Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) has been doing a remarkable service to help overseeing, regulation and accrediting the higher education for the youth of the country. The Commission showed tremendous growth and the country’s education system has seen a phenomenal growth under the Commission during the past many years. But the Commission’s claim of formulating higher education policy and quality assurance to meet the international standards and development of new institutions and uplift of existing institutions in Pakistan losing its standing since HEC came its modern form in 2002 under the leadership of Atta-ur-Rahman.
HEC budget unfortunately slashed
Development budget of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has been slashed by 50 percent for the second consecutive fiscal year in order to control expenses.
The federal government had announced Rs35 billion for 63 new and 105 old projects under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) budget for the current year. This proposed amount has now been reduced to Rs28 billion.
The huge cut has hurt the HEC’s plans and also stopped several important projects of construction of new universities, faculty development, etc.
For the next fiscal year the Planning Commission has proposed Rs46.22 billion worth of development budget for the HEC with no mention of the deficit that will have impact on the universities and their projects.
Sources stated that in light of the new budget, 50 percent funds have been slashed from ongoing projects while finances of new projects have been cut by nearly 65 percent. The projects impacted from the cut include provision of transport facilities to female students of all the public sector universities; establishment of University of Chitral; establishment of National Centre in Basic Sciences and a faculty development programme to be started for university teachers has also been put on hold. Several other approved projects like establishment of National Centre in Cyber Security, National Centre for Human Nutrition and National Centre in Robotics and Automation still wait funding.
The cut had impacted the HEC and its projects across the country and they could have done better had there been no cut. Pakistan spent millions of dollars on educating 5,780 students who did not return after going abroad for higher education. 428 students who went on state’s expenses did not return. The government spent money on the students who then preferred to stay there rather than coming back.
Currently there are 183 recognized universities and degree awarding institutions in Pakistan both Public and Private, enrolling more than 1.2 million students. The private sector is growing rapidly and almost 40 percent of these Higher Education providers are from the private sector. Foreign providers also operate in the country mainly through the collaborative mode of delivering programmes with local institutions. All such programmes require the approval of HEC.
HEC recognizes the importance of Transnational Education and how this can benefit the quality of teaching and research in Pakistan while helping the country to meet its skill needs.
According to UK Higher Education Statistics Agency the numbers of students enrolled on a UK award in Pakistan were 46,640 in 2015-2016. The number has grown almost 33 percent in the last 5 years and now Pakistan is ranked as 4th largest host country for UK TNE after Singapore, China and Malaysia. It is necessary here to say that HEC has been working closely with its counterparts in different countries on harnessing the issues of quality assurance for TNE provisions in Pakistan.
HEC wants to play a strategic role in setting up collaborations and providing information for foreign institutions interested in investment, including an overview of university landscape and possible partners.
HEC failed to bring any change in the education system
The higher education sector in 2017 could not even maintain its state that it achieved in the past years. Higher education faced with less funding and lack of academic freedom discourages teachers’ empowerment.
Only 3 universities are listed in top 800 universities of the world as compared to what Pakistan had 2 years back when our 6 universities marked in top 800 universities of the world. HEC failed to bring any change in the education system. Numbers of universities are working with incomplete acts and ordinances. Higher education budget was increased in financial year 2017-18. The budgetary allocation for education is still less than many south Asian countries.
Most of the new development projects in the higher education sector have failed to get approval while universities remain of not of necessary infrastructures.
Higher education has rather shifted the focus to quantity only. The scholarships are announced without any thorough assessment. Freedom of expression is almost non-existent in many Pakistani universities. Dictatorships and conciliated democracies kept educationist deprived of freedom of speech for long.
Analytical thinking and free speech is challenged by the leadership at universities and higher education. Discussions are restricted to momentous and disheartening limiting the attendance of outsiders.
We do not expect from the university graduates to have critical thinking from the universities and institutes of higher education. Universities are awarding degrees only. They are not seats for knowledge generation. Huge irregularities have been observed during appointments of Vice-Chancellors (VCs) in the universities across Pakistan.
The government is willfully appointing VCs who do not fulfill the criteria. The role of VC has become more of a subordinate to HEC or Chief Minister’s Secretariat. Extension and ad hocism in the appointments of leadership at HEC and VCs have adversely affected progress of higher education in Pakistan.
The ratio of contractual appointments at administrative positions is to a large extent in HEC as well as universities. Policy decisions are being made through these contractual employees which are also violation of the verdicts of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The Higher Education in Pakistan governance model is based on dictatorial attitudes; the democracy should be restored in higher education as per 1973 constitution. The well-established universities like Karachi University, Punjab University and Peshawar University were formed on the democratic principles. While formulating policies concerning higher education, the stake holders especially elected faculty should be taken on board.
The role of all higher education bodies should be reevaluated. The prescribed authorities should work within their limits as prescribed in constitution of Pakistan. It is good time to advertise all those positions and induct talent persons. The political appointments have completely ruin higher education system in Pakistan.
Transparency in the affairs of universities and is necessary for the uplift of higher education. Appointment of an honest Higher Education Ombudsman may be a positive step for maintaining the good governance in universities efficiently and effectively. The issues of teachers, students and other employees be solved and resources of stakeholders as well as make them accountable.
The government should make it mandatory for students, who go to study abroad on state’s expenses, to return back to Pakistan after completing their higher education. In the recent past a huge number of universities from Taiwan, South Korea and China for example, have presented themselves possessing the capability of offering competitive and quality offshore higher education programmes at home and abroad.
Malaysia has also several foreign university branch campuses and the country plans to expand further in its foreign university branch campus portfolio. It is interesting and surprising to note that emerging superpower China now receives more students than it sends abroad. According to a recent report, China’s international enrollment ranked 5th in the world just behind the USA, Britain, France and Germany.