INTERVIEW: SYED ALI ABBAS ABIDI, VICE CHANCELLOR KASBIT

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Nov 12 - 18, 2012

PROFILE

Syed Ali Abbas Abidi has done Masters in Economics, Business Administration, Information Technology and Law. Academically he is an MBA (Finance), M.A (Economics), MBIT, LLB, LIM. Professionally he is an Associate member of Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Institute of Corporate Secretaries. He is certified Takaful Professional. He has acquired Post Graduate Diploma in Islamic Banking and Takaful. He is pursuing his Ph. D in Islamic Finance. He is the Secretary General of Association of All Private Universities and Institutes in Pakistan. He has around 16 years industry experience with different organizations as Head of Finance and Accounts, Head of HR. Tax Expert, Corporate & ISO Consultant. His areas of expertise are Education, Academics, Tax, Corporate, Finance, Accounts, Laws, Islamic Banking, Takaful and ISO.

PAGE: WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY REASONS FOR LOW LITERACY LEVEL IN PAKISTAN?

ABBAS ABIDI: In short I would say providing education is not at the top of agenda of policy planners in Pakistan. Lack of facilities and paltry allocation of funds for education the norm. Added to these are shortage of teachers, different medium of instructions, overcrowded classrooms, poverty and good opportunities of child labor employments. The lower literacy rate is said to be an outcome of greater population, poverty and unemployment; however it cannot be justified since there are other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Kenya etc. where the advancement in literacy rate was observed despite of such factors.

Take another example, Sri Lanka, which has same per capita income as Pakistan however it has 90 % literacy rate. It is said that more than 20 million children in Pakistan are yet to get enrolled at Primary level. The present situation in education imparting institution is more than worst. It was a decade back when the government allotted 2.6% of the GDP for the progression of education however, to add injury to an insult, it was limited to 1.8% and the situation got worst. There are other developing nations like Turkey which allocate most of its GDP to education department, Pakistan ignored this department. In primary level we have about 22,650,000 students which reduce to 2,884,400 at secondary level and finally it goes down to 1,349,000 at the higher education level.

PAGE: WHAT ARE THE FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR OVERALL POOR ACADEMIC STANDARD OF EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS?

ABBAS ABIDI: The funds allocated by the government are not properly utilized in the absence of basic and prerequisite strategy. This has lead to downfall in education standard and slow growth in literacy rate in Pakistan.

It is this inadequate utilization that is the root cause of downfall in literacy rate. Education is a right; not a privilege. It is the prime responsibility of a government to ensure that all citizens get the basic fundamental rights of citizen at their doorstep. You know among the SAARC Nations, Pakistan is at the 6th but at the 159th position among the 174 countries. Government

Official Report says the literacy rate in Pakistan is 34 % which is beyond my understanding.

In remote areas the role of private sector is not as desired and needed. The fees of private again are unaffordable because there is a huge gap between supply and demand. Private institutions are run by personal investments although the owners allocate the funds for them but those funds are not adequate for public at large. We know we are the 6th largest country in terms of population and we need huge funds to cater the needs of people. People admit their children in local madarsas which are providing basic education but these madarsas focuses on religious knowledge only. Teachers cannot teach modern science and technology. Unfortunately teachers of our madasas have confined teaching. They have forgotten that Muslim scientists were at the top in the past. In madarsa and school science was also an important part of syllabus. Jamia Al Azhar was built before European universities. I have been told that the high population rate in rural areas is to increase income of the house; they believe more children means more income. Poor people want their little children to work and bring money to their houses.

PAGE: HOW FAR PRIVATE INSTITUTES AND UNIVERSITIES HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN RAISING QUALITY OF EDUCATION?

ABBAS ABIDI: Role of private sector is appreciable but due to limited resources it can't expand the activities. In private sector the management and the faculty are more conscious as compared to public sector. Among the private institutes there is tough competition, the teaching staff knows if they do not adhere to the required standard their survival with the institute is difficult. The banks do not lend them money as they have fear that in case of default they will not be able to recover the borrowed amount by selling properties of educational institution. SBP has introduced a scheme of low interest rate for Exporters but for educational institute there is no such policy. Further the drawback is that the private schools are limited to urban areas and have hardly any presence in the rural areas. Another notable point is that a large percentage of school going children are admitted to

Madarsas that are the institutions for religious education. These offer free teaching so where there is inflation all around, people find it as a blessing in disguise.

Education has been converted into a fruitful business and we can find a number of private schools located in the same area within short distances. These schools are opened in small bungalows which have been acquired on rent and are not suitable imparting education.

As many as six higher learning institutions of Pakistan have won place in the list of top 300 Asian universities, as ranked by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) UK, the world's most renowned and prestigious ranking agency. In these institutions we see the pronominal contribution of private sector institutes and universities.

