In search of excellence

SADAF AURANGZAIB, Senior Correspondent
Nov 27 - Dec 03, 2006

While thinking about the role of universities in the life of the young generation of today, we cannot ignore the kind of importance they have in their lives. Getting higher education is almost impossible without having good universities around. The recent upsurge of interest in the education reforms by the present government has made every mind question about the viability of these reforms. One of the critical analysis that we get is from Dr. Abdul Wahab, currently running Mohammad Ali Jinnah University. Letís see what he has to say.

PAGE: Tell us a little bit about the current progress of your university?

DR. ABDUL WAHAB (AW): At Mohammad Ali Jinnah University we have set a target to make it a model university. We are following three objectives and all our faculty members and students are fully aware of these objectives. The objectives are 1) to develop competent human resource in all respects and fields, 2) to build up the moral values which are unfortunately not identified by any institution in Pakistan. This aspect is totally ignored. A person might be competent but if his moral values are not good then he might have the tendency to misuse his competence, 3) A very serious challenge in Pakistan is the ongoing frustration among the young people about the economy of Pakistan, the country itself and about the political system, etc. The vast majority of people, particularly the young men, don't see their future in Pakistan even the uneducated people leave Pakistan without any legal documents and almost everyday we read in newspapers about deportation from many countries and the situation has so worsened that even the Pakistanis languishing in the jails in European countries are not willing to return to Pakistan. So our third objective is to inculcate a burning desire in the minds of our graduates to achieve something great in life. This we are doing by establishing a center which we call Center of Hope and Courage. In this center we have collected a large number of books, articles and films about the developed countries but the material relate to the time when these countries were backward. London, for example, was a dirty city with narrow lanes, narrow roads, garbage, diseases and corruption. The second category of the books which we have collected relate to the lives of those persons who have brought about the changes in these conditions, so we want to tell our young graduates that Pakistan is not the only country where the environment is frustrating hence do not give up, do not think of migrating from Pakistan, do not surrender but stand against all odds and try to bring a change. Pakistan is a land of opportunities where many areas need good and sincere people to bring improvement.

PAGE: What is your expansion plans and how many campuses are you running?

AW: The problem is that the land is very expensive and the traffic is very dirty too so those who are planning Education City do not realize that the traveling from any locality in Karachi to that area will create serious problem. We are also trying to secure about 25 acres in that scheme. At the moment we have one campus comprising three buildings, each building is located on 200 square yards. We are also planning to demolish one of these buildings and construct a six storey building. By locating the campus inside the city in fact at the heart of the city as MAJU we have a lot of advantage as it is easily accessible, commuting is very easy to reach the university, particularly for the executive programs, because if the executive programs are located outside the city then it will be almost impossible for the working or in-service people to study or take up those programs.

PAGE: Talking of the Education City plan where 28 universities will be operating side by side, how effective do you think will it be in imparting good education?

AW: I think this project may not be functional in the next seven to ten years and after that there will be a lot of serious problems for those who locate their campuses in the Education City.

PAGE: But those universities do have their campuses inside the city too...

AW: Running two campuses is not that easy like IBA which has two campuses, one at the university and the other in the city. Till now the university campus becomes all empty after 2 o'clock, there are no classes after that so what I strongly believe is that our resources are very scarce and when we invest these resources in education they must be used for a long time. Before I became the Director of IBA, the city campus was used only for three hours a day, gradually I introduced executive programs and today it is used both in the morning and evening hours.

PAGE: Do you think that the private universities will be more successful than public universities in that Education City?

AW: I think in the next ten to fifteen years there is no possibility of it to become functional and even if it becomes functional it will consume a lot of time because there will be more traffic jams and only commuting to that place will take around three to four hours, so if you take away four working hours from the life of a student then what is he left with. Also the long travel from various localities from Karachi will exhaust them and they will not put their whole effort in studies. The advantage that we have by locating in the city is that we can assign research projects very easily and I think coming from that far off place to do the research will be really tedious. I think they have just copied the idea of Dubai Knowledge Village, however, the Dubai situation is totally different, they have the infrastructure but here the condition of roads and congestion of traffic is really worse which will continue to grow.

PAGE: As Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman is quite optimistic in bringing out 1500 PhDs annually, how productive do you think those PhDs will be?

AW: I think Pakistan has suffered because no attention has been paid to the PhD level education but to fix such a big target as of Dr. Atta ur Rehmanís, it seems that these PhDs would not be up to the mark. PhD is a degree in which only competent persons should take admission, secondly you shouldn't fix time for that as some persons would take six to eight years to complete it and fixing a quota will not be beneficial.

PAGE: How do you see the level of our higher education in comparison with international standards of education?

