Rectifying Higher Education Fiasco

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By: Ahmed Umer Sohaib

The situation of higher education in Pakistan is in shambles, if not deteriorated. One of the possible reasons of the confoundedness that higher education faces today is that 18th Amendment couldn’t translate the idea of devolution of power into reality. It was until October 2018 in 35th meeting of CCI when power and function sharing mechanism between HEC and provincial commissions of Higher Education were undecided. It shows that for seven long years, higher education was in limbo.

Two weeks ago, a prestigious fellowship program by PILDAT was concluded in Islamabad for young and aspiring politicians who devised rational policies and recommendations for their respective political parties. Through this fellowship, I received a chance to meet few ministers, VCs, policy experts and post-grad students and found out that reforms in higher education is a thorny issue. Apparently, the dwindling condition of higher education will aggravate in near future as no consolidated policy is being ceded to universities by provincial HECs.
PTI talked volumes about education and its practical implementation in its manifesto 2018. Primary and secondary education was improved to a greater extent in KPK in PTI’s tenure from 2013-18, however higher education couldn’t receive the attention it deserved. Appointments of VCs on merit, de-politicization from political interferences, and enhancing research methodologies are the areas still in need of purposeful policy. This debate is perennial.

According to QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings (HESS), Pakistan was ranked at number 50 in innovative research while India was ranked at number 24 in the year 2017. The quality of research is compromised in Pakistan because of few reasons. One, doing MPhil and PhD is considered a “part time job” in Pakistan. The reason is that bearing expenses of private university in MPhil and PhD program is extremely difficult whereas not as many scholarships are available in public sector universities. So, aspirants in Pakistan secure their job first and then commence MPhil or PhD as they receive no financial support during research work.

Secondly, in Pakistan one whole year is consumed in course work, then project is suggested, managed, defended, approved and after that research work is started. It more often increases the time span of MPhil and PhD in Pakistan. Countries like Korea and Malaysia have excluded the course work (comprised of one year and has no great worth), approve projects, and directly start research that buy them ample time to do quality research.
Third, there has been a mushroom growth of businesses operating around the country where MPhil and PhD thesis are produced by just re-phrasing the copied or old thesis. They charge certain amount and produce ready-made thesis. Such thesis are then defended and jobs are obtained. There are many university teachers who have gotten ready-made thesis and currently have permanent jobs. Such teachers can’t help researchers in their research work. It mitigates the quality of research.

Fourth, industrial disconnection with universities is one of the important factors that quality research is in choppy water in Pakistan. The innovative product that is generated in MPhil and PhD remains on thesis papers as no industry is supportive to patent the idea and bring it to market. Also, there is job saturation in the market as graduates are produced not according to the need of industry but to meet the set goal of literacy rate and availability of programs and disciplines in universities.
So, without supporting and empowering industries and expecting innovation, employment and economic stability is like living in a fool’s man paradise. The concept of knowledge economy in Pakistan is directly dependent on university-industry liaison. In my policy brief at Young Fellowship Program, I recommended to the incumbent government about making tangible changes in HEC policy.

Industries and companies should develop a liaison group with universities and involve faculty and research scholar on new projects according to the industry or market need. Government should devise a policy of tax ease or compensation for those industries and companies that support universities in research projects. South Korea tops world in bringing innovation to market while Germany and Finland positions second and third, respectively. These countries have robust university-industry liaisons.
Public-Private universities partnership be made. MoUs between local private-public universities be made in order to take benefits from the research centers. On university level, universities be instructed to devise strict mechanism for plagiarism check i-e; supervisors are obliged to evaluate thesis quarterly. Teachers with plagiarized research work should be terminated and trialed so that this practice be discouraged. Universities ranking should be improved. It is to be linked with the proper utilization of resources, program offerings, research publications, university capacity building and retention, innovation to the market, and university-industry liaising.

It is a moment of reckoning for incumbent government since higher education is very close to the heart of PM Imran Khan. But will PTI government devise long term policies to set the direction of economy towards stability by putting extra-ordinary attention in the field of higher education?

The writer is a lecturer and an academic researcher at Superior University Lahore. He is also a youth correspondent to Common Wealth in Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]