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HEC: points and counterpoints

The provinces are responsible for higher education after the 18th Amendment: Not true. The 18th Amendment strengthens the role of the HEC as a federal entity by including standards of higher education in the 4th Schedule, Article 70(4) Part 2, along with science and technology institutions, all regulatory bodies, and legal, medical and other professions; Part 1 includes all professional institutes, Pakistani students in foreign countries, and vice versa.

The provinces are represented in the HEC board through their representatives. Also, policymaking at the HEC involves VCs from all provinces. The administrative control of provincial universities always lay with the provinces.

Too much money has gone into higher education: Not true. Pakistan’s allocation to education is among the lowest in the world, which is less than two percent of the GDP. Only six countries in the world spend less than Pakistan on education as percentage of GDP. Out of this amount, less than 10 percent is spent on higher education, which is among the lowest in the developing countries.

Universities are facing a financial crisis: True. Public education the world over is subsidised by the government. In Pakistan, the government provides an average subsidy of about 55 percent while 45 percent are raised by the universities themselves through tuition and other means. When public funds are not released as per allocation, or are delayed, as is usually the case, it becomes impossible for the university to continue functioning. Also, there has been no increase in development funding in the last five years, which effectively is a 50 percent cut after accounting for inflation!

There is too much focus on producing PhDs: True. Universities, unlike colleges and schools, are required to produce new knowledge and integrate it into the curriculum. They also have post-graduate programmes (MPhil/MS and PhD), which require PhD faculty. Despite 1,500 PhD faculties added to universities in the last two years, the percentage of faculty with PhD degrees has only increased from 20 percent to 25 percent. With the projected growth in accessibility as per the education policy, another 16,000 PhD faculties will be required by 2020. Then there is the additional need of PhD researchers in other S & T organisations.

Pakistani universities have the capacity to produce about 1,000 PhDs a year. So we will need to continue sending around 600 scholars per year on foreign scholarships to raise the percentage of PhD faculties to 40 percent so we reach critical graduation rates. Also, starting 2014, all lecturer appointments will require MPhil/MS degrees, and from 2016, all assistant professors and above will require a PhD degree. All of this creates a huge demand on producing and recruiting PhDs.

Most scholars who complete their PhDs on scholarship do not return to Pakistan: Not true. Over 1,300 scholars have completed their PhD to-date on foreign scholarships and all been placed under an HEC programme, which includes a tenure track appointment and funding for research. There have been only 12 defaults and a procedure is in place to recover the amount.

There is too much focus on research publications: True. Knowledge creation and research is a key function of universities, through which universities are recognised globally. In 2002, Pakistan ranked among the lowest in the world for research publication, with only 800 publications. Today, with a renewed focus on research, Pakistan has the second-largest growth in research publications worldwide, with an eightfold increase in publications, to 6,400 journal papers. This has led to international recognition for many of our faculty and universities.

Research done at the universities is not relevant to national needs: Not true. The HEC encourages and provides funding for research that is relevant to local needs. As we have reached a critical mass in research, we have now initiated and are strongly supporting technology transfer programmes. Technology Incubators in six universities, with six more in the pipeline, and 22 Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, with eight more in the pipeline, have been established in the last two years.

We have also been working on joint research programmes with foreign universities, and more recently, have had a number of business cup competitions and technology-transfer conferences. Three Centres of Advanced Study and Research in priority areas of national development, energy, water and food security, are under development. All of this will bear visible fruit in the next few years.

Quality has been compromised at the cost of quantity: Not true. The Quality Assurance Division is among the most dynamic at the HEC, which is working closely with QAA (UK) and is a member of APQN. Eighty-four Quality Enhancement Cells have been established in the last four years, which are ensuring quality processes as well as monitoring quality. Institutional performance evaluations, which were developed last year, are in process across 20 universities using eight standards, which will be extended to all universities in two years. This will allow universities to identify their strengths and weaknesses and build upon them.

The Directorates of Distance Education, in order to bring quality to private students and bring them into a formal institutionalised net, have been established at six of Pakistan’s largest universities last year. Rankings of universities were done for the first time last year, and these will allow universities to focus on key global quality parameters and compete globally. Most of quality programmes are only beginning to bear fruit now.

No action is taken against plagiarists: Not true. The HEC has a zero tolerance policy against plagiarism. Every complaint received, as long as it is not anonymous and evidence is provided, is followed through. To-date there have been 143 complaints, out of which 41 have been declared as plagiarism, 79 as not proven, 20 are under investigation, and three are under litigation.

No Pakistani university ranks worldwide among leading universities: Not true. While it is true that four years ago, none of the Pakistani universities were ranked globally among the top, today six Pakistani universities are among the top 300 Asian universities, while two are among the top 300 technology universities of the world. This is only a start, and we are optimistic that by 2015, at least ten Pakistani universities will rank among top Asian universities, with at least five in the top technology universities of the world.

The writer is chairperson of the HEC. Email: jlaghari@hec.gov.pk

Dr. Javaid Laghari, "HEC: points and counterpoints," The News. 2013-03-14.