AW: In my opinion as long as we do not depoliticize the universities, as here the universities are dominated by the teacher societies, student organizations and employee unions and the head of the institution in most of the cases is a puppet in the hands of these elements. They see their survival in forming an alliance with the dominating groups. Many of the times the head of the institution form an alliance with the student group whose political party is in power so most of the appointments, contracts, purchases, etc will be done on the whims of those political parties. Hence unless it is depoliticized in order to have one ruling authority in the institution, it will not get any standard. When I was the Vice Chancellor of the Karachi University, I told everyone of these groups that there will be only one authority and there will be no parallel governments. I will use my judgment and will seek advise from whichever institution I want to but I won't let that happen that someone might call me for any undue favours. Secondly, unless attention is paid to teaching in the classroom we will not be able to produce quality graduates. Today the classroom teaching is ignored and the fashionable word is research. No doubt that the objective of the university is to teach and to do research but we don't have any research policy and most of the money spent on the research projects are just being used for personal purposes. We don't have any policy about where to do the basic research or where to do an applied research. When the Japanese started their economic development they said that they will not indulge in the basic research as it is very expensive, time consuming and without any result but what we will do is to obtain the research already done by the developed countries and think of new uses of that research. Like Sony Corporation, when Western Electric Company developed the hearing heads then Sony bought that technology for 25000 dollars and used it for the development of transistors which was a big revolution at that time. We on the other hand have no guidelines and most of the research here is nothing but fraud. I may ask anyone to show me any research which has benefited Pakistan. We want research on our problems and their solution. Classroom teaching is ignored on this pretext of research and students are just studying from notes and they don't read any books.

PAGE: There are many universities that are affiliated with Western and British universities. How do you think these affiliations are benefiting our universities?

AW: First of all the word affiliation is not appropriate because affiliation is a technical word and most of the foreign universities are not authorized to use it, it is basically a collaboration. In Pakistan this collaboration is just for the sake of attaching that name of the university, it does not mean anything. Many of these universities have a collaboration with the third rate universities. I am not saying that we should not benefit from the experiences of other countries but there are other large number of areas where we can use this. Like we get fresh prospectus of almost all the Western universities and we ask our teachers to go through them, find out the new courses and new programs which we can introduce to our students.

PAGE: Do you think that our graduates need to get foreign exposure so that they can learn about the challenges of today?

AW: International exposure depends upon how it's being used. If it is taken with the objective of learning and with an open mind then it will benefit, otherwise it may depress the person. You should learn good things and return with the confidence that you will apply them in your country.

PAGE: How satisfied are you with the quality of graduates that you are producing and how many other universities are doing so?

AW: The quality of human resource produced by the universities is extremely poor for a variety of reasons. First of all they are not exposed to real issues, challenges and problems which Pakistan is facing, secondly the knowledge which they acquire is accepted as it is coming from the Western countries. What we do here like what I did in IBA is that teachers should spend time in 1) imparting the knowledge, 2) considering application of it in Pakistan, 3) do critical evaluation of the concepts, principles and theories. Once we improve teaching in this way then we can also provide opportunities for applying what they learn. We at MAJU have 52 programs in one semester to provide students opportunity to work as a team, for showing what they have learnt. Unless we do good effort the human resource which we produce will not be able to meet the challenges of Pakistan.

PAGE: Do you think that the faculty is responsible for not producing quality graduates?

AW: Faculty is not the only factor. If we give importance to merit then the students will pay attention to studies and try to learn from it too. Pakistani society does not take knowledge as a resource, all the progress and development depends upon knowledge. What I suggest is that there should be orientation program for the teachers where they could be taught as how to teach.

PAGE: What are the main measures that could be taken to improve the quality of both the students and the teachers?

AW: Short term training of PhDs will take three to four years hence we should start short term training sessions of our faculty members as well as monitoring the classroom to evaluate teachers performance in the class.

PAGE: Are you satisfied with the performance of the MAJU faculty?

AW: Our teachers are drawn from the same society so we have to motivate them and educate them about how to set papers, etc.

PAGE: Is your institution also offering PhD program?

AW: We have a PhD program and six of our faculty members have registered in it but their progress is very slow, which is not unusual keeping in mind the same trend of Karachi University teachers where teachers taking full load of courses and have registered for PhD, it will take a lot of time.

PAGE: What is your message to the youth?

AW: My message to the youth is that they should not be frustrated. Pakistan is a land of opportunities. If the institutions, teachers and the environment is not favorable to you then make your own effort because no body will have pity on you for the reason that you don't have the good teachers or good environment, so do your own effort to compensate for what others have done to you.