Higher Education Vision 2025

Published: November 3, 2016

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Reports in a section of the press inform that a Higher Education Vision 2025 is about to be announced. The main Vision 2025 document launched earlier contained a set of targets and the purpose of the latest exercise seems to be to flesh out the barebones. Setting physical and financial targets is the easy part. To avoid routine incrementalism, serious attention has to be paid to the analytic bone-structure.

Take the case of the mushroom growth of universities. These now number 180. Those announced or under construction are in addition. Very few, if any, were established as part of a strategic plan or in pursuit of a directional change. None can boast of a decent feasibility study. In the public sector, what happens is that an announcement is made on ‘great public demand’, a PC-I is prepared hastily and token money allocated in the development budget. In the absence of a PC-II relating to feasibility, the construction moves in fits and starts, depending on the political weight of the players. Anything goes here — single subject universities that eventually try to expand into unintended directions, upgrading of colleges and mindless conversion of hospitals and workshops into universities. Some, set up with the laudable objective of accommodating un-served regions, have turned to establishing sub-campuses in the well-served cities. Barring some well-known names, the growth of private sector universities is linked to the declining profitability of the alternative investments. In the garb of creating more choices in higher education, many in fact are tax havens of an unreachable variety. Full page ads of universities in major newspapers outnumber other businesses by a wide margin.

A university is nothing but its faculty. However, brick and mortar precedes the building of faculty. Salary structure and incentives for teachers have improved more than the quality of teaching and research. Quality enhancement cells are, literally, a matter of forms than substance. Academic-industrial linkages have not taken off. The few universities with good faculty do not offer postgraduate programmes as the faculty finds it more lucrative to engage in donor funded research directly or in partnership with government. Obviously, the donors set the research agenda. Others with rag-tag faculty offer all kinds of postgraduate programmes. This generates profits for the universities concerned and fake journals and, more ominously, a spurious knowledge force that in time don faculty and other positions in society. To maximise profits, private universities avoid recruiting high-paid quality faculty. Three locally produced junior faculty for the price of one quality teacher, is their guiding principle. In public sector, positions are advertised with applicants required to submit kilos of hard copies of documents along with a significant amount of fee. However, a random look at any of these universities will reveal a long list of unfilled senior positions. The outcome of such practices was there for all to see in the damning report of the Federal Public Service Commission on the quality of candidates appearing for the CSS examination. A new class of semi-public universities, controlled by the retirees of the services, treats the faculty as second class citizens, unless it is one of their own. The last-mentioned is produced by registering for higher degrees in the same universities, secured by exploiting the marginalised faculty.

The main Vision 2025 document rightly talked of increasing “investment significantly in human resources (software) at the higher education level.” In the past three years, this is reflected neither in allocations, nor in outcomes. For example, the current agricultural crisis bears testimony to the failure to develop the software in agricultural universities. The proposed strategic plan should prioritise software over the target of establishing a university in each district. The objective is quality teaching and research, not higher education for all. Universalisation is better left to primary education and health.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Dr Mubeen Malik
    Nov 4, 2016 - 9:24AM

    Pakistan is far behind in Education, leave the issue of Higher Education. Short time is needed to build the schools, colleges & universities. But it is a dream for me to see the people of Pakistan doing Research Work in Pakistan. Only thing required is to be honest for the rulers & this cannot happen in near future. ( Sorry ). It would come true when the Rulers are chosen from Middle Class as they only know the sufferings of a common man. I think the era of Musharraf-Dr Ata ur Rehman was the best when they constituted the HEC & Pakistan was on a verge of flight in this field. Sincerity, devotion & commitment can bring flowers of education to this barren land.Recommend

  • Shaukat Brah, PhD
    Nov 4, 2016 - 12:56PM

    I had the privilege of teaching and working in the universities of four countries. In addition, I had the opportunity of travelling and studying many other countries. There is one common thing I observed in all countries I had the fortune of observing: the political system of the country effect the social system, corporate sector and eventually institutions of higher learning.

    Here, I find Pakistan is no exception. If you wish to change the educational system or its output thereof, you need to change the political system of the country. That is, for high quality output, the merit and rewards based upon output must prevail. Higher education in general and business education in particular is a global product and the need is to follow the global best practices.

    The localization of the curriculum is a fallacy created by mediocre minds trying to justify their importance. This is not to imply your curriculum should not highlight your culture and values. Of course, American, British, Arab, Singaporeans and others teach their culture and values using the global curriculum. In my mind, Pakistan needs to follow this route too. The establishment of the directions is for the leaders and not the followers and there is no shame in being a good follower as long as it serves your national needs.Recommend

  • Fawad
    Nov 4, 2016 - 3:38PM

    Pakistan is a very fertile land. One just need to sow the right crop and take care of it to reap favorable results. Consistency is another key to long term results. In my opinion things are moving towards the bright side, though need to pace up a bit. Nothing is perfect nor absolute. Higher Education Sector is learning and the progress will Insha-Allah, become evident soon. Recommend

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