Zooming In On The Trouble With Higher Education And Research Institutions In Pakistan

Zooming In On The Trouble With Higher Education And Research Institutions In Pakistan
This picture speaks loudly to why our universities rank at the bottom of international rankings. Universities are meant for research and innovation but in Pakistan’s case they are established to employ people.

Paradoxically, the country which had produced a mind like Dr. Abdul Salam – Nobel laureate amidst the dearth of universities and paucity of any hi-tech research laboratories at that time – is not producing basic research resources, let alone scientists and engineers who could actually steer the country’s development. Despite a mushrooming of universities and colleges in every city, the education system has failed to produce a mind having the ability to solve the complex issues prevailing in society.

Universities have become employment bureaus to placate a few groups associated with political interests. From vice chancellors to professors and administrative staff, the appointments are made on the basis of political affinity. In this scenario, how can we expect to be producing a creative lot that can bring a change in the country?

There are more than 200 universities recognised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). According to the Labor Force Survey, around 445,000 graduate every year from different institutions. If half of them quit their studies and if the remaining half do not opt for thesis work, the number of students who underwent research work stands at around 100,000. Taking the data of 10 years, we can say that at least one million research theses might been developed by these scholars. And yet: what invention, theory or project has been developed by our scholars as of today? Where does this research work go?

Why is it that no one dares to speak up against academic and administrative authorities for poor quality education? Scores of reasons can be given to answer the question, but the primary reason is that the extreme powers given to universities by virtue of statutes and constitution. With this unbridled power, the academic affairs go unchecked by investigating authorities, even in public universities. This “immunity privilege” gives educational institutions a carte blanche to formulate policies pleasing to their interests. From hiring to firing of teachers and staff; allocation of courses; supervisors, formulation of papers, checking of papers and marks and to awarding of degrees, the element of transparency and accountability remains compromised. When institutions are armed with unbridled power, they start to collapse.

Secondly, many universities are controlled by cliques with their own ulterior motives. Such mafias (consisting of teachers and administration) try to choke the system if any initiative or policies is adopted against their interests. Teachers in public universities have the coercive ability to give call for closure of classes, stage unprincipled protests and take to streets for their vested interests. This is only possible when heads of varsities are appointed on political ‘parchi’. In order to save their job, a vice chancellor is obligated to kneel down before the mafia.

Due to this nexus, a number of research scholars, especially female students, have committed suicide because universities have no system in place to redress the grievances of students - and they abandon their studies. The irony of fate is that the students are made to present themselves before a committee constituted by the predators (i.e. the mafia) This is how the cases of harassment with female students are on rise but few are adequately addressed.

Last but not the least: of course the prime responsibility lies on the shoulders of watchdogs like the HEC and the Universities and Boards department.

Teachers are appointed directly on 18th-grade jobs without any teaching experience. Moreover, the persons doing PHDs from foreign universities were directly appointed to grade 19 without any experience. In old days, it required laborious work of 5 to 10 years to complete PHD course from any institutions. But this shortcut culture has given impetus to supersede seniors.

The process of minting money through research work by teachers starts since the very selection of a research topic. The supervisor is only interested to receive handsome incentive against the research work of students. The worst part of it is that when a researcher completes his or her research thesis, the copies of this research work are sent to the favourite external quarters for review. In return, the external quarters reciprocate same favour and thus the ‘economy’ of the teachers develop in a such ghastly way in many varsities. Interestingly, the teacher receives handsome amount against the reports that he or she writes on a two-pager format. It is worth mentioning that the thesis contains 3,000-5,000 words and on average a teacher receives five to ten theses each month from one university for review. Let the reader imagine as to how many he or she would be receiving from other Universities!

Mockingly, on the very final day of the review of their work, a researcher is asked to tell what he or she has written in the thesis. In the end, external quarters are given incentives in a sealed envelope with a gesture and cunning smile. Thus, the beautiful journey of an individual’s research work ends here, but the thirst of the mafia goes on till the last drop of juice is extracted from the packet. It doesn’t hesitate to mint money from scrapped thesis copies too!

It is high time that the government intervened to break such a stranglehold on our higher education and research.

The mandate of checking papers, research and marks should be assigned to third parties. This will reduce the monopoly of the educational mafia in institutions and transparency and accountability will improve.

It is not as though we lack a model to look at. The example of the Matric and Intermediate boards is a case in point, where the monopoly of teachers is non-existent and the chances of victimisation are very minimal.

In many universities, regular teachers are hired as visiting faculty. How come one teacher can take regular classes and at the same time take extra classes, check papers, supervise research work and conduct exam duty? Such superhuman roles are contrary to the regulations of the HEC. Therefore, to unburden the workload and maintain quality education, stern measures must be taken.

The author is an advocate working at Kilam Law Firm.