Higher Education Commission of Pakistan

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Inertia, denial and incompetence

 

Only 11pc of Pakistani universities are Federally Chartered Universities while 89pc of the universities are chartered by the provincial governments hence proving and endorsing the constitutional role of the provinces in higher education

 

 

Brief history

Higher Education Commission Pakistan (HEC) was established in 2002 with the aim of raising quality bar in higher education and for promoting educational research and development in the country. It was also given the task of implementing reforms in faculty development; promoting excellence in learning and research; developing leadership, management and governance; and physical and technological infrastructure development.

Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman as its first chairman within a short period of six years brought Pakistani universities in the list of 500 top ranked universities in the World. In 2008 he resigned as a protest against government’s budget cuts against foreign scholarship holders. Dr Javaid Laghari was appointed its second chairman, and during his tenure, he suspended all fake degrees of politicians regardless of immense political pressure and opposition from the sitting government as well. During his tenure, he was able to place Pakistani universities among top 100 Asian universities. Now we have Dr Mukhtar as Chairman of HEC. Dr Mukhtar’s tenure is different than his predecessors as only a couple of Pakistani universities were able to make their place among top 1,000 universities of the world.

Why HEC?

HEC is an autonomous body that leads the pathway to quality higher education in the country. It helps our national universities in providing quality education to their students. It helps in regulating degree validation and is the gateway for monitoring real research culture. If this body stops cooperating with the provincial governments (as after the 18th Constitutional Amendment), it is just going to lead the way towards disaster, irregularities, and regress of universities ranking home and abroad. Higher Education Commission (HEC) is given billions of Rupees from tax payer’s money for achieving the goal of making Pakistani institutes deliver quality education along with providing merit and need scholarships to the students for studying in the international and national universities after a competitive process. But if this tax payer’s money is not used efficiently and with caution, without political pressure and keeping itself unbiased towards anyone from any part of Pakistan it would be a complete waste of money and would not bring any fruitful results at the end of the day.

Dwindling world ranking

Higher Education Commission (HEC) worked under the federal government till 2010’s 18th Amendment in Pakistan’s Constitution. In 2016 (13th edition of Times Higher Education University Ranking) only seven Pakistani universities were able to make their place among top 1,000; three in 601-800 band and four in 801+ group during 2016. According to Times Higher Education University Ranking 2017 (14th edition), only four universities were able to grab a place among top 1,000 universities. Only Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) was able to make its place in top 500. National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) were placed in 601-800 band while the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad in the 801+ group. This entire decline happened after the 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan. Not because Provincial governments are not capable of doing anything good but the fact that transfer of power has not yet been completed even after so many years. Contrary to us, 30 Universities from India were able to find a place in Top 1,000, leaving us embarrassed in front of the entire world. According to QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings (HESS), Pakistan was ranked at number 50 while India was ranked at number 24 in the year 2016. Pakistan had a score of 9.2 when comparing these scores with neighbouring countries China scored 83.5 while India scored 60.9. If we want to compete with our neighbours, we need to improve ourselves on all fronts, and education is just another front.

Budget allocation and utilisation

In the recent years, Higher Education Commission (HEC) has also not been able to spend its total budget, and many projects failed altogether. Out of Rs2,762.30 million, it was only able to spend Rs1,437.63 million, on the other hand, Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) was allocated 11pc of the total budget regardless of the fact that it has the most number of universities. In the fiscal year 2015-16, only 21pc of the budget could be used for development projects by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). There were an enormous number of projects for whom no budget was allocated even if they got approved. Out of 62 new projects, only four got approved. According to Public Sector Development Programme (PDSP) 2017-18, 62 new projects were announced worth Rs9.188b, but the majority of the projects (26) are for commission’s schemes neglecting provincial needs for development. Out of the total budget, Federal Universities are getting a share of 12.406pc, Punjab 20.733pc, Sindh 9.685pc, Balochistan 4.353pc, and KPK 8.053pc. PSDP’s 44.768pc budget was approved for HEC’s own supervised projects. During fiscal years 214-16 a total of 149 new projects were reflected in the federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) out of which only 66 projects got approvals and remaining 83 projects were never approved. HEC has been spending millions of rupees on conferences, and they are all useless unless a quality research culture is not promoted.

