The history of educational policies in Pakistan is replete with non-consultative abrupt decisions which disrupted the ongoing policies and put things upside down.
One such example was the nationalization of the private and missionary educational institutions by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972. This sudden and unplanned decision seriously disturbed the fabric of the educational system in Pakistan and some renowned educational institutions fell victim to the policy. Another example of unplanned educational decision was when Ziaul Haq, through a presidential order in 1979, made it compulsory for all schools to use Urdu as the medium of instruction from KG 1. Interestingly, this order was also to be implemented by English medium schools. The schools were asked to refrain from using the term ‘English Medium. This abrupt and dictatorial decision stunned academia. The decision, however, being unrealistic in nature, had to be reversed later.
Yet another example of an unplanned and abrupt decision was the establishment of Daanish schools by Shahbaz Sharif. This initiative was tantamount to adding another layer of inequality to the already stratified educational system of Pakistan.
The most recent example of an unplanned and abrupt decision is the sudden announcement of a New PhD Policy-2021 by the Higher Education Commission. The interesting fact about this announcement was that until the last moment universities had no clue about this policy – the issuance date written on the notification was January 19, 2021 and the universities were supposed to implement the policy from January 1, 2021.
The policy was accompanied by a stern warning from the HEC that violation or failure to comply with the HEC’s policies may lead to a regulatory action. The academia was at a loss to understand how the HEC expects that universities without prior intimation and necessary preparation would implement the policy forthwith. This is a typical example of an autocratic decision where stakeholders are not considered worthy of consultation.
Let us see the major changes proposed in the new PhD policy. The first major change is in the requirement of education years for admission into a PhD programme. In the old policy, 18 years of education was mandatory to apply for a PhD programme. This was in line with most of the universities in the world. In the old PhD policy, students would do their MPhil or MS before applying for a PhD programme. This would give them an opportunity to study research courses and write a research thesis, preparing them to take up a PhD programme.
The new policy, by allowing a BS degree holder with 16 years of education, has made the MS and MPhil programme redundant. Keeping in view the ground realities of education in Pakistan, a simple BS degree holder would be hardly prepared to cope with the challenges and rigorous journey of a PhD programme. A related concern is that BS degree holders from colleges of less privileged areas will have serious issues in terms of readiness for PhD programmes.
Another repercussion of the new PhD policy is that BS degree holders will have serious problems in seeking admission in a PhD programme in foreign universities where 18 years of education is the essential requirement to get admission into a PhD programme.
The BS degree holders who are admitted in a PhD programme will have to do 48 credit hours of coursework. The number of these credit hours may go up in case of a candidate coming from a different discipline. In a PhD programme, such prolonged course work is not a common practice. In the old PhD policy, the whole focus was on research and the course work was confined to only 18 credit hours. Thus, a PhD programme, according to the new policy is likely to turn into a teaching instead of a research programme.
The duration of a PhD programme proposed in the new PhD policy is three to eight years. It is difficult to understand how the scholars can finish a PhD degree in three years when they are supposed to study courses worth 48 credit hours, conduct research, and write a research thesis.
Another change proposed in the new PhD policy is that now there will not be any compulsion for having the same discipline of concentration in BS to apply for a PhD programme in a certain discipline. On the one hand, this will increase the number of applicants for PhD programmes, and on the other will tend to affect the quality of PhD programmes in a negative way.
Another important change is about thesis evaluation. Contrary to the previous policy which required two positive evaluation reports from experts of technically advanced foreign countries, in the new PhD Policy it will no longer be mandatory to send the thesis abroad for evaluation by the experts. According to the new education policy, a thesis may be evaluated by two Pakistan-based experts and if the scholar manages to publish his/her research paper in an X category journal, the thesis can be evaluated by only one expert who could be from Pakistan. This change in thesis evaluation policy is likely to reduce the quality checks for PhD theses.
Ironically, the proposed changes in the new PhD policy, instead of ensuring qualitative improvement, tend to further dilute the quality of PhD programmes. It seems that we have not learnt any lesson from history that unplanned and abrupt educational decisions are always counter-productive.