A conflict between Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Dr. Atta-Ur-Rahman is increasingly resentful in national media about the state of higher education and role of Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Pakistan.
Dr. Atta-Ur-Rahman is the architect and first chairman (2002-2008) of Higher Education Commission (HEC) while Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy has been the critic of the policies of the HEC since from its inception.
Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy supports the recent chairman of the HEC Dr. Tariq Banuri’s view that HEC should more concentrate on four-year BS degree program rather than Ph.D. BS degree should be available to every student of the country irrespective of his income and region.
HEC resources should be spent on teacher training and infrastructure development for bachelor programs.
Hoodbhoy also criticizes the research success of the HEC in numerical terms such as published research papers, research grants obtained, overseas visits, and paying for meetings. He instead questions the academic usefulness and commercialization of the research paper and patents produced in Pakistan during the last decade. He also raises the question on the earning prospects of the universities in Pakistan by selling their research to the industry since the HEC is in operation.
Sarwat Nauman, 2016 also raised similar questions on HEC policies in a research article entitled 'Lack of critical thinking skills leading to research crisis in developing countries: A case of Pakistan.' She argued that HEC policies had increased the number of published articles drastically annually. However, these papers lack relevant quality. They do not add to global or local knowledge by addressing a critical research question.
Dr. Atta-Ur-Rahman, on the other hand, holds that quality of undergraduate programs, as well as postgraduate research, must be strengthened simultaneously. Without faculty development, graduate programs of the universities cannot be strengthened; therefore, the primary focus of the HEC must remain faculty development. He also highlights HEC success in terms of the increased international ranking of the Pakistani universities, increased number of publications, and increased research facilities to the universities. He also claims that international observers such as the World Bank. UN and USAID highly appreciate HEC performance. Moreover, Thomson Reuters concludes that the rate of citation of the articles from Pakistan has exceeded the BRICS countries.
After assessing both points of view carefully, I find myself more convinced to Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. I think higher education in Pakistan cannot be improved unless pre-university education (primary, secondary) changes drastically. Without changing the education system at the grass root level, fruitful results from higher education cannot be achieved. HEC policies that have more focus on higher education have not led to any seminal work produced by Pakistani universities.
Despite, the promotion in universities solely depends on the number of publications, and no weight has been given to quality teaching.
Moreover, it is proven the fact that investment in primary and secondary education has higher social and economic return than investment in higher education in developing countries. The developing countries enjoyed higher economic growth that raised the enrollment and standard of primary and secondary education. Besides, if too many resources are put into higher education when there is a dearth of primary and secondary skills, the opportunity cost of these resources will be higher than the returns.
It is because the demand for higher education and research emerges after the economy has reached a certain level of maturity. If the human resource is developed more advanced than the absorption level of the economy, it may migrate to those countries which have that level of absorption. The advanced economies, therefore, be benefited from the human resources trained by the tax money of developing countries.
Pakistan faces the shortage of necessary skills to sustain economic activities due to poor standards of primary and secondary education. As Dr. Ishrat Husain in an article “Chinese perceptions of CPEC” highlighted that Chinese executives complained about the dearth of qualified Pakistani managers, skilled workers to carry out CPEC related activities. They admit that their cost of production would be lower if they employ Pakistani workers and managers.
It is, therefore, the task of our universities to accelerate the training of skilled, technical, and professional human resources with different level of expertise who can take over jobs in projects like CPEC.
The primary task of any education system in a country is to provide relevant skills to the economy to sustain economic and commerce activities rather than scoring a number game of Ph.D. and publishing of articles. Universities in Pakistan must revisit and update their curriculum regularly to meet the short-term and long-term human resources requirements of a developing economy.
Moreover, attention should be given to training youth from backward areas given the extent of regional disparities in the country. It also invites important debate that for faculty development; either the teachers should be given Ph.D. training or relevant teacher’s training programs.
I think it is time to re-evaluate the HEC policies. The government has cut the budget of the HEC. This fiscal constraint can be a blessing in disguise if it is considered a wake-up call. There is an urgent need to re-prioritize the spending of scant national resources within the education system.
Stay tuned to Baaghi TV for more updates.