as the commission chairman in 2008.
Thereafter, the 18th Amendment in the constitution was promulgated, making federating units responsible for education. However there has never been a clear roadmap of how the jurisdictions would materialize. Now provincial and federal higher education regulatory commissions work in parallel, with no clear demarcation of either’s authoritative boundary.
Funnily enough, only Punjab and Sindh have separate provincial set up of HEC, while KPK and Balochistan are still working under the federal HEC. This polarization has seriously damaged the repute, credibility and efficiency of HEC, something that needs to be addressed urgently.
If we consider scientific research at many a public and private universities, the endeavor has merely become a source of grabbing funds from related government institutes and sister organizations such as Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF). Ongoing research in many subjects is far from practical utility and implications, and fails to address or attempt to address the real challenges faced by the country. The true spirit of scientific work for real implementation is lost.
Ongoing research in many subjects is far from practical utility and implications, and fails to address or attempt to address the real challenges faced by the country
Instead, research has become a criterion of quick promotion to higher ranks in universities, irrespective of how and where faculty members and their research students publish their work. There are no black and white ethical guidelines and aptitude for publications in journals from institutes. The race for publication has made both students and professors blind to the value and credentials of publishers and journals; and whether they are of an acceptable repute. Such publication houses work on the basis of “open-access” policy for readers, therefore, they ask money from the authors to publish their work. And that is happily paid from the project funds approved by HEC or PSF.
Harassment, often sexual, of female students and staff at the hands of colleagues and research supervisors is now being extensively reported across the Pakistani academia. It has become a major challenge for university administrations to curb social crime. Although, the constitution provides protection against sexual harassment at work place, the implementation of laws remain a challenge.
The practice hiring and firing of faculty members in higher education institutions on Pakistan also raises concerns, as most recruitments are reportedly made out of the way and against so-called criteria of merit. Likewise, deans and vice chancellors at universities are mostly appointed on the basis of recommendation, cosmetic value and political influence. Retired professors continue getting unnecessary extensions, impeding the way of young and energetic faculty members.
Unless administrative officials and faculty at universities in Pakistan is selected purely on the basis of capability of individuals in terms of leadership, management and specialization in respective areas, we cannot compete with the world in science and technology, or any discipline for that matter. Similarly, the HEC is essentially required to enhance its working domain with better planning and executional capacity.
Education is the only way through which the fate of nations can be turned around. And to achieve that turnaround, we must do what is needed. Uphold merit.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views and policy of The Academia Magazine