Dec 20 - 26, 20

It was widely reported in the media that how Pakistani students on scholarships picked up the begging bowls in the foreign countries to meet their study expenditures after HEC stopped release of their scholarship funds. Prime Minister took notice of the situation and constituted a committee to resolve the matter as early as possible. Though the issue is said to be resolved and funds transference to researchers studying abroad has been restored, yet the uncertainty about the similar happening in the future has not subsided totally given the precarious financial health of the country, dividing the attention of the scholars to the disadvantage of their successful completion of MS, PhDs, or post-doctorate.

Pakistan's education ministry to abridge the supply and demand gap of teaching staff and researchers in the country funds foreign and local higher studies of students selected after generally the merit-based assessments of their qualifications for the scholarships, which are sometimes in collaboration with foreign universities and non-government organisations.

Critics say the present government seems to be oblivious of the monetary needs of the higher education. That was manifested in its budgetary allocation to higher education commission (HEC) in the public sector development programme 2010/11. While HEC expenditures as on June 2010 turned out to be Rs56 billion, the yearly allocation (2010/11) was Rs15 billion. This amply shows how the affairs of higher learning institutes have been in the first half and will be managed later. It is obvious that the allocation cannot be at variance with the financial health of the country. Revenue shortage unleashes a massive impact on the overall social and economic developments.

It is said that higher education commission has so far coughed up 20 billion rupees on local and foreign scholarship programmes since the commission started operation in 2002. Approximately half of the scholarships were awarded to students to study in foreign universities while rest was for local studies.

According to the HEC, there are no more budgetary constraints as the committee constituted by the Prime Minister resolved the funding issue by recommending 15 per cent increase in recurring grants to the universities and another 15 per cent medical allowance. The higher education authority in its statement said students studying in foreign universities on scholarships would not be devoid of funds any further. However, "all approved scholarships which are built within projects will be withheld till the improvement of the country's financial health," it noted. Students have been funded by the HEC to study in different foreign universities on the condition that they would serve Pakistan at least two-year by sharing their expertise with the local education institutes and research facilities.

Since its inception, Pakistan has produced only 6,551 PhDs in various disciplines of social sciences, arts and humanities, agriculture and veterinary sciences, biological and medical sciences, business education, engineering and technology, and physical sciences. Small number of research scholars is hampering the growth process of trade and economy altogether.

The aim of funding PhD and MS studies in foreign universities is to meet the demand and supply shortfall of research scholars who are expected to transfer knowledge locally upon completion of their studies on state funds. Engineering sector is lacking technologies and expertise to scale up its contributions towards the economy and in particular to the exports from the country. Due to the shortage of learned faculty members in the engineering discipline, the performance of the sector is not satisfactory. Amazingly, PhDs in engineering and technology account for 2.52 per cent of the total PhDs in the country; social sciences (25.58 per cent), arts and humanities (16.34 per cent), honorary (0.9 per cent), agriculture and veterinary sciences (12.71 per cent), biological and medical sciences (19.26 per cent), business education (1.43 per cent), and physical sciences (21.25 per cent). Therefore, HEC engineering scholarship programmes are relatively more effective to meet the desirable results successfully. Total 1044 have completed MS, PHD, and Post Doctoral studies on foreign scholarships in the discipline of engineering so far. The commission calls the engineering scholarship programme 'the biggest in the history of Pakistan for meeting the requirement of universities, R&D organisations and industry'.

A debate has recently been started about the legal justification of appointing senior or retired educationists on vacant seats in the universities or colleges. Chairman Higher Education Commission, Dr. Javed Leghari, asked administration of an Islamabad-based university to ensure that no retired person is appointed on any academic position. He said it is tantamount to the violation of rights of other fresh candidate of the vacant post. Need-based appointments cannot be ignored as per the logic. On this logic, actually, senior and retired employees are reappointed in the higher learning institutes. Recently, HEC has brought into the notice of International Islamic University nine academicians whose tenures have exceeded the retirement timelines. Vice-President Higher Studies and Research; Vice-President Admin and Finance; Dean Faculty of Basic and Applied Sciences; Dean Faculty of Management Sciences; Chairman Environmental Science Department; Dean Faculty of Education; Director Strategic Planning Cell; Director Planning and Development; and Director Quality Enhancement Cell were named in the notified list. Absence of suitable employee is the main reason of appointment of retired or senior executive on the academic or administration post. Critics say attitude of creating hurdles in the fresh appointments create artificial shortage of suitable employee. Interference of the political parties in the recruitment process is resisting the breaking of the status quo by fresh bloods, they observe. Such interference also results in the recruitment of undeserving person for academic post in a sheer infringement to the merit.

Foreign scholars can become befitting replacements of retired or senior academicians. There is a need to speed up the process of producing PhDs. Priority expenditures should be well described to save the higher education sector from falling due to fund constraints.