Budget, HEC and system building

Increased budget should not just be for increasing foreign qualified, domestic PhDs but improving institution quality.

Muhammad Hamid Zaman June 16, 2014
The writer is associate professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Medicine at Boston University

It’s budget season again — the numbers are being sliced and diced not only based on reality but also political affiliation. The affiliation of the budget itself, whether it is friendly to the cronies or to the masses, is questioned by those who know little about numbers. Anyway, my focus today is not the budget as a whole but the recent discussion on its impact on higher education. First, it is great to see that there is a clear commitment from the federal government towards higher education. The fact that higher education has been prioritised and provided the highest budget in HEC’s history is something highly commendable. While the overall budget for education, and in particular, higher education, is still far from what it needs to be and a lot more needs to be done, but this is the first step in the right direction. Fortunately, I believe this commitment from the federal government will also enable and encourage the provinces to make clear commitments. Post-Eighteenth Amendment, the provincial role is all the more important and commitment from them is desperately needed for a sustainable higher education system.

That said, the success of our higher education system needs more ingredients than just a budget. It desperately needs a clear policy that takes us in the direction in which we want to go. That, unfortunately, is missing. There are two major problems with the recent discussion and analysis of the budget by the HEC head. First, the HEC head insisted that degree verification, a practice that is mired in controversy, saps valuable HEC resources and provides no benefit to the HEC in terms of building the nation. I have written before about this issue as well and I was deeply disappointed when I saw the HEC head demonstrating strong support towards this practice. I am all for verification of degrees and ensuring that our politicians do not cheat or make a mockery of the system. My problem lies in the HEC taking on this burden. The vision and goal of the HEC is to build a strong higher education system in the country, to create capacity for innovation, scholarship and thought leadership. The HEC should not be a political organisation and should not have to deal with the shady dealings of various political figures. By engaging in the degree verification business, the HEC unnecessarily involves itself in the election and political process, comes under pressure from the government when it finds itself on the wrong side, which creates a distraction from nation-building activities. The goal of degree verification should be left to individual election commissions that need to create special units and cells for this purpose. The HEC should stay out of this politically charged and distracting business.

Second, the lack of clear policy towards system strengthening is missing from HEC. With the increase in budget, the focus should not just be to increase the number of foreign qualified and domestic PhDs but to improve the quality of our institutions. The HEC should clearly describe what is the vision for national innovation and scholarship for the next five years, how that capacity is going to improve the quality of teaching and learning and how will it shape Pakistan’s place in key sectors of higher education. The higher education system is more than the sum of its foreign qualified PhDs, it needs to incorporate strong and robust institutions that are financially strong and academically rich. It also needs to ensure that ecosystems for scholarship are created that not only foster outstanding research in areas of science and technology, but also in social sciences and humanities.

The federal and some provincial governments have taken a bold step in making higher education a priority — the leadership at the HEC needs to ensure that the initiative is met with clearly thought out policy that looks towards a better future, not towards the distracting and damaging practices of the past.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Aftab Kazi | 8 years ago | Reply

Having served twice as a visiting HEC foreign professor in Pakistan, I learned that HEC is a very corrupt institution. I must not go into details, but the fact that HEC still has not paid me my salary of June 2008 (I wonder what happened to Rs. one million that I was granted as personal research allowance while at NDU. NDU returned all the money to HEC)and the return ticket, besides denying me again the return ticket in December 2014. These are only two incidents, but explain about the overall processes of corruption within HEC.

Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ

Most Read