CSS RESULTS AMPLY EXPOSE STANDARD OF EDUCATION

Despite manifold budget increase and full support of the President and the Prime Minister, HEC could not make any significant improvement in the education scenario during the last four-to-five years.

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Bureau Chief, Islamabad
Feb 05 - 11, 2007

Higher Education in Pakistan is still caught in a destabilizing trap of low enrolment at the university level combined with poor education quality, especially in the public sector universities. There are many universities in the neighbouring countries, each having an enrolment ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 students, which is almost one-third of the total enrolment in all the public and private sector universities (over one hundred) in Pakistan.

From the very beginning the present government, especially President General Musharraf himself, has been concerned about our problematic education system, mainly the higher education and overcoming the above-mentioned deficiencies. Following the recommendations of the Task Force on Higher Education, a Higher Education Commission (HEC) was set up in 2002 through an ordinance with Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman, a highly qualified and dedicated educationist, as its Chairman with the status of a federal minister. The commission enjoyed the full backing and financial support of the government as well as an autonomous status and full freedom of action to operate and implement its plans of action. The core function assigned to HEC was to improve the quality of education especially in the field of science and technology and to facilitate the transformation of Pakistan into a knowledge-based economy. According to the task force report (2001), the total number of students in Pakistan's higher education system was about 4,75000, which translated into a higher education enrolment ratio of 2.6 percent for the age group of 17 to 23 years as compared to 10 percent in India and 68 percent in South Korea. HEC was assigned the task to raise this ratio to a minimum of average in the region, which was about 10 percent.

The HEC started with tall claims and lot of hopes and expectations. However, according to independent experts in the field of education and analysts, despite manifold increase in the budget allocation and full support of the President and the Prime Minister, HEC has not been able to make any significant improvement in the situation during the last 4/5 years.

As far as financial support is concerned, the Chairman HEC himself disclosed at an international gathering that Pakistan has increased the budget for science & technology by 600 percent and that for higher education by 1500 percent during the last 4 years. Addressing the convocation of the Allama Iqbal University, Islamabad, a few months back, Dr. Atta had said that the budget allocation for higher education had been raised to Rs.10.5 billion in the current year against Rs.800 million in the year 2000. While speaking at the ground breaking ceremony of a new University of Engineering, Science and Technology (UEST) in Lahore in November last, President disclosed that the "allocation for HEC has been increased to Rs.22 billion from Rs. 500 to 600 million a few years back". Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman who was present and also spoke on the occasion did not question the figure. On another occasion the chairman had reportedly complained that HEC allocation for the current year has been slashed and that the commitment to raise budget allocation for education to 5 percent of GDP has not materialized. Surprisingly, however, on this occasion, he chose to remain silent on this issue in his speech in which he said that Pakistan had below 25-year population of 85 million, which formed a huge pool of creativity. He said that knowledge and technology had become the key drivers of growth in the world. "Pakistani universities are presently producing 300 PhD scholars. After 3 to 4 years, the number of PhD scholars would touch the mark of 1,500," he added. He further said that students at Pakistani universities had now access to more than 20,000 international journals and added that Pakistan would soon become the first country in the world to have video lecturing for students.

That there has been no improvement in the quality of education, as publically pointed out by independent experts in the field of education, is amply testified by the report of the Public Service Commission last month. It has come as a shock to every concerned Pakistani that out of 3678 candidates who appeared for Central Superior Services examination only 276 could qualify the written test, showing a pas percentage of only 7.5 percent. This report, to say the least, reflects poorly on the standard of education in the country.

At another public forum, HEC Chairman boasted that perhaps Pakistan is the only country in the world where university professors are receiving three to four times more salary than that of a federal minister. It sounds too good to be believed. It may be correct in few cases where faculty teachers were imported from foreign universities, that too in private sector, and their number may not be more than 01 percent in the entire faculty of university teachers. Such statements are nothing more than a cruel joke which adds salt to the injuries of community of teacher who are still waiting for the implementation of the decision of the government announced by the Education minister on the last "Salam teacher day" that they would be placed in one advance grade.

