Hoodbhoy feels restructuring better than saving old HEC

Published: December 23, 2012
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Physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy points out flaws within the existing structure.

Physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy points out flaws within the existing structure.

KARACHI: 

Instead of saving the existing Higher Education Commission (HEC), it should be restructured, suggested Pervez Hoodbhoy.

The physicist, at The Second Floor on Friday, spoke about the restricted mandate of the HEC, which has already collapsed due to corruption.

He described HEC’s performance in the past 10 years as a drive to achieve numbers rather than quality. There was a huge expansion in universities when colleges were upgraded, which, he believed, was a good thing to a certain extent. But expansion had to keep some kind of quality and that wasn’t there, he pointed out.

Around 12,000 students were sent abroad for PhDs, but they should have been chosen to be “the best of the best” and unfortunately that was not the case, he said.

Hoodbhoy felt that the idea of mega projects – such as, establishing European universities in Pakistan and buying equipment such as the pelletron accelerator – created an absolute mess in the HEC and the remaining things were spoiled by corruption. HEC spent around Rs400 million to import the pelletron machine, which not only became outdated in the 1970s but also had no use in Pakistan, he said, describing the machine as “a good museum piece”.

Pervez Hoodbhoy

Plagiarism also became common once the commission stressing more on quantity rather than quality. “There was a rush to write research papers and some people started producing as many as 50 papers a year,” said Hoodbhoy. “The quality of research papers was far below the international standards – these scholars started becoming teachers and bad teachers started producing bad students.”

Citing examples of bad papers, Hoodbhoy pulled up a research paper published on HEC’s website on ‘chromotherapy’ that described a method through which one can be cured just by looking at different colours. Hoodbhoy showed the same paper to a Nobel laureate physicist, who called the paper “rubbish” and proved how the theory was flawed. But HEC’s former chairperson Javed Laghari simply shrugged and said that, “Nobel Prize winners have their own opinions.”

The idea behind establishing the HEC was that “much good will come once a great amount of money is spent, but that was not the case”.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Jibran
    Dec 23, 2012 - 11:26AM

    a research paper published on HEC’s website on ‘chromotherapy’ that described a method through which one can be cured just by looking at different colours.

    What a joke! The paper seem to be at par with “the water kit”, or “exploiting the energy of djins for producing electricity”.

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  • Assam Zafar
    Dec 23, 2012 - 12:00PM

    Most positive criticism(coupled with solutions) from Mr.Hoodbhoy in the recent times.

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  • Abdul Ahad Khan
    Dec 23, 2012 - 1:08PM

    I agree with Mr Hoodbhoy. I’m personally witness to the fact that most professors are interested in publishing research papers merely to increase the number of their publications. A rising trend these days is the use of students to write the papers for them (free of cost) and then have them published, with the professor as the second author. The total amount of time they spend on a single paper is less than 10 minutes in some cases!

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  • JL
    Dec 23, 2012 - 1:30PM

    The current HEC has turned into a monstrosity, a blind white elephant trampling on higher education, doing great harm to the quality of higher education. The recent exposure of the despicable display of chicanery by the HEC leadership warrants that they resign if they have any common sense or an iota of shame.

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  • Osama Hasan
    Dec 23, 2012 - 1:42PM

    Javed Laghari is still the Chairperson. isn’t he?

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  • zubair
    Dec 23, 2012 - 3:51PM

    There is no reality in claims made by Hoodbhoy in saying:
    “There was a rush to write research papers and some people started producing as many as 50 papers a year,” and . “The quality of research papers was far below the international standards – these scholars started becoming teachers and bad teachers started producing bad students.”

    In fact, HEC has developed a criteria to make sure that each publication is a quality work. According to HEC only the publication with impact factor (an international reputation factor of a scientific journal by Thomson Reuters) is accepted as a scientific contribution. HEC cannot review every specific publication instead they only rely on the international standards. And the whole world follows the same standard to access the quality of work. So whats wrong in it?
    I think PH is either not aware of the facts or an extreme idealist. He thinks that only he can be the scientific researcher and best manger of Higher Education and all other people are less capable than him.

