LONDON: Pakistan provides an excellent example of dead-weight loss and negative social externalities of political intervention in the process of learning and instruction.
It was the brainchild of General Pervez Musharraf to introduce a degree requirement as a perquisite to run for parliamentary elections in Pakistan. The short-lived condition created havoc by giving birth to numerous scandals around fake degrees acquired by many members of the National and Provincial Assemblies. At the end, it was deemed unnecessary and discriminatory to introduce such a requirement in the political process.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC), and its predecessor University Grants Commission (UGC), has a history of bringing up inefficient regulations to ensure that it has firm bureaucratic control over the educational process. In fact, political appointments at the highest positions at HEC have caused many unnecessary crises in the higher education sector.
For example, impressed by mushrooming of private universities and an influx of local campuses of foreign universities in the 1990s, the UGC came up with a simple solution of banning all foreign universities operating in Pakistan. While this was a good short-term solution for a problem that proliferated lower quality “foreign education” in the country, its legacy has given rise to another problems.
Almost complete absence in Pakistan of foreign universities is consequential to the short-term solution adopted by HEC. While the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE have attracted top American and European universities to operate therein, HEC’s policies have kept foreign universities away from entering the Pakistani market.
The DDP tale
The current saga of mishandling of the Dual Degree Programme (DDP) developed by a federally chartered public sector university, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) Lahore, and Lancaster University of the United Kingdom is one of the many examples of malpractices at the HEC.
Although at the time of writing this report, HEC has agreed to come up with a solution acceptable to CIIT and the students enroled on the programme, the whole drama initiated by HEC presented the CIIT-Lancaster collaboration as a scandal similar to the recently unfolded Axact inquiry. This kind of irresponsibility on part of a higher education authority is bound to have long-lasting adverse implications for the research and training collaborations between Pakistani and foreign universities.
When one looks into the issue in an objective way, it is no more than nominal in nature. The unnecessary debate over nomenclature – whether to call it a dual degree programme or a joint degree programme – becomes irrelevant when one accepts the principle that a local university may develop a collaborative academic programme with a foreign university.
What’s it all about
The basic idea revolves around the internationalisation and quality improvement of Pakistani universities. It is meant to import the quality education of a reputed foreign university to Pakistan and minimise the export of the youth of Pakistan.
As per the original concept of CIIT-Lancaster DDP, the registered students under the programme were to complete their undergraduate studies at CIIT Lahore, jointly monitored by the two universities. After completion of studies graduates were to be awarded two degrees; one from Lancaster University and the other from CIIT.
The award of two degrees could be problematic, as one may argue that a student’s one-time studies cannot lead to two degrees at a time. However, a degree issued by Lancaster University should be good enough for recognition by the HEC. After all, University of London’s External Degree Programme offers exactly the same degree as it offers to the regular residential students in London.
The issuance of two degrees could also have been accommodated if the HEC only took a sympathetic view. Indeed, if the two degrees were to be issued, the degree issued by CIIT must make a reference to the degree offered by Lancaster University. The degree could have easily been issued in conjunction with the degree [serial number] issued by Lancaster University.
It is a simple issue that has been blown out of proportion. Therefore, it is recommended that the two sides – HEC and CIIT – should come to an amicable solution to the current problem that is creating anxiety amongst thousands of students many of whom have already graduated from the programme.
The writer is an economist and PhD from Cambridge University
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2015.