Private versus public education

Published: September 30, 2010
Email
The writer is a former chief economist of the Planning Commission and based in Lahore 
pervez.tahir@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a former chief economist of the Planning Commission and based in Lahore pervez.tahir@tribune.com.pk

My last article stirred Old Ravians on the issue of college universities. Calling from all over the country, they kept my phone busy to share or discount my worry about the future of GCU, Lahore. All I can say is, that being an Old Ravian myself, I continue to be worried. Many asked: what about the old private colleges which have become universities? I had a short stint at the Forman Christian College University (FCCU), Lahore last year. Here is what I experienced.

The rector of the FCCU asked me to join as professor and head of the economics department, saying he could do with some good professionals. I only wanted to teach and was reluctant to become head, but the committee I met with subsequently impressed upon me that the department required leadership and reform, for which headship was essential. So there I was, with a brief to reform. The first thing that struck me was that despite boasting four PhDs, there was no PhD programme (the GCU economics department has two PhDs and runs a PhD programme under a non-PhD assistant professor in clear violation of HEC requirements). I thought this was good for the baccalaureate degree, now a much more intensive four-year programme. An MPhil in applied economics had been announced, and a group of students already admitted and the courses decided.

With these “givens”, the only way to add value was to ensure better course content and its effective delivery. With the number of PhDs on the faculty going up to six, it was possible to ensure that only PhDs taught at the MPhil level. I was, however, horrified when I looked at the course contents prepared by the faculty. There was nothing applied about the content of these courses. The trouble with teaching economics in Pakistan is that it does not do justice to the country’s economy. I thought the MPhil in applied economics should have the economy of Pakistan as its main focus. For example, the course on macroeconomics should apply its tools to make students understand how Pakistan’s macroeconomy works or fails to work. Similarly, the course on microeconomics should teach a thing or two about the sugar and cement cartels, energy pricing and regulatory authorities. What had been done was to add 2-3 advanced topics to the stock-in-trade theoretical courses the faculty had been used to teaching at junior levels. In the same tradition, the economy of Pakistan was relegated to one stand-alone course called ‘Issues in Pakistan’s economy’.

My attempts at reorienting and restructuring these courses led to resistance from the faculty in all sorts of ways. The attempt to delegate departmental responsibilities was misinterpreted as shirking my own responsibility. Teachers asked to prepare an applied course in their own area of PhD research were reluctant to do so. Students, admitted by the faculty in proportion to informally applied personal quotas, were encouraged to lodge frivolous complaints to the management. The dean, a self-styled management guru asked me pointedly about the nature of my “relationship” with an associate professor. Eventually, the rector called me in his office and said that entire faculty was up in arms against me. No academic issues were raised. This missionary from the US was also worried about my “relationship” with the same associate professor. Instead of feeling embarrassed on being told that the associate professor in question was my wife, he changed gear to pointing out the conflict of interest in supervising my own wife. Remember I had not wanted to be the head in the first place. I left in sheer disgust. The contract of my wife was not renewed either; a fit case of sexual harassment at workplace in a so-called liberal arts college.

The moral of the story is that higher fees, fat salaries and private management do not necessarily improve the delivery of education.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2010.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (11)

  • faraz
    Oct 1, 2010 - 12:00AM

    Few months ago, there were protests against the requirement of GRE exam for PHD candidates; so much for the high standards.Recommend

  • Oct 1, 2010 - 6:13AM

    I agree with Dr. Pervez Tahir. Education specially higher education is in a state of serious turmoil in Pakistan despite money pumped in. There has to be a academic regulatory capacity in HEC in addition to being arrogant and untouchables. I am also visiting faculty in a couple of Universities and I feel that the subjects taught there have no links with real situation in Pakistan. There is hardly any emphasis on critical reasoning even in theoretical subjects. Students are trained to mug up powerpoint slides and reproduce in exams. The take home assignments and essays are plagiarized and instead of Universities supporting letting students work hard and pass exams in merit, teachers are asked to give inflated grades. This is really depressing. Recommend

  • Topak Khan
    Oct 1, 2010 - 10:03AM

    How ignorant can they be if they did not know your wife is associate professor as well. Recommend

  • Oct 1, 2010 - 11:38AM

    Perfect!
    In the field of medical research even, there are universities (at least in the govt sector) which offer MPhil and PhD courses but with low content (short duration) of laboratory research. An MPhil teacher teaches MPhil students. Plagiarism is rampant. By that practice, degrees can be delivered but not education. Recommend

  • hassan
    Oct 1, 2010 - 3:14PM

    shame on u fccRecommend

  • Tahir Daud (Formanite)
    Oct 2, 2010 - 12:09PM

    @…….Topak Khan……
    Sir, after reading your comment about the FC College Faculty…. I feel relax and comfortable that..ahhh…. I am still in Pakistan… :)…. because it happen only in this country that our leader and scholars like you always post their comments and show their biased behaviour without confirmation of the news regarding some one, specially the institute like FC College.

    Sir, for your kind information, there is the rule in FC College that if there is couple in the faculty of same department like Dr. Perveiz Tahir and Dr. Nadia Tahir (Economics Department) then they can work as faculty member but none of them can be Head Of Department.

    As per rule of FC College it is their right to take action. They don’t even inform the administration about their relation. so, Negligence not come from the administration of FC College. I tell you the actual story and as I was the Student of Mr. Perveiz Tahir, I know the situation better than others.

    ThnxRecommend

  • hassan
    Oct 2, 2010 - 12:32PM

    Sir

    With due respect, I graduated from FCCU recently and straight after that I got admission in PHD programme University of Edinburgh (ranked 20th in world ” just in case you don’t know”). lets see how many unversities can boost this kind of feat.

