HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY STRESSES UPON SCHOLARSHIPS AT A MASSIVE SCALE

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
ISLAMABAD

Aug 13 - 19, 2007

DR. ATTA-UR-REHMAN OUTLINES EDUCATION POLICY

The Higher Education Commission headed by Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman, a dedicated educationist with a vision and foresight, since its inception in 2002, has made commendable contribution to expand and improve the quality of education at the university. The situation is much better then it was in 2002 both in terms of enrollment at the university level, availability of high quality researchers and foreign qualified PhD. Faculty teachers, improved infrastructure and research facilities.

Despite all that Pakistan still stands amongst the lowest rank in the world as well as in the region. And this is quite understandable as the neglect and under investing on education specially the higher education during the over the decades up in 4 to 5 years our enrollment at universities is still about 3.5 percent as against 17 to 23 percent in the region. Dedicated efforts with present temps world be needed to fill the gap.

Prof Atta-ur-Rehman, and his talented team at HEC are going about their task in a sincere, dedicated, and business like manner. Adhocism, which had been the bane of our education policies in the past, has finally yielded to a well thought road map. Given the magnitude of the task, they are bound to encounter some turbulence along the way. Yet, what they have already managed to accomplish in a fairly short span of time, is indeed commendable and augurs well for the future.

In the past, higher education had remained an exclusive preserve of the state run universities. But, fortunately, under the stewardship of Pro. Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman, it has been eventually realized that the public sector universities by themselves cannot carry the entire load of tertiary level education. Hence, distrust has yielded to a more understanding, indeed supportive, attitude towards the private universities.

The Chairman HEC Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman who is currently at an official visit abroad, at a press briefing a week earlier, lamented that only 3500 out of 11000 teachers of 57 public sector universities are PhD while in neighboring India even a Assistant Professor has to be a PhD. Poor higher education during the last 5 decades has drastically affected university and college education.

He said knowledge is the only way forward for us, adding knowledge has now become the main driving force of world economies and it was imperative for Pakistan to adopt this strategy. He said at present a mere 3.7 percent of youth (17-23) have access to higher education as compared to 68 percent in Korea of the same age group. The HEC, he said, was endeavoring to double the figure over the next five years, with maximum stress on quality as there quality graduates, he added.

He outlined HEC action plan for faculty development with stress on quality through massive scholarships in the best foreign universities. He mentioned the remarkable change in salary structure for university teachers under the Tenure Track System, which has so far been adopted by 35 universities, as well as the research productivity allowance based on cumulative impact factors during the preceding years. The successful foreign faculty-hiring program to reverse brain drain had attracted 270 eminent professors from abroad and placed at universities all over Pakistan.

Decades of under investment in the higher education system have left the physical infrastructure of universities unable to meet the demands of an ever increasing demographic. The HEC is complementing these activities through a host of physical and technological infrastructure programs, to provide high quality education services to the sector.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has processed the cases of 60 fresh PhD scholars who are returning from abroad after completing their studies for placement in universities as well as degree awarding institutions countrywide. At present 18 scholars have joined the universities while host institutions have accepted 24 and placement of 18 scholars is under process. It is expected that most of these young scientists, engineers, and medical professionals will make career in the academia once they are comfortably placed in the national universities.

The step is a significant break through in reversing the brain drain and is providing an attractive academic environment to the highly qualified and talented young people to work in. This program aims at providing occupation to the scholars on their return to save them the agony of unemployment. So far 1200 HEC scholars have been trained in the West as well as East Asia universities. Higher Education Commission is focusing special attention on the backward area. The commission has approved 2000 scholarships for FATA and Balochistan.

Briefing the newsmen on the on going assignment of Higher Education Commission, its Chairman Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman made a pointed reference to the launch of its 'digital library program'. Viewing its as a historic step, and rightly so, he elaborated upon it by starting that it already has over 40,000 e-Books and over 25,000 journals of world's leading publishers to cater to the specific needs of the public and private universities and R&D Organizations participating in the program. Of course, it is a major breakthrough in so far as the need for catching up fast with the highly competitive and accelerated pace of research and development is concerned.

What HEC has been able to muster and offer to research scholars, is laudable and deserving of active support not only by the government but also by commercial organizations and relevant segments of the civil society too. For, as HEC Chairman pointed out, one of the main objectives of the commission is to support and strengthen the research activities in the country. It is, therefore, encouraging to note that it is utilizing its resources to promote and to facilitate researchers in its own way. This, among other things, includes provision of local and overseas scholars, postdoctoral fellowships and foreign faculty hiring programmers to advance the standard of education in the country.

It will be noted that the digital library program, as Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman said, would place Pakistan on equal footing with the developed world in respect of such facilities. It should be quite comforting to learn that the program would enable every student to gain access to over 40,000 e-Books in varied disciplines such as business and management, information technology, health, engineer, history and social sciences. The journals of over 220 international leading publishers available in the program, include Oxford University Press, Taylor & Francis, Blackwell Synergy, BMJ Publishing Group, Cambridge University Press and Stanford University Press. These publishers will also inform the researchers about the new books in the fields of their interest. Again, the students would be able to download their required material free of cost, to take notes in a digital document. Thus the digital library program would enable researchers automatically to save their highlighted material and notes on a personal bookshelf. To counter 'plagiarism', the HEC has developed 'Anti-Plagiarism network', which would ensure genuineness of the research works. For, as Dr. Atta emphasized plagiarism should be considered 'intellectual death' and HEC is working to formulate a policy to ensure against it. It should be reassuring that universities failing to take action against plagiarism, would invite freezing of their funds. It will be noted in this regard that open access literate is digital and is available on the web, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

As for effectiveness of the digital library program reference may also be made to the launch of E-Library, which would provide 40,000 online books, in addition to 23,000 journals that have been made available through Digital Library Program. E-Library offers a wide variety of content across many research areas, especially in business and social science. It acquires integrated collections of e-Books and other authoritative titles from the world's leading academic and professional publishers. Users will be able to copy each page and print up to 40 pages at a time. Moreover, 15 universities will be able to access all collections of 34,250 e-Books, while 26 universities will access two to three subject categories of 8,000 to 16,000 e-Books. All in all, the initiation of digital library program should augur well for advancement of research on fast track.