INVESTING IN HIGHER EDUCATION IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Nov 17 - 23, 2008

Higher education has been the focus of government policy for the past five years and continuity of policy is essential to benefit from the services of highly educated and qualified professionals, who are receiving or have obtained Ph.D degrees in various disciplines from abroad under the Ph.D program of Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. These views were expressed by Professor Muhammed Tousif Akhtar, the chairman economics department, University of Balochistan and member of penal of economists, Planning Commission of Pakistan.

Professor Tousif said Balochistan has witnessed a rising trend in higher education during past few years and there seems a tough competition among the students for qualifying the preliminary tests for Ph.D program. He said, "The province needs academicians, research scholars and professionals, as institutional and human development is a prerequisite for the economic development of the country's most backward and least developed province". He agreed that higher education should be the privilege granted only to the competent, diligent and intelligent students, but at the same time he emphasized to put checks on commoditization of education.

Referring to the construction of a mega deep-water port at Gwadar, Professor Tousif emphasized the need of qualified and professional port staff for successful marketing of the port management to potential customers, building of export processing zone, trans-shipment and warehousing facilities, fixing of port tariffs for shipping companies in order to be competitive. "Those who build up their capacities and develop technical skills would be fit to survive the future technological boom", he added.

He considered investments in higher education very important for the economic development of the province. He said, "Investment in professional education will provide Balochistan the required professionals for the development of various sectors of local economy. The better human capital equipped with professional education can be instrumental in increased productivity with modern technology in all economic sectors. This will enhance industrial productivity and increase exportable output of the country".

Highlighting the role of business education, he said, "It is essential for the local youth to have some knowledge on business, as the business world is currently developing at a rapid pace. Business education is directed at the study and research in the field of business. The province needs more and more bachelors and masters in business administration".

Tousif told this scribe that HEC has played a key role in the promotion of higher education in Balochistan. It initiated programs to facilitate the faculty and students in the University. He pointed out the campus politics and clashes between student organizations as disturbing features of higher education. He demanded of house requisitions for the University's employees in line with the federal government's employees in Balochistan.

He suggested that the government should encourage private sector but put checks on commoditization of education and ensure educational system free from discriminatory practices for all the citizens of Pakistan. Most of the private educational institutes have commercialized the professional education by charging high fees making it unaffordable for the common people. In other words, professional education has become a privilege of only rich, who can afford costly educational packages offered by the private institutions. These private institutions have developed a symbol of status by offering costly educational packages to aristocratic classes of the society.

The provincial capital Quetta witnessed a mushroom growth of private schools, language and computer institutes over a period of last ten years. The education in private sector was not limited to primary and secondary levels, it extended to higher levels with the opening of many private colleges and universities imparting education in Information Technology (IT), Management and Social Sciences. The establishment of the campuses of Preston University, Iqra University, Al-Kher University and Pearls' Institute in Quetta can be cited in this regard. In public sector, Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS) was established in Quetta in 2002. In July 2002, the provincial government chartered the BUITMS for the delivery, promotion and dissemination of knowledge and to produce high quality manpower resources in the province. The BUITMS is currently being developed as a premier seat of learning in management sciences. The university also offers bachelors and masters degrees in business administration. It has emerged as a quality business school in the province, whose economic potential has so far been untapped and underdeveloped.

University of Balochistan had announced the increase in fee for bachelor and master degrees in various disciplines in the year 2002. The rise was upto 300 to 400 percent. This drastic increase in fee caused protest in some circles. The former Vice Chancellor Justice Rasheed had given logical reasons for the rise in tuition fee of students receiving higher education in the campus. "Higher education is not the privilege claimed by any student", he contended. The decision was taken for enforcement of meritocracy. It was an initiation of Darwinism in arena of higher and specialized education, which means 'survival of the fittest'. In the past, every student claimed to get government scholarship once admitted to the University. The practices of nepotism and favoritism were rampant in this regard. The intelligent and deserving would remain deprived of enjoying the privilege of receiving higher education. This caused damage to meritocracy, prevalence of irregularities and acute dearth of research scholars in the campus. University administration for providing higher and quality education set a selective screening criterion. This was purported to produce the real academicians, research scholars and individuals of high caliber.

The modern economists use the term 'human capital' for education, health and other human capacities that can raise productivity when increased. The analysis of investments in health and education is unified in human capital approach. The human capital approach focuses on the indirect ability of education and health to increase utility by increasing incomes. The ground realities call for a rational and long-term planning for development of human resources in Balochistan. Only the educated, skilled and healthy people can make the best use of the enormous natural resources of the province. Therefore in any development strategy for the province, human resource development should be the key factor, as the province has short of professionals and development experts.