I reproduce below some extracts from the articles of eminent educationists, scholars and analyst, published in leading national dailies on the state of higher education during the last few months which give a clear idea as to where we stand notwithstanding the tall claims and rhetoric of the HEC and its functionaries.

According to foreign PhD with life-long experience in university teaching, "University enrolment cannot be increased in the medium term without compromising and lowering the already dismal standards. We need to focus on quality of school education so that a bigger pool of well-prepared students is available for higher education in future. Higher education standards cannot improve unless standards at school level improve. The quality of education in our public schools needs to improve radically if an average Pakistani is to harbour any realistic hope for socio-economic mobility.

"Access to and affordability of quality education is an issue that should shame us all. At one time it was thought that only private university education was expensive, but now public sector universities are not far behind. In a country where the average monthly per capita income is about Rs.4000, it's a national disgrace that access to quality education should cost at least Rs.5000 per month. Private universities are the typical punching bags and are held guilty of robbing the poor and unsuspecting public. This perception is carefully reinforced by certain interest groups, including some government agencies, to advance their own interests.

"An Oxford University PhD and an analyst says that due to the appalling standards of the state education system, there is much hue and cry about the poor quality of education in the government schools and colleges. However, what is becoming more worrying in recent years is the cost of private schooling in Pakistan. Any private school that provides decent education in Pakistan is charging tuition fee that is beyond the budget of an average upper middle class professional - unless, of course, one assumes every Pakistani to be corrupt and making income on the side. The government's lack of commitment to education, which is one of the primary responsibilities of a civilized state, has much to do with it".

"A review of the private schooling system in Pakistan, over the past 15 years, shows some extremely worrying trends. Till the late eighties the best private schools in the countries remained very much within the income of the upper middle class families. The reason was that many of the top schools at that time were run with a missionary spirit. A particular Convent, which was the best school for girls in Rawalpindi till the early nineties, charged only between Rs. 250 to Rs.300 per child".

"Now, the private school chains that dominate the education sector easily charge a fee of Rs.4000 per child. The income in the upper middle class household has not changed that dramatically to match this tremendous surge in fees. A couple that has three children easily needs a budget of Rs.15,000 per month for the education of their children. How many Pakistani couples can have this budget out of an honest income? The government, however, is least concerned to regulate these private schools or set a limit on their profit margins".

Another well-known author said: "Musharraf is upbeat over the future of higher education in Pakistan. However, I believe that with the amount of funds being poured in higher education the country will still fall short of expectations due to flawed strategy. First, it is a misplaced notion that by pitching local universities against international competition the country's education system will improve. It has to be other way round. Musharraf should coordinate with provinces to improve the country's education system and direct HEC to act as facilitator and coordinator and not as controller. Current measures will only produce handful of successful institutions and that too through the administrative support and media support but in the process thousand other institutions would be lost to oblivion for want of funds, qualified staff are resources from the center".

"Such institutions cannot produce enough qualified people to sustain national and international challenges on continuous basis. The education revolution spearheaded by Musharraf needs to be broad-based and comprehensive so that people can actually participate in the country's development. Pakistan needs education environment that supports both public and private institutions instead of preparing few institutions to compete against international universities. We do not need Yale, Harvard or Oxford. We need a system that could face international challenges. And the answer lies in standardized education system".

Another educationist made the following comments in his written speech at a seminar on "Higher Education in Pakistan.

"Pakistan cannot afford to treat education like bananas. If it goes down that route, very soon the multinationals will take over the provision of education to its elite and upper middle class, alienating them even more from their own country. The middle classes 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 social development of the country 20 years from now. By relinquishing the provision of education to market forces, the Pakistan government may be digging graves for a vast majority of its citizens. The sooner this is realized the better".

