CHICAGO, US: I am a master’s student in the history department at the University of Chicago. My plans for pursuing higher education have been seriously affected by the government’s decision to devolve the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and to suspend all new scholarships.
I was awarded a scholarship by HEC in July 2010, for pursuing Masters and PHD degrees in History. Due to the devastating floods, the government decided to suspend the scholarships to face this unprecedented disaster. We were told that the funding will resume at a future date when the organisation has more funds available.
I started my master’s by acquiring loans and by taking up a job at the university. A few weeks ago, I received the good news that the HEC had acquired the necessary to resume our scholarships from April. I officially accepted the offer and completed the paperwork, only to find out that new hurdles had been placed in our way. I recently received an email from the HEC stating that all scholarships had been put on hold. The reason was the government’s decision to devolve the organisation and the concurrent annulling of contracts between the HEC and its international donors.
This decision has come as a shock for me. Not only are my plans for pursuing a PhD in jeopardy, but I am also unsure about completing my Masters since the HEC had guaranteed me that they will pay for my last quarter at the University.
I am not sure what the actual motive is, but I am certain that this move will have severe repercussions for higher education in the country. For the past six decades, Pakistan has been unable to produce quality scholars, or facilitate the production of scholarly knowledge in our academia. Over the past few years, however, there had been a major shift as many young scholars received an opportunity through the HEC to pursue higher education abroad. This created a historic opportunity for the establishment of a vibrant academic community in the country as dozens of scholars began returning to Pakistan to teach at public universities. Unfortunately, this ill-informed step by the government will prevent the realisation of this potential.
When we signed our contracts with the HEC, we were asked to guarantee that we will return to the country once we complete our education. We were ready to keep our part of the commitment; why cannot the government keep its part?
University of Chicago
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2011.