Misuse of foreign scholarships

Higher Education Commission (HEC) offers different scholarships to aspiring students in the hope that after completing their degrees, these PhD or Masters degree holders will come back to Pakistan. All of these efforts seem insufficient as many people who went abroad were either not able to complete their degree in the given period or never returned home. When Higher Education Commission (HEC) tried to send legal notices to these scholarship holders on their given addresses, those addresses proved to be false. An autonomous body which gives out awards on taxpayer money is apparently not even able to verify the addresses of its scholarship holders. We can safely assume that HEC is showing negligence in keeping check and balance and thorough checking of a person’s background before sending him/her abroad on taxpayer money which is a waste of budget. Higher Education Commission (HEC) which calls itself an autonomous body should develop the capability of scanning students before sending them abroad and spending millions of rupees of taxpayer money on those who will never return.

Poor research culture

Higher Education Commission has not been able to establish or promote a healthy research culture and also treats it’s already minimal in number PhD scholars who studied from abroad and returned to serve the nation as a labourer. Higher Education Commission (HEC) uses these PhDs by giving them extensive workload. These PhDs are required to conduct three-four credit hour courses per semester along with the supervision of five PhD scholars and a maximum of 16 MPhil thesis simultaneously. One cannot expect credible outputs from these practices. A PhD supervisor should be incentivised so that we may get the best output by them but rather HEC’s policies make them go through such incentiveless workloads that they feel ‘punished’ for choosing the field of teaching as a profession. It may also be the reason that Pakistani universities have only 27pc of staff who has done a PhD. That is also a reason that why Pakistani PhD holders don’t invent or discover anything in their respective field of study.

A PhD holder needs incentives, time, place and recognition but never available to them. Higher Education Commission requires at least 10 manuscripts in HEC recognised journals along with four years of post-PhD teaching experience to qualify for an associate level position in a university which is just another way of giving someone lower salary than what they deserve. Higher Education Commission also seems to not care about book publications as it is not given any credit. Higher Education Commission needs to incentivise the PhDs of its country so they may be willing and motivated enough to do quality research and make the nation proud instead of torturing them with overwork and fewer salaries. Due to this, its scholars abroad never return and inland always looking for the ways to escape. To earn the maximum, public and private universities in Pakistan have started evening enrolment for PhD scholars which is highly discouraged across the world. People try to climb up the ladder of their career by enrolling in these programs, and when they become PhD holders, they are nothing but incompetent people. By producing such incompetent PhD’s, we cannot hope for a better world ranking at all.

Devolution of HEC

“Since, the 18th amendment in April 2010 and devolution of the education sector to provinces, higher education seems in a grave crisis across the country. Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) and Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) remained at loggerheads throughout the year 2016,” reads the report recently launched in Islamabad.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also said the same about the current situation of HEC. The devolution of HEC has not been addressed appropriately yet because of incompetent and negligent authorities involved in the process causing more scuffle between federal and provincial HECs. Universities in Baluchistan have not been able to get their complaints heard by HEC on the other hand KPK commission is yet to take shape. After 18th amendment, all provincial governments were required to make their HECs, but so far only Sindh and Punjab have been able to make their commissions. After the 18th constitutional amendment standards of higher education are now a shared responsibility of both federal and provincial governments.

Only 11pc of Pakistani universities are Federally Chartered Universities while 89pc of the universities are chartered by the provincial governments hence proving and endorsing the constitutional role of the provinces in higher education. Punjab Higher Education Commission’s (PHEC’s) authority was challenged but then after a long-awaited court ruling from the Lahore High Court (LHC) in its latest judgment ruled that provincial government has complete powers to make rules and appoint vice chancellors (VCs) as long as they match the requirements set by the Federal HEC. After the 18th amendment, it is the responsibility of provincial governments to manage and provide financial, technical and logistic resources for improving quality of education as per national and international standards but the transfer of power (implementation of devolution) has still not been completed. It is still performing functions which are now the domain of provinces as per 18th constitutional amendment and the respective PHEC Acts which shows the uncooperative behavior of Federal Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Even Dr Javed Laghari, in one of his press conferences held in 2011, said: “It is not devolution but a dismemberment of the commission.” The entire above scenario is an indicator that HEC is failing to do its job appropriately. Higher Education Commission (HEC) needs to transfer the required powers to PHEC’s immediately. It must respect tax payer’s money and expectations; perform its duties with complete efficiency and dignity by remaining unbiased towards every citizen of Pakistan.

We are hoping for a place in top 50 universities of the world.

 

Is that impossible?