I am very happy to see special funds in private sector which are used for granting scholarships to needy people and this is the funds blessing that needy and underprivileged people get 'A' quality education free of cost. If

I tell about my institute it is providing more than 25% from the private funds of our top management particularly Mr. Arif Bukhari. Recently WPO has sponsored few of our Ph.D students. In private sector universities we see the facilities and infrastructure which plays an important role. You see regular teachers training programs, adoption of IT technology, subject are taught with the help of modern software, advance distance learning programs, regular workshops, seminars, guest speakers sessions, WIFI environment, research facilities, internships in giant industries, acquiring high paid faculties, extended digital and non digital library where millions of research papers and books are available, provision for laptops at easy installments and job placements opportunities. CRS activities are mandatory for students which motivate students to work for country and humanity. Some private universities send students abroad for higher education. In private sector every institute keep a hawk's eye on students as there is a cut throat competition among the private sector institutions.

PAGE: KASBIT IS GOING FROM DOCTORATE, MASTER AND GRADUATE PROGRAMS TO CAMBRIDGE PROGRAM. WHAT ARE THE FACTORS DEMANDING FOR THIS BACKWARD INTEGRATION?

ABBAS ABIDI: KASBIT is a degree awarding institution; it is at the top category W4 of Higher Education Commission. KASBIT provide education from Bachelors to Doctorate. Now we have formed a new company KASBIS which will focus on primary, secondary and Cambridge education. In response to your questions I would say our grass root education is not as good it should have been. Our criteria of admission in bachelors and even at master level reject a number of applicants as they do not meet the criteria set by our sponsors and team of educationalist. The students who meet our academic criteria often fail in test and interviews. We give admission to few people by rejecting so many. We do not feel happy in disappointing our youth by rejecting their applicants. If we do not consider them then who else will consider them and provide them opportunity to be the good the citizens. So this was the reason we had to decide to go for backward integration. We have right now started Cambridge programs with normal fees so we can help those people who are brilliant but unable to afford educational expenses. We expect these pass out students will be further polished when they join KASBIT in bachelors program. We expect that by following such integration KASBIS will serve more individuals as compared to KASBIT.

PAGE: WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF PRIMARY EDUCATION IN PROMOTING HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE COUNTRY?

ABBAS ABIDI: As far as our primary education is concerned I am not very satisfied; it is not meeting the challenging requirements. As I have mentioned earlier that it was the only reason our management decided to go for backward integration. We still teach with chalk and black boards.

We do not use IT and other modern tools at primary level. Our 10th grade students are not very much familiar computers. You can check my statement by going through the syllabus of followed by Borads. Important subjects even Urdu, and Pak studies are taught by part timers. How can you expect your students will be loyal to their country when they do not understand Quaid and Iqbal. West has a strong influence on our students; the concept given by Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1934 which I am mentioning below is still in our mind and we have not forgotten.

Macaulay said "It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population". So we are running on the concept of Macaulay. Our entire syllabus needs improvement and revision. Our faculty and teachers need training. Our School and college faculty need IT training. We do not see Youtube lectures in classrooms of school and colleges in urban areas.

KASSBIT has taken an initiative to open the eyes of Pakistanis and foreigners to know about the scientific work done buy by forefathers. This initiative will encourage our students to replicate the work and concentrate on these fields. Our bad luck is that when we open our eyes we see the USA and Europe on top and get impressed and accept them as our masters.

You will forget Newton if you study Hazrat Ali's work on matter, colors, producing of electricity with the help of Dams, concept of ratios and other mathematics and many more. It was not Antonio who gave concept of Conservation of mass and said in 1743, Matter cannot be created or destroyed it can only change its shape; it was Hazrat Ali who gave this concept. If you read Khutba 81 of Hazrat Ali, in Nahjul Balagah you will see the concept of Bio Cell was given by him but we attribute this concept to other scientists who were born after1600AD. Lippershey and Galileo in 16th century were not successful if IMAM Jafar Sadiq had not give concept of ray of Light in 7th century. Read Quran and work of again Imam Jaffar who gave concept of Origin of Universe but unfortunately we study BigBen instead of Imam Jaffar. He gave concept that earth is moving around its axis and around sun. It was Imam Jaffar, who told everything in universe whether animate or inanimate are in motion. Read work of Imam Baqr who gave concept of Hydrogen. If you read the Book Shadow written by Alberuni you can easily study law of motion. If you study the work done from the period of Holy Prophet PBUH to 1400 century you will be amazed and realize that the base of modern science exists in those days. Even today's modern science has not reached and explored that science which we used to see in that period. I am writing a book on this topic and hope this will be a great success to stand our youth up and to strive for Muslims educational success and achievements. I personally feel when students realize that there Muslims were not only fighters they were scientists. I have strong conviction that they will not only study but they will turn the table.

If we want to see Pakistan of Quaid and Iqbal then we have to compete with world. We did this in the past when European used to come to Spain for studying science and technology. We have to again pull up our socks and lead the world.

PAGE: ONE CAN SEE REPORTS ABOUT RATING OF PAKISTANI BUSINESS SCHOOLS. HOW STRINGENT IS THE RATING CRITERIA?

