Grooming for Career
By MUHAMMAD NAEEM MALIK
Mar 15 - 21, 2004
Pakistan's donors, different traditional portfolio-holders and our government cry hoarse and turn blue in the face in attempting to improve the spread and quality of education in the country. Despite their repeated pronouncements one has to admit that there is a relative lack of civil society initiative in this sphere. The need of the hour is a more pro-active civil society. There are the occasional exceptions, of course, whose contributions to the provision of social services have been and are laudable. Yet given the magnitude of the problem and the dire straits in which our educational system seems to be, these are but minuscule drops in the ocean of ignorance and depravity.
It is also argued by some people that school, college or university graduates are not taught or trained and/or not capable to adapt to practical professional life once they leave the ivory tower. They lack, it could be said, the maturity to survive in today's highly competitive world. Facts and figures transmitted in different articles in this regard serve as veritable eye opener as to what can and should be done about higher education.
According to Dewan Jaffer Hussain Bukhari, Parliamentary Secretary for Education, although the country is spending 2.2 per cent of its budget on education but there is a separate budget for educational institutions being-run under the supervision of army, besides the huge funds from international donors being spent on education, which has brought the total spending on education at about 3.5 per cent of country's budget. (Feb 7, 2004). If this bureaucratic figure is acceptable by academicians concerned, even then keeping in view the lower educational standards, it is an established fact that this figure does not match the cherished dreams of HEC (Higher Education Commission) as well as propounded slogans of educational uplift of Education Ministry.
To transform Pakistan into a modern, prosperous and enlightened country it is required to bring the standard of education of its universities on par universities like Stanford and MIT. HEC has approved number of schemes like Ranking of Universities & Degree-awarding Institutions, Study Abroad Scheme, Faculty Development Plan, Hiring Faculty from abroad, and Tenure Track System etc. to improve educational standards in universities and degree-awarding institutions. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, parents and civil society organization had been consulted by the federal government before formulating policies concerning education. It is very much in the interest of the nation that every concerned should be consulted before introducing a policy — a practice being exercised in democratic countries.
FACULTY DEVELOPMENT & ASSESSMENT PLAN BY HEC
Teaching is a low-paid profession all over the world and as professionals, teachers do not enjoy the level of respect which normally other professionals do. Due to prioritized portfolios in Business and Management side, our best brains normally go into these commercial fields. Then there is the continual brain drain to affluent foreign countries. Unfortunately, the status of teachers even in the developed world, including the US, is not on par with other professionals such as doctors, engineers etc., who considering their role in nation building, should be additionally awarded both in cash and kind.
According to a news report (October 2003), a sum of $60 million will be spent till 2006 on professional development of education managers, capacity building of teachers and upgradation of educational infrastructure in Pakistan as part of Education Sector Reforms Assistant Programme (ESRA) of USAID. Teachers' uplift is one of the important components of ESRA, being implemented on behalf of the USAID and Pakistan, under which teachers would also be given financial assistance.
HEC has approved a number of innovative schemes to improve the faculties of the universities. Improving the salary structure of professors is also part of the government's plan for improving higher education. Since only 25 per cent professors have Ph.D. degrees, the commission will finance around 5,000 scholars by funding their studies in Pakistan and abroad. The scholars themselves will get a stipend and the universities they enroll in (if in Pakistan) will get money to fund research facilities. Other students will be sent to China, Germany, Austria and Thailand to enroll in doctorate programmes there. Moreover, there is also a post-doctoral programme for those who already have a Ph.D. but want to do further research.
In order to overcome the problem of retention of competent academics in the public universities, HEC has proposed i) increment of the salaries of all university teachers ii) Tenure Track System (TTS) for academicians desiring higher salaries with the condition of periodic evaluation iii) re-hiring of retired but still productive academics on a fixed salary (Rs. 25000 per month) for a fixed period iv) grant of title of 'National Distinguished Professor' and a relatively higher salary to outstanding academics, and v) hiring of outstanding academics from abroad.
