Sunday April 21, 2024

An education commission

By Mian Salimuddin
October 17, 2018

Created in 2002, the HEC assigned itself the role of a facilitator for institutes of higher learning. From day one, it thus abdicated from the leadership function and settled for a secondary role of a facilitator. This is not surprising, because over the past eighteen years the HEC has been led by very eminent professors, but not by leaders with a vision.

Apart from creating a mushroom of universities with dubious credentials, the HEC also launched a numbers game. It has been all about the number of universities setup, the number of PhDs in teaching staff, the number of research papers published and so on – with disastrous consequences.

With such distinguished professors and so many fresh PhDs, one would have thought that the focus of research would be to find and implement solutions to national problems. This would also be in line with the HEC’s core strategic aim “to remain relevant to national priorities”.

Years have gone by hearing and reading about the increasing line losses and theft both in electric and gas transmission systems. Yet, there appears to be no solution to the problem. There has been no research on the types of transformers used by Wapda, their failure rates, average life, and operating and total costs against the industry average. Such a study would expose wasteful expenditure.

The country is experiencing extreme water shortage which is likely to grow worse in years to come. One expected our scholars to design, manufacture and operate desalination plants, initially along Balochistan’s coastal areas, particularly in Gwadar, where water shortage is inhibiting its development.

With the passage of time, the water storage capacity of major dams has reduced by almost fifty percent due to silting. We have yet to find a cheap and efficient solution to this serious problem.

Despite the creation of a number of agriculture universities, crop yield remains dismal. The market place is full of Indian fruits and vegetables. For example, even after two decades, the virus that destroyed the banana crop in Sindh has not been eliminated, opening up the market for better quality Indian bananas.

The country has enormous mineral wealth waiting to be exploited. Alas, that has not happened, and is not likely to happen in the near future because our universities have failed to prepare the requisite number of mining engineers with knowledge, skills and abilities to tap these hidden treasures. We are thus, stuck with foreigners, who are carrying away our strategic minerals at throwaway prices.

According to a recent report, over 70 percent of our marble and granite is being taken to China from where it comes back as a finished product. India is earning 26 billion US dollars from just three precious stones. We have 270 of them and earn only 300 million dollars. With such a vast array of natural resources, we should have been the world leader in mining engineering education, knowledge, skills and technology. On the contrary, the death of miners using obsolete and unsafe extracting methods is routine news in the local press.

With the new government’s resolve to eliminate wasteful expenditures, the HEC should be put through a performance audit. The audit should not focus on bean-counting but, on the impact of trillions of rupees spent by the HEC.

With 22.8 million children out of schools and a 47 percent dropout after middle school, it sounds farcical to have a Higher Education Commission. How many Malalas, Dr Salams and A Q Khans have we lost in this process? Creating the HEC, while denying millions of children quality primary and secondary education, is like putting concrete roof on mud walls.

The HEC should be renamed the Education Commission with one wing looking after primary and secondary education and the other looking after higher education. The role of the Education Commission should be changed from a ‘facilitator’ to leader in preparing scientists, engineers, economists, social scientists and entrepreneurs to lead the country in improving the quality of life of its citizens. Jobs specifications in the proposed Commission should be revised. Only people with integrity, high achievements, enthusiasm and commitment along with appropriate academic qualifications being hired.

Degrees are important and can be acquired, but character is paramount and cannot be acquired. Making PhD a mandatory condition has resulted in the loss of very good teachers and – after their elevation as VCs – resulted in very poor administrators. NUST, a leading university, has hardly ever had a PhD as a VC in any of its colleges, yet it leads most other universities in HEC ratings.