    I can proudly say that the syllabus that I had been taugth by the PHD professors was well enough for me to be able to compete at this HIGH level. and it had brought me fame among students all aroung the globe within 3 weeks.

    I personally believe that it is better to produce many better and useful graduates then to produce few PHD’s. the atitude of a PHd just like you is not good for the country like Pakistan which needs people to work at micro level to bring change for the macro level. the institutes like FCCU should be appreciated, not criticised like this column, i felt very much sorry after it.

    For the case of plagiarism, tell me one isntitute in the WORLD that can claim that there is no such kind of things. i taught undergraduate student of your so called home institution GCU, and it is very sorry to say that their 2 PHD teachers have not helped them to differenciate between the DEMAND and QUANTITY DEMANDED.

    Not like other institutes where after one semester student can afford to forget all he had learnt but in FCCU there is course prerequisite system and COMPREHENSIVE exam system that forces the students to be on his toes. Is there any other institute that does this,,,,? I think no…

    Now I will tell my experience, respected Sir has not been able to servive in FCCU because it is not possible that every PHD can teach and especially at competitive institute like FCCU.

    You say that a PHD should teach a PHd let me tell you in Edinburgh University there iare double PHD’s teaching masters, now go there and tell them that they are doing wrong..

    I hope next time people who can even teach economics 100 (basic economics) properly criticise the whole system. There is lot of posotiveness in our surroundings that unfortunately a narrow minded PHD unable to notice..

    this is a response from the former student of FCCU, who has been motivated my this institute to serve Pakistan and make FCCU proud.

    Pakistan Zinda abad.

    Insha ALLAH

    Regards

    Noman Arshed
    BS economics
    2006-10Recommend

  • Noman Arshed
    Oct 2, 2010 - 1:27PM

    sir

    With due respect, I graduated from FCCU recently and straight after that I got admission in PHD programme University of Edinburgh (ranked 20th in world ” just in case you don’t know”). lets see how many unversities can boost this kind of feat.

    I can proudly say that the syllabus that I had been taugth by the PHD professors was well enough for me to be able to compete at this HIGH level. and it had brought me fame among students all aroung the globe within 3 weeks.

    I personally believe that it is better to produce many better and useful graduates then to produce few PHD’s. the atitude of a PHd just like you is not good for the country like Pakistan which needs people to work at micro level to bring change for the macro level. the institutes like FCCU should be appreciated, not criticised like this column, i felt very much sorry after it.

    For the case of plagiarism, tell me one isntitute in the WORLD that can claim that there is no such kind of things. i taught undergraduate student of your so called home institution GCU, and it is very sorry to say that their 2 PHD teachers have not helped them to differenciate between the DEMAND and QUANTITY DEMANDED.

    Not like other institutes where after one semester student can afford to forget all he had learnt but in FCCU there is course prerequisite system and COMPREHENSIVE exam system that forces the students to be on his toes. Is there any other institute that does this,,,,? I think no…

    Now I will tell my experience, respected Sir has not been able to servive in FCCU because it is not possible that every PHD can teach and especially at competitive institute like FCCU.

    You say that a PHD should teach a PHd let me tell you in Edinburgh University there iare double PHD’s teaching masters, now go there and tell them that they are doing wrong..

    I hope next time people who can even teach economics 100 (basic economics) properly criticise the whole system. There is lot of posotiveness in our surroundings that unfortunately a narrow minded PHD unable to notice..

    this is a response from the former student of FCCU, who has been motivated my this institute to serve Pakistan and make FCCU proud.

    Pakistan Zinda abad.

    Insha ALLAH

    Regards

    Noman Arshed
    BS economics
    2006-10 Recommend

  • Tahir Daud (Formanite)
    Oct 2, 2010 - 1:40PM

    @ Noman….. I appreciate You dear,

    I just get job in a Post Graduate College… there were 192 candidates and all were masters and some of them were M.phil. and Experienced. but I was the only person who is selected, this is what we learn in FC…. and this make the difference…..(at Dr. Perveiz) A person who taught Game Theory in Basic Economics Courses, how can he judge the contents of any high course?….. He taught us “Issue in Pakistan Economy” and the whole course were based on Presentation. we could not learn even a single major issue related to Pakistan’s Economy. this is what we gain from the writer who claimed as best faculty member of FC. so, how can a man who always use backbiting and taking the help of some biased people who appreciate his work in order to make his work famous, can bring revolution in Educational Sector?

    In fact instead of criticizing others he should do more concentration on his own work. a person who don’t even know the course content of basic economics course, how can he criticize the scholars like the Faculty of FC College.

    Continue….. Recommend

  • Noman Arshed
    Oct 6, 2010 - 4:22PM

    thats it, is there any one who can argue ….

    i see many people who are willing to criticise and be the part of the problem and seen very few who are willing to sacrifice their desires and be the part of the solution..

    and our country needs that kind of people too…

    i hope dr. pervaiz tahir had read this…Recommend

  • Hassan Mahmood (MPhil student FCC)
    Oct 7, 2010 - 5:39AM

    Very well said Noman and Tahir…

    Just an addition; it is shameful that they didn’t tell the department of their relationship at first until they asked about it, although i don’t know what they did which lead the department to ask about their “relationship” which according to him was “embarrassing” for him…

    And I respect the fact that FCC didn’t care about his “leadership qualities” and other stuff, because a teacher is a role model and FCC believes in that, there wasn’t any reason of hiding if they were husband and wife, unless there was something else going on. Having said that, there is something else quite interesting, his name is Pervez Tahir and the associate professor he is talking about (his wife) doesn’t share the same second name…

    This article reflects his grudge against FCC, nothing else… but on the other hand he should more focus on his own actions instead of criticizing others…Recommend

More in Opinion