All of the above proposals are acceptable with some reservations regarding TTS and hiring of foreign faculty. As regards the matter of TTS is concerned only a relatively few well-known universities abroad have this system of tenured professors normally to retain academics who, because of financial pressures, may be forced to go into the private sector. Such a system is highly competitive and those graduating from large and influential universities are always at a greater advantage compared to those who get their degrees from inferior universities. So the criteria for evaluating the academic credentials of a tenure-intent should be quantifiable and transparent as it is based on a highly subjective assessment of the faculty by the peers who do the selecting and might be exploitative, undemocratic and authoritarian in nature. Above all, those who intend for TTS should not be forced to resign from their present positions.
Our universities have hundreds of PhDs but what have been their contributions? Most of them got their doctorates twenty to twenty-five years ago. And in most cases, they never did any research after they got their degree awarded. What is quite surprising is that even though they spent almost five to six years in the US, Canada or Europe, none of the professionalism found in academia there rubbed off on them. So all doctors should be asked to give full details of their research work since getting their degrees. The promotion of those holding PhD degrees in science and engineering subjects particularly should be linked to their research output rather than on their seniority.
Assessment of faculty should be done at least at the department level. One expert may be co-opted from another university to increase the credibility of the evaluation procedure. There should be no practice of filling annual confidential reports of academics. This system of ACRs has no place in academia. Instead of hiring foreign faculty, the government should encourage local academics and provide them all the necessary facilities.
STUDY ABROAD & FOREIGN FACULTY HIRING SCHEME BY HEC
The finance ministry imposed a ban on foreign scholarship schemes in 1997 due to which no student could be sent abroad for higher education during 2000-03. In 2002, around 92 cultural exchange scholarships were awarded to the students while 90 scholarships were awarded to foreign students who are completing their courses in different universities of the country. In UK alone, there are more than 6,000 Pakistani students studying there either on self-funded or foreign scholarships, according to figures released in 2003. In the year 2002, 30 Pakistani nominations were sent to the Common Wealth which were likely to be approved in 2003.
According to HEC Chairman, Pakistan has a very few number of PhDs and that the commission is trying to increase this figure by sending around 950 prospective students abroad for obtaining doctorates with the purpose of higher education uplift at the public expense (Oct 2003). Under the foreign faculty hiring programme launched recently by the HEC, the government has received 155 applications from professors teaching in foreign universities, and that 56 of these have already been selected to come back to Pakistan. (Jan 2004). He hopes that by the end of year 2004 around 1500 such academics will be teaching in Pakistan. Other than this, around 300 scholars would also be hired to supervise PhD programmes in the country. This will cost Pakistan four billion rupees.
Well, there is an example of Dr. A.Q. Khan who returned to Pakistan on his own to serve the country. On the contrary, there are thousands of Pakistani engineers and PhDs who are working abroad but hardly one percent of them ever think of returning home, only after they are long past their prime. In fact, for them Pakistan is a training camp where they get education and then migrate to foreign countries. When they reach the retiring age, their influential relatives in the government initiate schemes for their return to 'serve' the country for the rest of their lives. At the most Pakistanis working abroad might wish to come back for private reasons and will not be committed to our universities as they do not have a stake in the system. Even worse, Pakistani academics with similar qualifications will get lower salaries than their counterparts from abroad. These arguments go against the spirit of the proposal. In short, there should be no difference between Pakistanis and foreigners either in qualifications, publications or income when offering the two-year but extendable tenure track system.
Some quarters opine that government's intention is to please a particular class (about one percent) and flourish it. The scheme aims at sending favourites abroad and shifting back those who have lived abroad for a long time — all this with public expense. Certainly, the spending by the HEC will not reduce the burden of poverty which is rising every moment. At this stage the question arises, has the scheme been debated, discussed and approved in parliament? None else but the parliament is the sole authority to take decisions before their execution and implementation.
