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June 6, 2015

Waiting for scandals

Opinion

June 6, 2015

A famous quote – which portrays us so well – is: “the last thing a fish might notice is the water in which it swims”. Someone should prove me wrong but as a nation we rejoice in scandals, wait for miracles, believe in myths, and pin high hopes on individuals for deliverance.
And the unfortunate aspect of all this is that it has become part of our culture – deeply embedded and taken for granted. Its pervasiveness restricts us to question it, doubt it, and start thinking otherwise.
It is the new normal. Scandals in Pakistan are big in magnitude but short in life. One is allowed to raise one’s eyebrows for a short while only to get another big surprise. Does anyone remember, even without chronological order, what was on air for some time before the Axact scandal? For all practical purposes that news is now irrelevant so let us focus exactly on Axact.
Axact is only a tip of the iceberg. A few days back, the HEC released the ranking details of Pakistani universities. The ranking is based on the number of students, research output, innovation, international collaboration, financial health, infrastructure, and student satisfaction etc.
The criteria sound reasonable and exhaustive but are inherently flawed. The score a university obtains is primarily based on the documentary evidence of various factors. That is where data can be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome.
For example, quality assurance is one aspect, which carries 15 percent of the total weight. The HEC simply examines the SAR (Self Assessment Report) to ensure that a particular university conforms to the quality standards. This report is based on various surveys conducted by the university itself. It is here that statistics performs magic to fool us all. Conformance rather than performance is actually measured and rewarded. On paper, we are at par with world-class universities. On the ground...money makes the mare go.
Should we wait for scandals to fix our problems? Man

has yet to discover a system that is perfect and balances personal and public interests but there have been efforts around the world to check human greed. Various models have been developed and tested with mixed results.
The free market economy, which leaves the issues of what to produce and how much to produce to the invisible hands of market, has failed to ensure sustainable economic development despite its success in accelerating economic growth. The planned economy, where the state decides on how to produce and distribute wealth, too has proved itself an inefficient economic system although it contributed immensely to mitigate the suffering of ordinary workers. The latest model in vogue, which is the focus of discussion here, is the regulatory model which attempts to remedy the ills of both capitalism and communism.
Regulatory bodies (such as the HEC, SECP, Pemra, Ogra etc) are supposed to protect and balance the interests of all stakeholders. In the case of Axact, one wonders that a foreigner had to be the one who brought it to light. Doesn’t it mean that both our investigating agencies and regulatory bodies are either incompetent or complicit in the matter? But the crucial question is: who watches the watchers?
Crime is essential for the very existence and grandeur of certain institutions. One can see some educational institutions that either operate in a single flat or exist only in the virtual world and sell degrees without conducting proper exams. This business has flourished in the guise of RPL (recognition of prior learning) where the candidate has to produce an experience certificate (which in most cases is never genuine) to get a government-recognised diploma. Everyone has a share and the business thus thrives.
Why should one bother to do hard work when one can become a millionaire by helping others get the magic wand?
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]

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