PROBLEMS OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN

By Prof. SYED SABIR ALI JAFFERY
Nov 29 - Dec 05, 2004

Higher education may have more than one connotation, depending upon the needs of a society. In Pakistan, it refers to the education from beyond intermediate level, which assumes multidirectional expansions, such as, medicine, engineering, IT, business management, agriculture, law, literature, and many more social and physical sciences.

Institutions that impart higher education in different disciplines operate under both private and public sectors. The private sector, although with comparatively low entry, has lately emerged as a sizeable contributor towards the nation's need of higher education. It comprises degree awarding institutions, universities and their affiliates, which affect the overall quality of education according to their management style, financial strength, and operational proficiency.

Higher education in Pakistan is deficient, both in quality and quantity, to meet the requirements of a nation-in-the-making confronted with the challenges of an all-pervading global competition. Government of Pakistan seems to be seized with the problem for quite some time. The University Grants Commission (commonly called UGC) was established in 1974 by an Act of Parliament "for maintaining standards of education and uniform policy aimed at bringing about national unity and cohesion." However, its role was confined to forwarding the universities' annual budget estimates to the government and distributing among them the grants when released, which always were less than the need and later than when needed. This resulted in the loss of its credibility with the universities.

EDUCATION SECTOR REFORMS: VISION OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Lately, the government showed its revived concern for the cause of education through its program of Education Sector Reforms (2001) that includes higher education. The vision of higher education adopted by this program reads out as:

"Transformation of our institutions of higher education into world class seats of learning, equipped to foster high quality education, scholarship and research, to produce enlightened citizens with strong moral and ethical values that build a tolerant and pluralistic society rooted in the culture of Pakistan."

CREATION OF TASK FORCE: SETTING UP OF HIGHER EDUCATION COMMISSION

On April 29, 2001, a Task Force was established under the co-chairmanship of Syed Babar Ali Saheb, Pro-Chancellor of LUMS, and Dr. Shams Kassim Lakha, President of The Aga Khan University, Karachi. It recommended setting up of a central body for "facilitating quality assurance of higher education in both the public and private sectors". Accordingly, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) was set up, which replaced the UGC.

The Task Force, comprised of the leaders of higher education both from public and private sectors, really did commendable job. It reviewed the recommendations of several education commissions set up in the past and the prevalent education policies, organized workshops and seminars all over the country involving a cross section of stakeholders, i.e. teachers, students, parents, alumni, government functionaries etc., capitalized on their wisdom, diagnosed the weaknesses of the system, identified their causes, and prescribed the 'medication' within the framework of its terms of reference. Nonetheless, it placed its main reliance on the World Bank report titled, "Higher Education in Developing Countries, Peril and Promise (2000)", ignoring its own vision statement committing allegiance to "strong moral and ethical values rooted in the culture of Pakistan".

HIGHER EDUCATION COMMISSION A THREE-FOLD PHENOMENON

Objectively speaking, higher education is a three-fold phenomenon, as under:

I. Higher education is a component of the entire education system. It is not an independent system in itself. It is rather an extension of the primary, secondary, and higher secondary education. It represents upper-level steps of a staircase, which is a chain of integrated steps so that each step rests on the next lower step, and supports the next higher step. Thus, unless the lower steps are firmly fixed to help climb upward, the upper steps shall not be able to withstand the force of the height they are placed at, nor any body, even if he climbs that high, shall be able to sustain. Thus, higher education cannot be streamlined without reorganizing the lower strata accordingly.

II. Pakistan is an ideological state passing through the phase of development. Its education system, on the one hand, should adequately meet the needs of a nation-in-the-making amidst cutthroat global competition. On the other hand, it should fall in line with the country's basic ideology. This is not different from what has been expressed in the vision statement of the Education Sector Reform (2001) of the Government of Pakistan, according to which the objective of higher education is "to produce enlightened citizens with strong moral and ethical values that build a tolerant and pluralistic society rooted in the culture of Pakistan"

III. Education policies should also conform to the development needs of the society, projected sufficiently in advance. It means that the entire education pursuits should be subservient to a planned strategy, thereby ensuring optimum output of each academic year matching the needs of the country. It means that there should neither be the dearth nor surplus of precious skill at any given point in time.

SUGGESTIONS

Suggestions to meet this three-fold criterion are as under:

Education beyond matriculation should be restricted only for those who secure the prescribed minimum percentage of marks in their matriculation examination. One extra attempt (total two attempts) may be allowed to improve the percentage. Looking at the conditions currently prevalent in the country, 60% marks are considered adequate to merit eligibility for seeking higher education. There is no point in spending scarce resources of the country on laggards.

Studies beyond graduation should be permitted only to those students and only in those subjects in which they would have secured minimum 70% marks in their degree examination. One extra attempt to take the examination may be permitted to improve the percentage.