It would be better if we gave importance to primary education which is the basis for development and progress of any country. By focusing on the character-building of our children through education, we can have a strong nation to defend and develop our country.
PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP NOT THE PROMOTION OF PRIVATE SECTOR IN EDUCATION
Education in Pakistan is fast becoming a market commodity particularly in the private sector, rather than being provided by the state as a responsibility and as a basic human right as recognized 50 years ago in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is important to assess the long-term implications of this phenomenon for the development.
Pakistan cannot afford to treat education a market commodity. If it goes down that route, very soon the multinationals and traditional demagogues will take over the provision of education to its elite and upper-middle class, alienating them even more from their own country. The middle class will be left to local educational chains, and the vast majority languishing at the bottom will be denied a half-decent education, while delivering their families into poverty.
The privatization of education in Pakistan is likely to have dire consequences for the national competitiveness and socials development of the country if at least not immediately then twenty years from now. By relinquishing the provision of education to market forces, the Govt of Pakistan may be digging graves for a vast majority of its citizens. The sooner the policy makers realize this the better.
There is one established research item in educational research that 'Education is the last pavilion of an educated person.' My colleagues should not mind this strange but open research as sometimes I also try to claim to be an academic.
No doubt innovative ideas are created by researchers whom performance is best when they carry research in autonomous universities. But the government has no foresight for research, sufficient funds, classified areas of research, and appropriate peers & desired caliber for the research. Consequently she ends up releasing funds (if they are dedicated mistakenly) for research projects which have little value. We must understand that we have very limited resources. These resources should be used to produce quality professionals, improve the quality of professional education, and provide well-equipped laboratories, buildings and libraries. For instance, in many universities, the buildings are in miserable condition, laboratories without basic equipment and classrooms full of political slogans. In this environment how can research be continued and quality professionals be produced?
In many universities, precious foreign exchange was spent to get research equipment from abroad and/or equipment was received as a donation without any proper planning. Since there was no appropriate research methodology in place to utilize this equipment what happened was that it was never put to any use and is still lying idle in the stores of these institutions. The HEC should ask universities to list all such equipment in their possession and to justify its procurement.
MATTER OF INTERNSHIP
According to International Educational Standards, every professional institution should be linked with certain commercial and industrial establishments. Without internship it is not possible for a graduating student to serve in a commercial setup. So actions must be taken to identify ways and means for strengthening effective and formal university-industry interaction in the country. The universities have lacked an understanding about the needs of industry. For its part the industry has not actively involved itself with educational institutions and has been too much dependent on foreign technologies. The government, as we all know, never paid much attention to developing its own technological base.
MATTER OF CURRICULUM
The universities must also be faulted because the curriculum they use is too theoretical and has little connection with the issues and problems that face Pakistani industry. There is need to periodically revise the curriculum according to the requirements of industrial and commercial setups. The universities should commission more industry-specific research projects because this will help foster closer cooperation between the two sectors. HEC may also play its prompt role in this regard by giving legal essential status to any such collaboration authority.
MATTER OF INTAKE
University is the highest seat of learning and at the same time it can be said as a batch-plant site of courses, course supervisors and course recipients. During my last thirteen years academic career, I have seen number of such students enrolled in BCS classes particularly in private sector universities who should not be given admissions even to BA programmes. HEC should also consider this phenomenon of enhancing un-principled and sub-substandard intake made only for the business of making money. It yields not only frustration among good students in class rooms and competition-less environment in the campus but also ultimately leads to unemployment or at least underemployment overall in the country.
Let us agree that individually our people are very strong but not as a nation. We need mental development much more than physical development and this can only be done through imparting and sharing of knowledge with patience and without any intransigence.
MUHAMMAD NAEEM MALIK
Apartment No. 35-B, Street No. 9, ASKARI-4, Rashid Minhas Road, Karachi. 0320-4074326; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
The writer is a Project Manager in Sofcom(Pvt.) Ltd. — a Software House as well as Head Department of Computer Science in a University.