In a strongly worded attack on the state of higher education in Pakistan, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Public Service Commission lashed out at public universities, particularly those like the Allama Iqbal Open University that offer distance learning degrees, and accused them of “dishing out” degrees to unqualified students.
“Universities offering distance learning, such as AIOU, are sorry examples of literally dishing out degrees even when the awardee knows little of his subject,” stated the latest annual report of the K-P Public Service Commission, the entity responsible for hiring new employees into the provincial government. It describes the overall quality of candidates with degrees from public universities as “pathetic”.
The report goes on to state that some students with grades as high as 90% in degrees in the social sciences lack even the most elementary knowledge about their subjects. It cites one particularly egregious example of a student with a masters’ degree who, when asked in an interview to say where Chitral was, replied that it was located in the southern part of Pakistan. The PSC report highlights three major problems: lack of funding, lack of oversight, and a culture that stresses passing exams over attaining an education.
On the financing front, the report recommends increasing the budget for education in Pakistan from the current 2% of the total size of the economy to 5% within the next three years, and then to between 10% and 15% of gross domestic product in five years.
With respect to government oversight, the K-P government recommends toughening the ability of the Higher Education Commission to enforce better standards on publicly funded universities. It is unclear, however, whether the report was referring to the federal HEC, or the provincial HEC. The federal HEC saw most of its powers and funding devolved to the provincial governments after the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010.
The report recommended a performance-based service structure for faculty at public universities, which should include a rigid peer evaluation mechanism. The government already mandates that promotions and salaries be based on a faculty member’s research and publication record in acclaimed academic journals, but this stipulation is often not enforced. More broadly, however, the K-P government criticised the overall culture of higher education in Pakistan, which appears to be far more focused on getting good grades rather than learning how to think. This mentality pervades both students and the faculty designing the curriculum.
Instead of making students read original texts like Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Ghazali’s Ihya Uloomud Deen, and Ibn-e-Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, both faculty and students tend to prefer learning from notes of colleagues or even ‘guide books’ available at most bookstores in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2015.
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