Why scientists love the HEC
In Pakistan, scientific study has already received multiple blows. Devolution of the HEC will spell further ruin.
Science is a process that requires consistency. It takes years to gain momentum before researchers can reap the fruit of the labour - continuity is vital for progress. But in Pakistan, scientific study has already received multiple blows. Mistakes like the devolution of various bodies that support scientific education including the University Grants Commission are being repeated.
Devolution hurts the economy
Investors and global business leaders look at the total budget spent on research and development before investing into an economy. Low budgets mean they move onto more favourable countries.
Apart from the security issues that Pakistan is facing, the reduction of the higher education budget and devolution of a well-established central system to streamline the higher education sector could be catastrophic.
At a time when the US and Europe are looking towards emerging markets like India, China and Indonesia, we should be strengthening our higher educational institutions. Over the next five years, research and development carried in these academic institutions can be translated into economic progress, better job prospects for the masses and a higher standard of living.
As former Science Minister of UK, Lord Waldegrave said:
"If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly 20 years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects."
Higher education is worth it
China and Germany are two countries who have invested heavily in research and development. Today, they are among the world’s most affluent nations with all the economic indicators in the right directions.
During the economic crisis in Korea and Finland, they invested heavily in research and development despite protracted budgets and rewards were immense.
Pakistan is producing scientists, engineers, agrarians, and mathematicians who should be able to compete with these.
The total expenditure on research and development in India in 2007-2008 amounted to billions of rupees. About half of this was spent on the higher education sector as a result of which they had a growth rate of nine per cent and projections of being one of the leading economies in the world by year 2020.
If we look at the patterns of expenditure of various affluent nations in response to the global fiscal crisis of 2008, the two areas on which every nation spent heavily on were infrastructure and research and development. These are the areas which lead to the greatest economic return on a long term basis. Unfortunately, in our country the infrastructure was destroyed by floods, and the backbone of research and development is being ruined by again.
What the devolution of the HEC means
We need a centralised higher education monitoring body rather than small centers at the provincial level. One argument given in favour of devolution is that the federal government faces scarcity of economic resources and that’s why the provinces should take on their own role of educating their youth.
Since the inception of the country, we have seen that Punjab and Sindh have progressed somewhat better than KP, Balochistan and Kashmir.
So there was a feeling among smaller provinces that they are being neglected in various educational endeavours at the national level. But after the arrival of the HEC on the national scenario, we have seen marginalised areas like FATA, interior Sindh and Balochistan coming into the mainstream on an educational level.
The strongest indicator of this is the establishment of universities in interior Sindh and Balochistan and the scholarships for the students of FATA. The second obvious drawback of devolution is that there would not be a system where the standards of higher education can be uniform. There should be a central body with clear cut standards (as have already been developed by HEC in a rigorous process of 10 years) against which one can judge the progress of various degree-awarding institutes.
Bottom line: the HEC has done a phenomenal job in attracting attention towards scientific studies. The devolution of the body will hurt students, universities and the country.