In order to have the version of the HEC this correspondent visited their office twice to meet the Chairman Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman and Executive Director Dr. Sohail Naqvi but both of them were not available because of their meetings and conference. As suggested by their secretaries, I reduced to writing what I wished to ask them in the personal interview in the form of following questionnaire and sent them by E-mail.

1. Higher Education Commission was set up in the year 2001-02 with tall claims and lot of hopes. According to the independent experts in the field nothing significant has been achieved during the last about 5 years in terms of improving the standard of education at the university level or enhancing the enrolment.

In this context, will you like to inform our readers?

a) What are the aims and objectives of the commission?
b) What you have achieved so far?
c) What are your future plans? And
d) What are the difficulties, if any, you are facing in accomplishing the task assigned to the commission?

2. It has been reported in the press that the budget allocation for higher education has been slashed. If it is correct, what is the quantum of the cut?

3. A policy decision was taken that 5% of GDP would be earmarked for education. The Chairman of the Commission has reportedly complained recently that the commitment has not been fulfilled. If it is correct, how it is going to affect your programme?

4. According to a press report, Chairman HEC said that a sum of Rs.10 billion has been allocated for higher education in the current budget. President General Pervez Musharraf, however, put this amount at Rs.22 billion (reference to his speech in Lahore at the inauguration of a new engineering university recently). Which figure is correct?

5. What is the total number of universities in the public sector in different faculties and their enrolment? How it compares with the figures for the year 2000 and how it compares now with the universities in private sector?

6. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz reportedly said a few months back that in the next 5 to 8 years in collaboration with top class six new universities of Science, Engineering and Technology would be set up at an estimated cost of Rs.90 billion. President in his speech at Lahore put this figure at 9 universities at a cost of Rs.250 billion. What is the correct position?

Following consolidated reply was received from the office of the HEC Chairman, it may be noted that the commission preferred not to divulge much of the relevant information sought through the question.

With reference to your questionnaire for Pakistan and Gulf Economist, please find below a concise report of achievements of Higher Education Commission. It is hoped that it will give a comprehensive idea of what HEC has achieved in the last four years.

HEC was set up in Sept 2002 to facilitate the development of universities in Pakistan to become world class centres of education, research and development. The mandate of HEC encompasses all degree granting universities and institutions, public and private including degree awarding institutions. It supports the attainment of quality education in these institutions by facilitating and co-coordinating self assessment of academic programmes and their external review by national and international experts. HEC also supervises the planning, development and accreditation of public and private sector institutions of higher education.

SOME KEY ACHIEVEMENTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION COMMISSION

During the past two years the Higher Education Commission has undertaken a systematic process of implementation of the five-year agenda for reform outlined in the HEC Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF), in which Access, Quality and Relevance have been identified as the key challenges faced by the sector. To address these challenges a comprehensive strategy was defined that identified the core strategic aims for reform as (i) Faculty Development, (ii) Improving Access, (iii) Excellence in Learning and Research, and (iv) Relevance to National Priorities. These strategic aims are supported by well-integrated cross-cutting themes for developing Leadership, Governance and Management, enhancing Quality Assessment and Accreditation and Physical and Technological Infrastructure Development.

Five-year Mega Project for all public universities of around 3 - 4 billion each:
50% on infrastructure, equipment
50% on Human Resource Development.
Chancellors Committee decision of increasing 50% every year to reach 1% of GDP.
Digital Library comprising 17,000 journals launched for free access to educational / research institutes.
Programme for free access to sophisticated instruments launched.
56 universities connected under PERN through fiber / radio links.
Two new Educational Channels started under Virtual University through Pak-Sat1 (Pakistan's own satellite).
Foreign scholarship programmes launched - 204 students being sent abroad for Ph.D. Training.
Indigenous Ph.D. programme started to produce 1200 to 1500 Ph. Ds annually after five years.
Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme initiated: 76 eminent educationists have returned from Canada, USA, and Europe and joined Pakistani universities - about 100 more will join in the next two months.
Major programme for university-industry linkage launched.