    2.Also he says that Around 12,000 students were sent abroad for PhDs, but they should have been chosen to be “the best of the best” and unfortunately that was not the case.

    It seems that PH wants to have only a few hundred PhDs (like him) to teach in universities and does not want more researchers and highly qualified teachers in Pakistan. He claims that the selection of students sent abroad is not “the best of the best”, however, he forgets to mention any example in this context where any scholarship has been granted without merit or the scholar was not-suitable for the program he was selected for. This allegation has not been supported with any example.

    3.PH talked about plagiarism; he should be aware of the fact that HEC has been maintaining a very strict plagiarism policy since its start and there is nothing to be blamed in this context.

    4.The only example of bad paper PH cited is an old conflict between PH and current VC of Quaid-e-Azam university as he was the advisor for that thesis. HEC claims that the two foreign reviewers of that PhD thesis on chemotherapy has positive comments on it. Now, if somebody points out some flaw in the theory, it should be reported scientific community but HEC has no right to withdraw an already awarded degree.

    Finally, by restructuring the HEC, Pervaiz Hoodbhoy only wants to demoralize the higher education sector as he himself knows how much is the government sincere and committed to the education sector. At this time, talking about restricting HEC is nothing more than a suicide attack on education sector.

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  • Khan
    Dec 23, 2012 - 7:53PM

    @zubair: HEC promotion criteria is just numbers one can have 5 Science/Nature paper but can not become Associate professor which requires 10 papers which can be in Pakistan/Indian/African journal of *. one Good paper is better than 10 rubbish paper.

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  • zubair
    Dec 23, 2012 - 11:36PM

    @Khan: HEC promotion criteria is not only the numbers, it needs all the research publications to be of good international repute. And the international repute of some work is measured by impact factor (IF), so according to HEC criteria all 10 publications should have some impact factor to be considered for promotion.
    Regarding your specific question of 5 Science/Nature papers; I can assure you that in today’s practice of scientific community if some researcher has done such a good research work, he can make this number up to 10 in given six years of tenure before being promoted to Associate Professor. And I think the criteria itself does not deprive of publishing more work, if you have published in Nature. This allegations comes mostly from the old professors who were not required to have a PhD and continuous research profile for promotions and administrative appointments before HEC era. Now, instead of doing more research they started crying about quality.
    And finally, there is no such case appeared in the last ten years that a researcher has 5 publications in Nature and is being deprived of promotion. We cannot measure the criteria on this basis of a hypothesis only.

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  • sattar rind
    Dec 24, 2012 - 2:46AM

    he true person and what he says there must be a logic in it

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  • Khan
    Dec 24, 2012 - 8:48AM

    @zubair:
    Unfortunately you accept it or not, it is just a number game, which promotes low impact factor publications and buddy publications. Promotion criteria should be combination of cumulative impact factor, number of first author publication and citation counts, instead of just plain numbers of publication.
    I don’t like to give pointers but simple search will reveals how most publications from faculty are in very low impact journals and have only self citations.
    I personally have 76.34 cumulative impact factor from 4 first author publications but not eligible for associate professor in Pakistan. Whereas people having less than 5 cumulative impact factor are Full professors due to low impact and buddy publications.

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  • Anwar
    Dec 24, 2012 - 10:39AM

    Zubair, Your arguments do not hold. I am not a beneficiary of HEC nor I am affiliated with academia in Pakistan however when I approached few “researchers” who had published their work to share some information they balked. Actually, one professor from Texila has over 200 papers per year in a journal he co-edits and a number of other professionals also publish in less know journals.
    I am not against HEC but I think it failed to cultivate culture of honest research and academic excellence. Two additional points; those who have been interested in higher education ended up getting one without HEC and have therefore excelled, and secondly, is there a market for the graduates in Pakistan where manufacturing sector is dead and where the research culture never existed?
    The amount of money spent on HEC could have been better spent on basic education – it is the quality of basic education that is the backbone of country in the form of informed citizenry. Besides, a good basic education would have provided better raw material for the HEC… Anyway, a simple engineering principle is at work and that is – a top heavy system is always unstable. HEC is an overweight top heavy system.. I do not see any hope but let us hope…

