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National

September 17, 2015

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Comsats dual degree programme: Finding a resolve

Comsats dual degree programme: Finding a resolve
Comsats institute for information technology is among the top ranking federal university and CIIT has been ranked at No.2 in the General Category, and at No. 4 in overall universities within Pakistan as ranked by HEC. It’s a hub of IT education in Pakistan. In 2010 the university signed an MOU with Lancaster University one of the top ranking Russell Group universities in the UK to offer dual degree programs in engineering disciplines namely Computer Science, