'NOT EVERY UNIVERSITY NEEDS TO BE WORLD-CLASS'

INTERVIEW: FIDA HUSSAIN, DIRECTOR HEC REGIONAL CENTER, KARACHI

AMANULLAH BASHAR
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

May 17 - 23, 2010

Appearances sometimes prove deceptive and that was exactly happened when I met a simple and modest Fida Hussain, Director Higher Education Commission in his office to discuss state of education in Pakistan.

Indeed, Fida Hussain MS in Education from Australia and MSc from Balochistan wearing traditional Shalwar Kamis looked like a true Pakistani with full of imagination to see Pakistan on top of the education map in the world.

Fida Hussain who hails from Balochistan despite all odds on the education, economic and political front believes strongly in what he described a bright future waiting for Pakistan.

His remarks of the nature and chemistry were really inspiring. He said though some of the misleading elements are creating problems against the country yet majority of the nation has the potential to build Pakistan as a strong country and such positive elements also exist in the education sector of the country.

When asked where Pakistan stands in the crowd of top class universities around the globe he said with a smile that there is no need of disappointment and worry, in fact our institutions are doing their best within the given circumstances and the day will come that the contributions of the research work being carried out in our universities will provide a strong base for sustainable economic growth. Some of our universities have joined the club of top ranking universities of the world.

He especially cited the example of LUMS, AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY, and GISK & IBA which have already carved a respectable place within and outside of the country. Fida Hussain referred the growth in modern education instruments such as digital libraries in the universities, which have 2200 e-Books, video conferences and IT facilities being used for distant learning.

Our universities are also using these equipments for the benefit of the students who can learn from world class faculties of the top world universities. Therefore, one should not lose hopes about a promising future of Pakistan, he was optimistic.

Fida was of full of appreciation of former minister for higher education Dr. Ata ur-Rehman and paid him glowing tributes for his efforts to put educational institutions on the right track. In fact our education sector was following his perception for growth of education in the country, he commented.

He said at present there are around 5000 doctors in Pakistan and this number will increase in the coming years. HEC is providing support to around 120 universities which are fully equipped with all modern needs especially in research work especially to respond to industry needs, which is the correct way to capitalize on our education resources, he said. He was fully determined to focus on basic education. The government is also focusing on primary education with the assistance of the World Bank and other international agencies.

He was of the view that quality education in Social Sciences & Humanities plays a major role in the socioeconomic development of any country. In Pakistan there has been sporadic development in this sector over the past years but no substantial effort has been undertaken until recently.

The Higher Education Commission since its inception in year 2003 has taken a number of initiatives ranging from human resource development to providing research grants, and developing linkages at both National and International level in order to revive quality education in social sciences and humanities.

UNIVERSITIES IN ASIA

A report on universities in Asia said the rapid economic development of Asia since World War II starting with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, then extending to Hong Kong and Singapore, and finally taking hold powerfully in India and mainland China - has forever altered the global balance of power.

These countries recognise the importance of an educated work force to economic growth, and they understand that investing in research makes their economies more innovative and competitive.

The traditional Asian approaches to curriculum and pedagogy may work well for training line engineers and midlevel government officials, but they are less suited to fostering leadership and innovation. Students who aspire to be leaders in business, medicine, law, government or academia need "the discipline" of mind - the ability to adapt to constantly changing circumstances, confront new facts, and find creative ways to solve problems. Cultivating such habits requires students to be more than passive recipients of information; they must learn to think for themselves.

There has already been dramatic movement towards American-style curriculum in Asia. But changing the style of teaching presents a more challenging problem. It is more expensive to offer classes with smaller enrollments, and it requires the faculty to adopt new methods.

Not every university can or needs to be world class. Japan and South Korea have learned this lesson and have well-funded flagship universities. China understands this strategy, too. But India is an anomalous case. It established five Indian Institutes of Technology in the 1950s and 1960s, and 10 more in the past two decades. These are outstanding institutions for educating engineers, but they have not become globally competitive in research. The egalitarian politics of India make it difficult to focus on developing a small number of world-class research universities.