TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
July 27 - Aug 02, 2009

Hyderabad is the second largest city of Sindh and third of Pakistan. It is acclaimed for its being one of the few cities of Pakistan that have embalmed transitional phases of centuries and was left up with, though now in shambles, ancient marks of Indus civilization. Historically, it was a crossroad for convoys on reconnaissance to explore the region. Having population of about two million, Hyderabad has people-to-people strong relation with rural areas of Sindh. Being a historical city, it is evident that Hyderabad is lurching to modern urban transformations other declared cities nationwide have assimilated. The city has five universities that include University of Sindh, which is situated in district Jamshoro 15 kilometre far from main Hyderabad city. The university started its primary function of teaching actually in 1951. It has affiliated four law and 74 other colleges including private. It has a campus in Nava Vidyala in the downtown. Mazharul Haq Siddiqui, Vice Chancellor University of Sindh has been on the post since 2001. He is proud of his coming from lower middle class. He is the elder brother of business magnate Jehangir Siddiqui and Sultana Siddiqui of Eye TV Network. He has done MA English from University of Sindh and MSC Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Recently, Pakistan and Gulf Economist interviewed him.

-- What is the role of Sindh University in contributing to building of the knowledge-based economy of Pakistan, and what are the snags?

Our objective is to build knowledge-based economy. In this line, we have set up hi-tech laboratories in last five years. We are undertaking researches. Higher education commission has last year placed Sindh University in the 9th position on account of quantity and quality of education. For upgrades of skills of students and faculty, we are awarding foreign study scholarships. So far, we have awarded 48 foreign study scholarships. We are planning to grant 70 more scholarships to deserving candidates. The process of selection is transparent. Past educational records of students and teachers are scrutinized to grant scholarship.

-- How the university is making distinctions in higher education spectrum of Pakistan?

Let me illustrate you this with some statistics. In 2001, government had assigned the Sindh university a target to increase enrolment to 20,000 by year 2010. In between 2001-2008, we have kick started a cutting-edge faculty reformation programme. Four years bachelor programme was initiated in the university. The faculty strength has reached to 650 professors and lecturers. By 2008, we achieved the target, which seemed ambitious in the beginning.

-- Allocation for education in the current Sindh budget has been increased to Rs6 billion, an increase of staggering 270 per cent over the last year's meagre sum of Rs1.62 billion, what is the portion earmarked for higher education and how does budget deficit affect operational efficacy of the university?

The allocation made for higher education is satisfactory, but unfortunately overall allocation for education sector is unsatisfactory. The situation in rural areas is awfully abysmal. Condition of education sector in Sindh and Balochistan is pathetic. The allocation is 'very very' low, perhaps exceeding a few decimal over two percent of GDP. Fifty-five percent operation of the university is subsidized. Last five or six years were good on account of availability of funds. The worst financial constraints turned out last year. Seventy percent of the grant of last quarter has screeched to halt. The core departments of physics, geology, microbiology, and chemistry were deprived of facilities because of paucity of funds. Lack of funds compelled us to cut short recurring expenditures. Laboratories were without essential replacements of scientific equipments. Scarcity of resources is a problem in upgrading education standard however misallocation of funds on the part of the government is a serious one. Gender discrimination is highest in this region. Therefore, most important focus area should be women education. An illuminated woman cherishes illuminated child, thereby contributing towards exponential development. Women education is imperative. Not only in higher education, but across the board women education should be promoted. It is neglected area in Pakistan, whereas comparable countries are giving especial importance to women education. It is sad that even Bangladesh is far more cautious in women education than Pakistan. India and Sri Lanka are spending significantly on women education. Government of Pakistan should increase allocation for the education sector regardless of economic growth slowdown. Growth may loose its fast speed in short run enhancement of funds will accelerate education driven growth in the end. A former premier of UK Tony Blaire once said economy should serve society.

-- Is quota system in admission policy right? There is an impression that University of Sindh is not allocating quota to Karachi's candidates.

Quota system is tantamount to murder of merit, agreed. However, given the annals of travesty of social justice people living in rural Sindh have experienced over the period, if it is it I have no objection. The social injustice reflects in the low level of investment. Though we oblige meritocracy of candidates, our preference is on encouraging admissions in the programmes from rural Sindh. For example, we have allocated 100 seats each for districts of Thatta and Badin. The competition of qualifying for seats happens to be amongst quota-allocated districts. To say candidature of Karachi is ignored is a sheer distortion of the fact. It is not like that, they are not deprived of admissions. On every academic year, we enrol 5,000 students in different programmes from all over Pakistan and world.

-- While perhaps defending the high fee structure, few education experts believe that higher education is for privileged class, what is your opinion? They also argue that without improvement in primary education, higher education cannot bear desirable fruits.

I would absolutely agree to the people who believe that unless we give priority to the primary education higher education would not be fruitful. However, I strongly oppose the proposition that high fees structure has anything to guarantee quality education. Class differentiation in education has reached to high level in Pakistan due to this. One has to clearly keep in mind that ability is driven by mental capabilities instead of parental financial supports. It is not necessary that high fees structure gives quality education, but higher education requires substantial investment. A talent pool from low-income group needs to be revamped. A lot of real talent misses the opportunity to continue study because of financial constraints. This is a severe loss to a nation, resulting in to low per capita income. Not all private institutes should be accused that they are churning out money. There are few with fees quite affordable to middle class. I believe real talent is hailed from middle class. Government should also give grants to private sector higher learning centres in order to help them foot their bill. If government provides funds to private institutes, it would have accretion in rights to inquire about their quality of education. Private and public sectors should work in synergy and they compete to improve education system.

-- How strong corporate-academia link should be? What is the importance of market-oriented programmes, and how well Sindh University is understating the importance?

Certainly, we should have strong linkages with the corporate sector. It is beneficial for the economy. Since the university is located in the hinterland, our connection with corporate sector is considerably weak. Recently, certain steps have been taken in this regard. Interaction has to become stronger. University is keen to give fruitful returns to industries. The impediment is lack of patience. Corporate sector has no patience to wait for results. Agriculture is the mainstay of Sindh's economy. There is a need to conduct researches to enhance agriculture outputs of wheat and sugar. We are serving people through low cost education and there is a need to implement learning for the betterment of the society. In all efforts, society comes first rather than market.

-- What do you say about independent education institutes (like IMSA) in which degree is awarded by the University of Sindh, can such institutes square with education quality being provided within the university premises?

I said the university is located in the hinterland and we can not go beyond certain ceilings while allowing admissions. These two factors lead to sharing of higher education responsibility with private sector. We have inspection team, which monitors the performance of affiliated institutes. In case of unsatisfactory performance, the affiliation can be abolished. They are bound to maintain quality of education.