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November 2, 2017
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The need for governance

Opinion

November 2, 2017

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The article, ‘A number game’ published in these pages on October 31, should be an eye-opener for those running the show in the HEC. In order to effectively act as an engine of growth and development in the emerging globalised knowledge economy, higher education must itself be prepared to regularly visit its strengths and weaknesses in the pursuit of constant renewal. Institutions suffering from structural and cultural inertia cannot escape extinction despite ritualistic celebrations.

The dream of developing a critical mass of researchers and professionals can only be realised if higher education is founded on a strong footing. It has been observed that most students who are vying for higher education not only lack conceptual clarity but also face problems in articulating ideas.  Any attempt to improve the quality of higher education and research is unlikely to succeed without giving due attention to introducing reforms in primary and secondary education. 

The semester system that is in vogue seems to have badly failed in achieving the desired results. This system, which has proved to be particularly effective in the US and many other countries, is incompatible within the prevailing culture in Pakistan. Giving unfettered autonomy to teachers in matters of developing course outlines (or even deciding details of the course contents), setting question papers and evaluating the performance of students without any external checks has made the education system a personal fiefdom.  

In the absence of an independent verification system, teachers tend to avoid discussing challenging concepts, asking tough questions and making fair evaluations. A culture of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ has started killing the spirit of education. To strike a balance between professional autonomy and independent verification, it seems necessary to put into place a governance mechanism with features from the conventional as well as semester systems. 

Performance evaluation and the reward system is another area that needs reorientation. The present system is based exclusively on research output that has created an unnecessary imbalance in the higher education sector.  With a skewed emphasis on the number of research papers published, teaching has been relegated to the background. Knowing that teaching is not rewarded as much as research regardless of the quality and rigour put into it, faculty members at all levels pay scant attention to teaching. The availability of PowerPoint slides on the internet has further confounded the problem. 

Taking a cue from the sluggish attitude and apathy of their teachers, students either avoid classes altogether or immerse themselves in useless activities on social media. In order to save the teaching profession from extinction, the HEC needs to revisit its selection and promotion criteria for faculty members. 

Another important area, which has yet to receive the attention that it deserves, is the character-building of students. Due to our peculiar social circumstances and exposure to social media, our youth has lost sight of their roots and destiny. Frequent indulgence in anti-social activities – including narcotics and other unethical activities – has become a norm rather than an exception on campuses. One reason for this trend is the relatively stronger emphasis on learning concepts and developing skills rather than on character-building.

In order to avoid the problems that arise from social alienation and psychological disorders, it is necessary to incorporate tutorial and sports activities as a regular feature of all academic programmes at all levels. Currently, sports have become an episodic activity in higher education. The same is true for mentoring and tutorials that are meant to provide student counselling.  

A key mechanism available to the HEC is the accreditation process. This has not only restricted the growth of HEIs but has also led to the closure of some institutions and programmes that do not fulfil the required conditions. However, too much documentation involved in accreditation is both unnecessary and counter-productive. One way of making regulations effective is to make them simple and measurable and ensure that they are undertaken by individuals with proven competence as well as impeccable integrity. The more the HEC focuses on its governance, the stronger its impact would be on higher education.

 

The writer teaches at the Sarhad
University. Email:[email protected]

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