PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES IN PAKISTAN
MYTHS AND REALITY

The role of private sector universities needs to be better appreciated by the community. Rather than be perceived as rivals, private sector universities should be considered as partners in the domain of higher education. The Government, with its severe financial constraints, is not in a position to carry the entire delivery  system of quality education all by itself. And this situation is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

By Seema Mughal
Feb 16 - 22, 2004

Till only a few years ago, there was a noticeable tendency on the part of education policy makers in Pakistan to attempt to marginalize the role of private sector universities in Pakistan. Their attitude, generally, was unhelpful, if not overtly hostile. This attitude changed only when Prof Atta-ur-Rahman and Ms. Zobaida Jalal took over charge of Higher Education in Pakistan. Never before in the history of Pakistan, university education was given the priority it deserved. Which only goes to prove the point that the lead always comes from the top. Both Prof Atta-ur-Rahman and Ms. Zobaida Jalal are educationists in the right sense of the word. They have the vision, and the political will, to give Pakistan's educational system a much needed turn-around.

It is pertinent to mention at the outset, that all over the world, including the highly developed Western countries, state-run universities alone cannot cater to the varied needs of the community. Pakistan's situation is no different. At the risk of stating the obvious, I wish to emphasize that the private sector universities in Pakistan need to augment the efforts of the public sector universities in expanding the scope, and improving the quality, of higher education in the country. At times, one notices a negative sense of polarization between the two. This is sad indeed. More so, because it appears to be based on various misconceptions, and mutual suspicion. Somehow, public sector universities appeared unhappy that the absolute monopoly they had enjoyed in the domain of higher education for such a long period, was suddenly being eroded by the various new universities which have sprung up all over Pakistan in the last few years.

It is a widely shared perception among the educationists that the standard of higher education all over Pakistan has been going down steadily since Independence. The reasons are not far to seek.

Till some years ago, higher education remained the exclusive preserve of the public sector universities. It inevitably led to stagnation and apathy in all aspects of academic life. After the disappearance of the first generation of teachers, the universities, with their poor salary packages, failed to attract the really talented individuals into the teaching profession, resulting in a steady decline in academic standards.

The public sector universities have been further hampered in their functioning because of all kind of political pressures brought to bear on the university administration.

There was a time when these universities simply could not function and had to remain closed for months on end because of violence on the campuses.

With the advent of private sector universities like the Aga Khan University, LUMS, and Greenwich, the educational scenario began to change dramatically. A desirable and wholesome sense of competition was introduced in the various disciplines of higher education. These private sector universities succeeded in setting new benchmarks of academic excellence for others to emulate. Another very welcome aspect of all this was a significant drop in the number of students wanting to go abroad for their higher education.

The role of private sector universities needs to be better appreciated by the community. Rather than be perceived as rivals, private sector universities should be considered as partners in the domain of higher education. Government, with its severe financial constraints, is not in a position to carry the entire delivery system of quality education all by itself. And this situation is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Private sector universities are often criticized, albeit unfairly, for their high fee structure. This impression is based totally on misconceptions. It needs to be clearly understood that, with the exception of a few black sheep, most private universities are not run on the basis of commercial considerations. If they charge comparatively higher fee, they do so for services rendered. It would also be pertinent to mention that quality education is not cheap any where in the world. For example, in the United States, families save money for years to be able to send their children to an Ivy-league university.

Recently, Prof Atta-ur-Rehman came up with the excellent idea that private sector universities should be awarded ranks, commensurate with their academic performance. This is a world-wide practice, and its application in Pakistan should help the unwary parents and students to be able to differentiate the genuine from the spurious.

Private universities are also indicted for being elitist and insular in character. This perception was not altogether wrong till some years ago. But now things are changing rapidly. Through generous grants and scholarships, the doors of such seats of higher learning have been thrown open to all deserving students, regardless of their social class. For instance, Greenwich University has been providing comprehensive financial support to deserving and meritorious students over a period of time. We also feel proud to say that several such students are now serving on important positions in well-known multi-national organizations.

The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of Greenwich University

BH

With the advent of private sector universities like the Aga Khan University, LUMS, and Greenwich, the educational scenario began to change dramatically. A desirable and wholesome sense of competition was introduced in the various disciplines of higher education. These private sector universities succeeded in setting new benchmarks of academic excellence for others to emulate. Another very welcome aspect of all this was a significant drop in the number of students wanting to go abroad for higher education.