Entry into the professional colleges should be based on the average of the joint performance in the matriculation and intermediate examinations. Entry tests conducted by professional colleges and universities have created a new breed of mafia that operates as an organized mode of massive corruption. It comprises the test-holding agency as pivot and stretches to a network of so-called coaching or study centres. It makes the entire admission process a drama that causes great frustration to students and their parents. This practice should be given up forthwith. Instead, monitoring of and vigilance on matriculation and intermediate examinations should be strengthened to have more dependable results. Averaging of performances in these examinations shall counter the impact of unduly high or low percentage in any one of them.

EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN PRIVATE SECTOR

Degree-awarding institutions in the private sector are more a business venture than a service-oriented industry committed to nation's well being. Their main weaknesses are listed below, which need to be addressed if quality education is aimed at.

Apparently entry tests are held and interviews are also conducted to 'select' the fresh entrants before the commencement of each semester. But, in reality, this entire exercise is nothing more than a hoax. Behind this academic curtain, every possible manipulation is made to ensure that whosoever once enters the premises gets the admission, and one who once gets the admission gets the degree invariably.

Their financial strength does not match their operating plans. Hence, they reckon on the fees recovered from the students to finance their entire operation.

Resultantly, they are inclined to charge higher fees. They also resort to various irrational activities to raise funds. For example, Rs.1,200/- to Rs.1,500/- are recovered from each student at the time of admission and at the beginning of each semester for providing text books, whereas pirated editions costing Rs. 80/- to Rs. 90/- each or photocopies of the text are provided.

As a cost cutting device, they don't appoint permanent faculty. Adjunct or visiting faculty hired for each semester on hourly basis cannot deliver what is expected of committed full-time teachers. Visiting faculty is always uncertain about its next assignment, which depends exclusively at the pleasure of the management. At the commencement of each semester, these faculty members are seen struggling to secure an allocation. Even if a person succeeds in acquiring a teaching assignment, he considers it a bonanza, not knowing whether he will get one in the next semester also. This state of uncertainty discourages commitment on the part of the teachers, the worst sufferers of which obviously are the students.

Since the teachers themselves lay down the course outline, set the examination papers, and assess the scripts, they are at liberty to cover that much of the course which they can do comfortably and conveniently in a leisurely style, and to restrict the examination to those topics only which they had discussed in the class room. That part of the course, which, for one reason or the other, was omitted from discussion, is also excluded from the examination. What quality can be produced under these circumstances may be any body's guess. This practice is prevalent in public sector universities also with the difference that there the course is prescribed by appropriate authorities but the option to partially cover the course and to exclude the uncovered part from the examination still remains with the teacher.

Private universities have also started evening programs in the name of MBA Executives for the persons employed during the day, who wish to improve their qualifications. Being physically and mentally preoccupied for most of the time in their office problems, these students cannot do justice with their studies.

There is one more category of institutions in the private sector imparting higher education, particularly in IT and business management, for the award of MBA, BBA, and BCS degrees. These are the institutions or colleges affiliated to one or the other university. They have all the weaknesses and limitations discussed above. Besides, they have their own drawbacks.

These institutions operate during the day also. Surprisingly enough, lecturers of government colleges teach at these institutions as part time faculty. God knows how do they manage to skip from their job regularly for at least three days a week. Remuneration of such lecturers is normally quite low, and their performance is at the lowest ebb. They cover up their remuneration deficiency by teaching 3 to 4 courses. Cost wise it suits the management also.

Lecturers of the parent body, i.e. the university to which these institutions are affiliated, are also hired by these institutions as visiting faculty. This is the bribe paid to them for providing undue cover to the shortcomings of the institution. Such lecturers are also expected to manipulate the results to the benefit of the institution. Unfortunately, for most of the time, they come up to such expectations. Conversely, disgruntled university teachers become revengeful, obviously at the cost of the students.

Fresh postgraduates are appointed by them at low salaries and 4 to 5 subjects are assigned to them to teach. They are not proficient in all these subjects and they also cannot take this workload without compromising with the quality.

Universities to which these institutions are affiliated also hold classes in the same subjects which are taught at their affiliates. However, they adopt double standard of examinations for their own students examination questions are set from those topics only which were discussed in the class room while the students of affiliates are expected to have covered the full course. This leads to heterogeneous results of the same degree examinations of the same university, held in two successive installments, thereby frustrating confidence of the students from both the slots. The solution of this irksome problem is that there should be one and the same paper for all the students of the university and its affiliates taking the same examination, and the examination for students of both the organizations should be held on the same date and at the same time. Further, senior teachers of affiliated institutions should also be included in the panel of paper setters.

