Interview with Professor Mohammad Rais Alvi, renowned educationist
Professor Mohammad Rais Alvi has served as the Vice Chancellor, Rector and Director of various national universities and degree awarding institutes. He has been a member of the Vice Chancellor‘s Forum (A platform of vice chancellors of the universities of Islamic countries) and The Vice Chancellors Committee under HEC Pakistan. He has also worked as an additional Secretary Education, Government of Sindh, the Registrar at Karachi University and the Executive District Officer (EDO) Karachi.
He has been a professor over the years at various educational institutes in Pakistan and also in Japan where he was a Guest Professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Here he wrote and translated many Japanese works and publications in collaboration with academics from Japan.
He has nine books to his credits; out of which five books have been printed in Japan. Professor Mohammad Rais Alvi, an eminent Urdu poet and educationist, has been a stalwart supporter for the cause of education for over five decades and has remained dedicated to bringing the light of education to his fellow countrymen as well as at an international stage.
PAGE had a conversation with Professor Mohammad Rais Alvi about education in Pakistan. The excerpts of the conversation are as follows:
At first instance, I would like to thank you and your magazine for taking serious interest in the educational development and its standards in Pakistan. Your magazine has been contributing articles and interviews significantly on educational issues existing at various levels in the field, such as its curriculum, infrastructure, research and its financial aspects on regular basis.
The quality of higher education is actually the key of all the policies and action plans adopted in the field by public or private sector in Pakistan. I am harassed to realise that in Pakistan we have a strange concept about the quality of any produce in any department. That is: whatever is expensive should be a high quality product and the second criterion is whatever is brought from overseas, particularly from the Western world must be the best. The same above mentioned indicator is accepted also with regard to education, by both the government and private organisations. We also ignore the national interest sometimes in adopting the content of teaching and learning under the above formula. Once, in a meeting of Vice Chancellors, a Rector of the most expensive and prestigious institution of higher education with a PhD degree claimed that he has been producing Mercedes while other institutions with less fee have been producing Suzuki etc. This is the worst scenario in education I can say. This quality of higher education in Pakistan is between averages and good.
We neither have excellent institution of higher education nor we have bad ones; mostly business and computer related institute are good. As far as the cost/fees of going to higher education is concerned, it is not compatible with the economic condition of the general masses. A large chunk of population of Pakistan that is around 40% is living below the poverty line. Middle class has been wiped out. At present only 5% of our lucky youth could afford to enter the corridors of higher education. Even an officer of grade 22, the highest grade in salary structure in Pakistan, could not afford to send his/her child to LUMS and likewise any medical or engineering colleges, the so-called most prestigious institutes of higher education.
The higher education commission has been doing the assessment of financial needs of the institutions of higher education in public sector. HEC then distributes the amount to the institutions as per amount available. At present, the federal government allocates annually more than 100 billion to HEC for the purpose of maintenance, research and development of the institutions of higher education. The amount is insufficient and further the criteria of its distribution to universities are also questionable. Private institutions are not eligible for any such grant. This kind of supervision of system, monitoring and support for the institutions of higher education has been loudly criticized in Pakistan, the amount of the grant by federal government to HEC should be increased and the management/establishment of HEC should also reduce their own expenditures.
Our professionals (with professional qualifications) are good. They are respected by the society in Pakistan and abroad. However our graduates are victim of corruption in government departments and sifarish in the corporate sector and industry. Merit has no place in the feudal system, so in our society of feudal mindset, merit is only a remote possibility.
Our business schools and computer departments are working better than medical schools, engineering universities and basic science departments. The graduates of these business management and computer science departments are hard working. They are welcomed in the job market and are getting good positions in Pakistan and abroad. They are working as entrepreneurs and executives in large companies.
You must be well-aware of the fact that during nineteen sixties and seventies, thousands of international students used to come to Pakistan for studies. Students from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Malaysia, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and from other friendly countries have been studying in the universities of Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But as the law and order situation deteriorated and political parties started conquering the campuses through their fire power under the banners of their student wings, the rule of merit within the universities was destroyed. We lost our international students community.
Now the HEC may start a drive to bring back the international community in our campuses. Peace at campuses must be restored. Quality teaching and research be provided with international exposure by holding conferences and exhibitions. Policies at HEC level need to be framed to facilitate the foreign students at universities and outside. Friendly countries may be approached and be provided details of our best universities.