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Fleeting moments

October 18, 2019

Falling standards

Opinion

October 18, 2019

Those who attended schools and colleges in the sixties and early seventies observe that the standard of our education has gone down over the years instead of improving. Apparently, a Master’s degree-holder from the University of Punjab doesn’t possess as much knowledge and understanding of his subject as did his counterpart in the previous eras. What has caused the decline in the education standard?

Recall the sixties; our institutions in Lahore – Government College; Forman Christian College; Punjab University and University of Engineering and Technology – attracted many foreign students who joined to graduate or do their Master’s. Why not now? Now, instead, our students especially from the upper layer of society head abroad for their higher education. In upscale localities, many representatives of foreign universities operate offices, with large posters displayed on walls, inviting students to join their institutions.

Consider how some foreign universities attract thousands of international students and rake in huge profits by what they call ‘exporting education’. As reported, imparting education to international students is the third largest export in Australia. After the export of iron ore (AU$62.8 billion) and coal (AU$54.3 billion), the education sector earned AU$32 billion for the Australian government last year. Universities Australia's deputy chief executive boasted how 548, 000 international students pumped AU$32 billion in a year into the Australian economy, “generating jobs, supporting wages, and lifting the living standards of Australians”.

Canadian universities are another destination for international students. These students paid about CAN$1.3 billion in fees to the University of Toronto last year. Foreign universities depend on the fees of overseas students and fervently campaign to recruit students from third-world countries. But international students rightly resent the colossal difference in fees charged to them compared with what the domestic students in the same institution pay. For instance, the University of Toronto’s tuition fee for an overseas student in arts and science programmes starts from CAN$41,920, compared with CAN$6,400 for a domestic student. In other words, one foreign student’s fee caters for the tuition fee of six Canadian students. A win-win arrangement this.

The debatable point is why our students need to join foreign universities. Why can’t we raise the level of education of our own universities so that our students don’t look towards foreign universities and so save precious foreign exchange? Many faculty members in our universities obtained degrees or did their PhDs from prestigious foreign universities. Why can’t we use their expertise to manage educational affairs of our universities exactly on the pattern of world class universities?

Former HEC chairman Dr Atta-Ur-Rahman recounts in his columns in these pages some high-end universities such as NUST, COMSATS and LUMS that provide quality education. But this article focuses on universities like PU and the like that admit the bulk of students who can only pay affordable fees. The education standard of these universities needs to be raised. What essentially ails them is lack of the right kind of education environment. Students don’t grow intellectually because of the bureaucratic attitude of professors, unlike in leading foreign universities where students and teachers often engage in informal discussions over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria. Similar intellectual environment can be maintained in our universities as well.

An impediment in creating an enlightened environment in public-sector universities is the politicisation of faculties. Connections at the right places matter more than the merit. Another hurdle in promoting an aura of learning is the retrogressive role of a religio-political party which maintains its student wings in many public-sector universities. The party may be negligible in parliament but its political cadres in our universities are a nuisance to reckon with.

However, sometimes cases of singular dedication to educate oneself come to the fore. My recent article ‘Language of opportunity’ in this paper invited four emails. Worth mentioning is one by a sixty-nine year old Pashtun lady, a grandmother from Peshawar. In flawless prose, she wrote that she passed her FA in 1967 and was married off. She has five daughters and a son – a special-needs child. Beside running a rehab clinic to facilitate special children, she did her MPhil in 2002 and is now aiming for her PhD. Some of her grandchildren are married and she is most anxious to become a great grandmother, she wrote.

Let’s salute her determination and wish her to be blessed with many great grandchildren. Indeed, a woman of substance!

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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