ABBAS ABIDI: It is a na´ve concept today; but it will get matured within a period of time. I personally feel some improvements are needed. There is some confusion which needs clarification. The criteria for new and established institute are almost same. Students and parents have little knowledge. We need seminars and education programs on this topic. Through television channels we can conduct debates and awareness programs. In Pakistan we make policy and implement it without asking opinion of the people who will be directly affected by the policies. We have to change our political dominating style. We need to educate people and even the teachers so the processes of imparting proper education are possible.

PAGE: WITH THE INCREASING NUMBER OF PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES THE NEED FOR AN AUTONOMOUS ACCREDITATION AUTHORITY HAS BEEN FELT. WHAT PROGRESS HAS BEEN ACHIEVED ON THIS FRONT?

ABBAS ABIDI: Here in Pakistan this concept is new locally but we see Cambridge system, CBE and many more in schooling level. Pakistani students mostly know about Canadian, American, Australian and particularly UK system. In Pakistan there are some bodies but we need a body of professional and independent people and they should be free from any kind of influence. Believe me primary and secondary education is back bone of a society. We need independent bodies where educated and professional people should be recruited who will perform such functions.

In the higher studies level HEC is performing its job well but it should not be affected with any political change. It should remain an autonomous body. Higher education accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of post-secondary educational institutions or programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. If standards are met, accredited status is granted by the agency.

In most of the countries around the world, the function of educational accreditation for higher education is done by a government organization, such as a ministry of education. In the United States, however, the quality assurance process is independent of government and performed by private membership associations. The United States based Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-governmental organization, maintains an International Directory which "contains contact information about 467 quality assurance bodies, accreditation bodies and Ministries of Education in 175 countries. The quality assurance and accreditation bodies have been authorized to operate by their respective governments either as agencies of the government or as private (non-governmental) organizations.

The Association of Accrediting Agencies of Canada is a national organization of professional associations involved in accreditation of programs as a form of educational quality assurance. In France the main accreditation authority is the Ministry of National Education. The Council for Higher Education is, by a 1958 law, the only institution qualified to accredit universities and colleges in Israel. The council acts as a reviewer of the activity of the academic centers in Israel and sets terms and requirements for every degree given.

The main accreditation body for higher education is Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. It regulates and formulates laws governing all the degree awarding universities in Pakistan. The Higher Education Commission (HEC), formerly the University Grant Commission, is the primary regulator of higher education in Pakistan. It also facilitates the development of higher educational system in Pakistan. Its main purpose is to upgrade the Universities of Pakistan to be centers of education, research and development. Two universities of Pakistan are now ranked among the top Technology Universities of the World as per QS World Universities Rankings 2011. Pakistan needs to have at least five universities in the top 300 Technology Universities of the World by 2015.

PAGE: HOW FAR EDUCATION INSTITUTES HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN REVAMPING THE CURRICULUM TO MEET THE FUTURE NEEDS OF THE COUNTRY?

ABBAS ABIDI: As far as higher education is concerned we see our youth is not focusing on science and technology. If you see the area of social science is almost neglected. Our students do not know about our history. Even they are not familiar with the work of our Quaid, they do not know that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah provided all possible diplomatic and material assistance to the liberation movement in Indonesia, Malaya, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and Algeria and what Jinnah also did for Palestine. Jiannah sahib had no fear of others, who believed in the predictions of Molana Abul Kalam. We have forgotten what David

Ben-Gurion said to his nation when Israel got independence. David said Pakistan is the real enemy of Jews and Jews have to devastate Pakistan.

The World Bank reports that the average Pakistani boys receives just five years of education, and the average girl only two and a half years. US Agency for International Aid (USAID) reports indicate that just two-thirds of all children of 5-9 age are enrolled in schools, and that only one-third complete fifth grade. Overall adult literacy (the percent of the population over age 15 that can read) hovers around 40-50%, and varies widely by gender and region. Rates for males in Punjab reach 81%, while rates for females in some areas of Balochistan reach only 1%. Official UN statistics put the gender disparity in literacy at an average of 2:1. The number of illiterate people in Pakistan has doubled over the past 50 years, now comprising a full 25% of the Pakistani workforce. The UN Development Program, which conducts research on all quality of life indicators in countries throughout the world, has found that Pakistan has the lowest combined education index of any country outside Africa. Oxfam has estimated that Pakistan will soon be home to 40% of all South Asian children not attending school.

Pakistan has only 100,000 students in higher education, while Iran and Turkey, with less than half of Pakistan's total population, have 700,000 and 1.6 million, respectively. Even Bangladesh, with roughly the same population as Pakistan, has 878,388 students in higher education. Most strikingly, Pakistan's rival India, with whom it shares colonial roots, has 9.4 million students in institutions of higher learning - over 90 times more students than Pakistan even though its population is only 7 times that of Pakistan. The quality of Pakistan's institutions of higher learning is also considered highly inferior to its global counterparts, with unprepared students and teachers, and documented false credentialing. Some Pakistani students manage to study abroad, but of this small number of students, most hail from elite families and not all are able to succeed, given often inferior secondary school experiences. Many madrassa schools are full- service operations, providing housing, meals, and community when it is often not otherwise available to large portions of the population. More people join madrassa as they cannot afford to get modern education.