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  • White Knight
    Dec 24, 2012 - 11:00AM

    Could not agree more with Professor PH. The Quality of Ph.Ds and Publications has certainly degenerated post HEC’s Inception. Pre-2002 the total # of Publications for a top of the drawer scientist seldom approached the one hundred mark; now you will find a proliferation of scientists having in excess of 400 publications. The reason is not hard to find –The JIF–Journal Impact Factor holds the key; you will find most of the current publications carrying an IF far less than the digit 1 so the more rubbish you produce the higher the accumulative IF becomes–. The JIF is the bench mark for receiving awards, projects / promotions. The lucre of Money has indeed ruined the HEC. The estimable Professor PH has himself conceded elsewhere that Albert Einstein never boasted of more than 50 publications nor does Murray Gellman –the only sole NP Winner post WWII. What miracle has HEC wrought that the Pakistani scientists post 2002 have broken all previous records?

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  • A Abid
    Dec 24, 2012 - 3:10PM

    Over the last 20 years PH has constantly spoken against HEC and anything else related to it. One really expected saner behavior rather than this constant diatribe. It also makes one wonder why constantly criticise. HEC, for all its negatives, has emerged as the only body in Pakistan which has wrought an educational revolution. There are genuine achievers who have done honest work. Number game now, yes I agree, but give it time. Until the excitement of PhDs and research papers settles down, serious work will emerge. Punish the culprits for plagiarism for once and for all. Take a stand. Don’t condemn the institute – condemn the gaps and loops holes in the system. Why do we attack personalities? A person like Dr Atta ur Rehman is criticized for obeying Musharraf and revamping the universities under HEC. Reality is, in a short span of time hundreds and thousands of youth today is getting higher education, where once mere BA was the standard. The change is filtering downwards too. Everybody do your bit and stop criticising

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  • X!!
    Dec 24, 2012 - 4:53PM

    i agree its the number game …… bcoz our education system is like that …. we are taught from the begining to get more and more marks at matric and inter levels …… its the same thing at univ. level … every one wants more and more research papers to his name

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  • Dec 26, 2012 - 9:59AM

    I believe it was 10 – 15 papers in a year. I was there too and live tweeted the event. @enspec

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  • zubair
    Dec 27, 2012 - 5:49PM

    @Anwar: Your criticism on HEC’s research culture is based on a single professor’s work or based on a few more stories like this one. I don’t think that one can judge the performance of an institution on the basis of a few “bad researchers” and neglecting the overall efforts of the institution. The same analytic mistake is made by PH in this article.
    Secondly, HEC promotion criteria for professor needs only 18-20 publications in total. If a person publishes 200 journal papers a year as you mentioned (and by the way being an active researcher I am astonished to see this number and its hard to believe; it seems to be a fabricated fact; you may share his research ID for reference) , it has nothing to do with his promotion anymore. As he is not claiming any more benefits so let the scientific community decide about the impact of his research; To have publications in low impact factor journals is not a crime; I cannot decide the quality of one’s research just on the basis of his impact factor only; The only thing I should care about is that the journal should be peer-reviewed and be included in the ISI IF list. And please be informed that any journal included in recognized journals list cannot be treated as “less known journal” as you said.
    Thirdly, about the role of higher education in the country; please consider that we are still short of highly qualified faculty in our universities after having 10 times more enrollment than past; and if you cannot provide highly qualified faculty to the universities, you will not get good engineers/scientists ans so there will be no human resource available for technological developments in Pakistan.
    And finally, its strange to hear that now people are arguing that “as the manufacturing sector is dead so we don’t need higher education”; Is HEC responsible for sinking manufacturing sector or the leaders who also want to sink the higher education sector?

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