Pass percentage is divided generally on 60-40 basis between the university and its affiliates. However, the affiliated institutions invariably tamper with their part of the result while forwarding it to the university, apparently with the intention of 'improving' their results, which are exuberantly publicized to allure future admission seekers.

These institutions are run on purely commercial basis without matching investment. Suggestions made hereinabove apply to them also, and need to be implemented more rigorously.

Suggestions to overcome these hazards are as under:

Minimum capital should be prescribed for a university/college or institution, called by any name, to be established in the private sector, and the charter/affiliation be granted to them only after the required capital has been provided. Universities/institutions already in operation should be asked to meet the minimum capital requirement by the prescribed date failing which their operation may be suspended partially or wholly, temporarily or permanently, on case-to-case basis, depending upon the merit of each case.

It should be made mandatory for these universities/institutions to invest in government securities or in first class commercial papers, on long-term basis, all sums of money recovered from the new entrants on refundable basis, such as, earnest money, caution money, security deposit, and like. They may avail of the enrichment earned on such investments, but the principal must remain intact.

Permanent faculty should not count less than 70% of the total teaching strength of which teachers of not less than 10 years teaching experience should form at least 50% of the total strength. Adjunct faculty should preferably be hired for a reasonable period on contract basis from amongst the qualified retired senior executives of industrial sector.

MBA Executive programs in their present form do not qualify for a postgraduate degree. These are, at the most, worth a diploma (PGD). For the award of MBA degree, the number of teaching hours should at least be doubled.

SUGGESTIONS COMMON FOR PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS

The following suggestions apply to the private and public sector organizations alike.

Habit of using libraries should be developed and encouraged. Instead of the lecture delivered by the teacher, students should be required to prepare paper on the given topic(s) with the help of the book(s)/journals identified/recommended by the teacher, and present it in the class for discussion. For this purpose, libraries should be made self-contained. Latest editions of known publications on all the subjects on the syllabi and current professional magazines and journals of international repute should be made available.

Laboratories science and computer laboratories should be adequately equipped. Generally, round the year, laboratories remain without necessary material and equipment, and it is only at the time of examination that the stock is replenished. Surprise checks should be introduced to discourage this practice. Students should be taught to use the Internet facility to download material of interest. It is a matter of common observation that even the teachers, by and large, are not acquainted with the use of computer. Training of computer operation to the teachers of all cadres should be made mandatory.

Some system of external examination should be introduced to check meddling with the syllabus. Paper setters should be appointed from the faculty of other universities/colleges also. Comprehensive tests and interviews by external examiners should be made a prerequisite for the award of postgraduate degree.

Higher education should always be organized under a definite plan worked out in conjunction with the need and available resources. The plan should be undertaken on concurrent basis to determine the country's need for highly qualified professionals in all the disciplines for next 10 years. Cooperation of the end-users should be solicited in this regard.

Sponsorships by multinational companies, large commercial organizations, banks, and other public and private sector enterprises should be arranged. After completing his or her study, the sponsored should be bound to serve the sponsor for the prescribed period. This will help reduce the financial burden on the educational institutions, which should lead to substantial improvement in the quality of education.

Two years post qualification apprenticeship in the relevant field should be made compulsory for the award of postgraduate degree identically as article ship and house job are needed for CA qualification and medical practice. This should be arranged through the courtesy of end-users. All government offices, public and private limited companies, and organizations of any description appointing 20 or more persons should be allocated each year the number of apprentices to be absorbed by them. Incentive of some additional tax rebate on the remuneration paid to the apprentices may be offered to the organizations employing them. This, however, shall not be tantamount to an offer for a regular appointment.

Fields of specialization should be prescribed for the judges and advocates on the same pattern as there are the specialties for the physicians and surgeons. The present line of demarcation between the practicing lawyers as 'civil', 'criminal', and, 'constitution', emerged by sheer dint of practice is not sufficient. There should be proper fellowship examinations for different specialties. Eligibility to take this examination should be subject to post graduation apprenticeship, i.e. on-job training for the prescribed period. Judges of High Courts and Supreme Court should also be distinguished specialty-wise.

Postgraduate and doctoral degrees should invariably be research-based. Research is the most neglected area in Pakistan while it has to be on the top of every thing else.

Following are the observations of this writer as regards research culture in Pakistan.

Supervisor is the anchorperson on whom depends head to heel of the research work. He should have up-to-date in-depth knowledge of the subject to adequately guide the researcher. Supervisor should also be conscious of the time of the researcher. It is generally complained that supervisors are non-cooperative and waste lot of time on trifle excuses. This is the loss of national resource, which is criminal.

For research in the field of science and technology, costly equipment is needed. Since no individual can afford to bear their cost, adequate and on time financial support should be made available in a systematic and organized manner. Procedure of procuring lab equipment and other research material should be simplified. VC's decision in this regard should be sufficient authority.

