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Motivating, rather than discouraging Higher Education in Pakistan

Higher Education sector is one of the major victims of electronic and print media these days in Pakistan where every other day, an intellectual is coming up with rhetorical questions on its growth and development. Without knowing the ground reality, which is that actually it is just a 14 year- old baby since the inception of Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, which is striving hard to develop a sustainable educational growth of the mother land Pakistan.

It was very sad to read Mr. Pirzada’s narrative in a local newspaper, dated June 23, 2015 which is a vivid example of spreading negativity and an atmosphere of mistrust among the people of Pakistan who, vest strong faith in the prestigious universities of Pakistan and the honorable scientific community of the country.

Huma Yusuf, in her narrative in the DAWN on August 6, 2012, stated that Pakistani universities are ““under­ resourced” “poorly staffed”, “highly politicized” and “incapable of producing original research” which is a very alarming opinion. Despite the fact that compared to the only 816 research publications in international journals in 2002 by Pakistani universities/HEIs before the establishment of Higher Education Commission (HEC), there were 7966 impact factor research publications, made by Pakistani universities/HEIs, in the year 2014.

In this race of self-accentuation, well-known Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy also did not spare the higher education sector and lashed out at it in his narrative in another local newspaper on January 4, 2013, citing Quaid Azam University (QAU) Islamabad and Punjab University (PU) Lahore as examples of the academic corruption in research and PhD thesis evaluation. He further opined that “Pakistani University teachers had roughly the same moral and ethical standards possessed by our policemen, politicians, generals and shopkeepers”. He further added that academic researches being conducted in Pakistani universities is “kill count” based on “wholesale plagiarism” which has pushed academic ethics into a “free fall”. QAU and PU are two of the most historic, prestigious and trusted universities of Pakistan. They have contributed towards the educational uplifting and development of this country beyond measure. It would have been great if honorable Professor Hoodbhoy would also have highlighted the international achievements of these universities specially and of the higher education sectors of Pakistan, like the prestigious TWAS award from Italy and highest civil awards conferred by the government of Austria on the basis of quality and relevance of research of Pakistani academics to the socio-economic development of Pakistan.

One of our colleagues Shehnila Zardari wrote a comprehensive blog in DAWN on Nov 2, 2014 in which she has titled research in Pakistani universities as “sloppy state where universities pay no attention to communicating and disseminating the research of their teachers due to indolence, poor networking and relations, jealousy and an entrenched culture that has accepted mediocrity as its hallmark.”

Although the list goes on but I would stop here quoting the news report of Mr. Abbasi in other local newspapers on June 25, 2015 hitting out at one of the most vibrant higher education institution of Pakistan i.e., COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT), stating mismanagement in its financial matters, hiring of retired bureaucrats, stoppage of funds by the government of Pakistan and the excessive foreign tours of the officials and the students. This seems to be highly exaggerated if one looks at the substantial development and progress of CIIT in last one decade, featuring itself in one of the most leading universities of Pakistan, in impact factor research publications and general categories as announced and acknowledged by HEC of Pakistan. CIIT is a Centre of Excellence of the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS), which is an inter-governmental organization with 21 member states in three continents; Asia, Africa and Latin America. It has 7 other fully functional campuses in various parts of the country including one virtual campus. CIIT currently comprises of six faculties, 18 departments and ten research centers. Presently 97 degree programs are on offer in which more than 37,500 students are enrolled in degree programs at Bachelor, Master and Doctorate level in the broader areas of Information Sciences & Technology, Business Administration, Natural and Biological Sciences, Engineering as well as Architecture and Design. There are 2,950 faculty members working in CIIT out of which 1,003 faculty members and academic managers have PhD qualification, which is more than that of any other university in Pakistan. 538 faculty and staff members are undergoing advanced education leading to MS and PhD degrees from well reputed universities of technologically advanced countries in Asia, USA and Europe. This vibrant institute has produced 119 PhD graduates so far within 16 year of its inception.

Coming to the point, let me emphasis to my fellow colleagues that we must criticize the loopholes and the drawbacks in our education system but our criticism must be constructive and guidance based, proposing a strategic way out to the educational leaders and the administrators so that they can amend their strategies to achieve the goals. There is method to madness and it is a universal law as well that “One should not reject if one cannot correct.” Highlighting and promoting all down points while ignoring many success stories of the same universities is unfair and partial. We may realize it or not but fact cannot be ignored that promoting negative cases such as sexual harassment on a worthy Dean of PU or the similar cases about QAU and Agricultural University Faisalabad or the case of CIIT shall bring a serious damage to the prestige of these internationally recognized universities of Pakistan which our country cannot afford to compensate nationally, regionally as well as internationally.

Being Pakistanis, psychologically we feel happy to be sad and disappointed like a masochist. Great things are happening around us every other moment but those are not our headlines. QAU has recently been ranked 496th among the 500 Best Global Universities for 2015, according to US News and World Report. Ex-chairman HEC, Dr. Laghari had a very encouraging stance in his narrative that since 2004 onwards, world share of Pakistan’s research has gone up by 300 percent. As per reports of Scimago which is an independent research organization and an international evaluation and ranking platform which analyses scientific outputs of institutions and countries and monitors over 30,000 journals.  China, as expected, becomes the number one country in the world by 2018 in terms of research output whereas three countries stand out and show the most drastic increase in numbers and rankings: Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan. Iran moves ahead from number 19 to number 4, Malaysia from 30 to 13, and Pakistan from 43 to 27. The expected output of research in Pakistan has moved up 16 notches, which is the second highest increase worldwide, is primarily due to the innovative higher education policies and reforms taking place in Pakistan under the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Resultantly, It is most likely at the rate Pakistanis academicians are publishing, Scimago forecasts that by 2018, the research output of Pakistan will exceed 29, 661 research publications.

I must say in my conclusion that Pakistani academic community is going great in spite of having scarcity of resources. The efforts of our scholars and educational administrators are commendable in this regard which must be appreciated, promoted and showcased to the international community. It feels great when foreigners recognize Pakistan’s achievement. Such as when Professor Michael Rode, Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development, wrote in 2008: “Never before have I seen such rapid positive changes in any country in the higher education sector as witnessed in Pakistan in a short period of six years. Around the world when we discuss the status of higher education in different countries, there is unanimity of opinion that the developing country that has made the most rapid progress internationally in recent years is Pakistan.”

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