Nov 27 - Dec 03, 2006

Education in Pakistan, particularly higher education, was always assigned a low priority by successive governments since Independence. Ironically, in terms of paying lip service, each government tried to out-vie-the others. Each political regime did set up an education commission to draft a new education policy, but, eventually, all such policies were ultimately consigned to the national archives.

Incredible as it might appear, there was actually a method to all this madness.

The feudal class, the obscurantist elements, and other vested interests all ganged up to ensure that education in general, and higher education in particular, should not be given the priority it deserved. It was all basically a part of the unstated political agenda to keep the masses ignorant, so that the gullible people could be exploited to the hilt. As some one put it cryptically, "democracy without education is hypocrisy without limit"!

Ironically, in each annual Budget Speech, every Finance Minister waxed eloquent about the importance of higher education. But the actual allocation never went beyond 2 per cent of GNP. Financial constraint was always invoked as the reason withholding the government from spending more on education.

But it was a flawed argument. The governments were actually interested in keeping a monopoly on higher education, and therefore, never gave opportunity to the private sector to come forward and play its legitimate role, as is the standard practice in virtually all the developed countries of the world.

It is plain common sense that no government in the world, leave alone a third world country like Pakistan, can shoulder the entire burden of providing education to the ever - expanding number of people aspiring to higher education. Out of sheer economic compulsion, there had to be a radical change in the education policy.

Ironically, it was left to a military man, President General Pervez Musharraf to display the political sagacity, which was required to give higher education its rightful place in the over-all scheme of national priorities. In a forthright, no-nonsense manner, he sent out a signal, loud and clear, that without investing in education, any pretense about economic development would be "sound and fury, signifying nothing".

And, in the person of Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, the President found a person who had the ability, the vision, and most importantly, the political will to do the job.

Prof Atta-ur-Rehman, and his talented team at H.E.C., 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 augers 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 Prof 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.

However, it is pertinent to mention that the process needs to be expedited, and further strengthened. In view of the obvious constraints, it would be unrealistic to expect any financial grant or subsidy for the private sector universities. But surely, the H.E.C. could play a more pro-active role in providing support for faculty development by awarding scholarships to teachers and research scholars of private universities.

The H.E.C. should also assist in promoting greater inter-action, even linkage, among the public and private universities, such as exchange of teachers, and the use of libraries and laboratories by the faculty and research students of private universities. The H.E.C. has already taken an initiative in that direction by providing access to 30,000 books and journals through the membership of the Digital Library.

The dynamics of higher education have undergone radical changes in recent years. The stewardship of a country, including its economic policies, cannot be entrusted to half-educated individuals with myopic visions. The need is for producing graduates with rounded personalities, who are well - equipped, and trained, to cope with the challenges of present-day life.

In the fast-changing global scenario, particularly in the wake of W.T.O., there is obviously a need for constant monitoring, and fine-tuning, of the disciplines and courses being taught at our universities. We also need to outgrow the concepts of education inherited from our colonial past, when it sufficed to produce individuals with a stereo-typed mind-set. Such a lead, and inspiration, in the fitness of things, must come from the Higher Education Commission itself - of course, in consultation with the universities themselves, both in the public and private sectors. It is sad that in past the private sector universities never formed part of the decision - making. It is about time that this deficiency is rectified.

We at Greenwich fully share the concerns of the Higher Education Commission towards maintaining the academic standards at the seats of higher education. We also fully subscribe to their ideals of a prosperous, enlightened, and educated Pakistan. We have a proven track record of supporting H.E.C. in all their endeavors in the past; on our part, we mean to do so in future as well.

The author of this article is Professor of English, Registrar and Dean, Faculty of Arts, Greenwich University