Research scholars should get sufficient financial grant so that they can concentrate on their work without being disturbed by financial problems.

Traveling abroad for research purposes should be financed and facilitated by the research institutes. Government's interference in these matters should end. The concerned research institution should be the final authority to deal with them.

Absence of self-contained and well-maintained libraries is the core issue. We don't have one such library in the whole of Pakistan, whereas a town of the size of Karachi alone should have at least a dozen well-equipped libraries with all the modern facilities and worldwide access to the academia.

A high-powered vigilance division should be established in the Higher Education Commission to conduct regular as well as surprise inspection, including audit of financial transactions of all the educational institutions imparting higher education. This should be over and above and independent of the routine departmental inspections carried out by the provincial education departments. Preferably reputed professional firms of accountants and/or management consultants may be engaged for this purpose.

In the wake of the aforesaid constraints, the plan of the Higher Education Commission to produce 1500 PhDs. every year is too ambitious. Under present conditions, even half of this number cannot be produced without compromising with the quality. Another question is where will these doctors be absorbed? Haven't we learnt a lesson from the swarms of frustrated MBAs roaming in the streets in search of a job? The answer to this dilemma is that first provide necessary paraphernalia and job opportunities under a well-structured development plan, then produce as many masters and doctors as the resources can afford and the society can absorb.

DEENI MADARIS

Yet another group of institutions offering from primary to advanced level education in Quran, Hadith, Fiqah, etc. comprises the network of Deeni Madaris. This branch of learning is also highly important and cannot be dispensed with. Again, the manpower and the infrastructure with which these madarsas are equipped are national asset, and should be made use of in a more scientific and systematic manner.

A TWO-FOLD SUGGESTION IS OFFERED AS UNDER TO ACHIEVE THIS OBJECTIVE. Primary, secondary, and higher secondary level education taught in these madarsas should be assigned to all other regular schools and colleges of the country, and necessary additions/amendments be made to the syllabi. The idea behind this proposal is that every Muslim student, irrespective of his/her area of specialization should have basic knowledge of Deeni Uloom.

Advanced courses of graduate, postgraduate, and doctoral levels should continue at these madarsas, admissions to which must be restricted only to those students who meet the criterion laid down for higher education. Faculty of Deeni Uloom should be established in the universities, and these madarsas duly elevated to the status of research centers may be affiliated thereto.

This suggestion is basically different from the policy of the government to "facilitate madarsas to provide modern education". What is proposed here means that the subjects up to intermediate level currently taught at Deeni Madaris should be assigned to schools and colleges of the country by way of their inclusion in regular matric and intermediate syllabi. Subjects of graduate, postgraduate, and doctoral levels should be allowed to continue at such of these madarsas which are adequately equipped to discharge this liability with merit, which are elevated to the status of research centers, akin to other professional colleges. These research centers should be affiliated to the relative area universities having operational jurisdiction. These universities will be the degree awarding institutions.

Thus, instead of their teaching modern subjects, as proposed by the government, they will be absorbed to become an integral part of the over all education system of the country. At universities level, there should be deans and head of the departments of Deeni Uloom, who should be appointed from the qualified teachers of these madarsas.

With these amendments made, Islamiat and Pakistan Studies should be dropped from the syllabus of professional colleges and other higher education courses of the universities.

The author is a banker convert educationist

Education beyond matriculation should be restricted only for those who secure the prescribed minimum percentage of marks in their matriculation examination. Studies beyond graduation should be permitted only to those students and only in those subjects in which they would have secured prescribed minimum percentage of marks in their degree examination. There is no point in spending scarce resources of the country on laggards.

Entry into professional colleges should be based on the average of the joint performance in the matriculation and intermediate examinations. Entry tests conducted by professional colleges and universities have created a new breed of mafia that operates as an organized mode of massive corruption. It makes the entire admission process a drama that causes frustration to students and their parents. This practice should be given up forth with. Instead, monitoring of and vigilance on matriculation and intermediate examinations should be strengthened to have more dependable results. Averaging of performances in these examinations shall counter the impact of unduly high or low percentage in any one of them.

Fields of specialization should be prescribed for judges and advocates on the same pattern as there are the specialties for physicians and surgeons. There should be proper fellowship examinations for different specialties. Eligibility to take this examination should be subject to post-graduation apprenticeship.

As against the policy of the government to "facilitate madarsas to provide modern education", subjects up to intermediate level taught at Deeni Madarsas should be assigned to all other schools and colleges of the country. Subjects of graduate, postgraduate, and doctoral levels should be allowed to continue at such of these madarsas which are adequately equipped to discharge this liability with merit, which are elevated to the status of research centres, akin to other professional colleges.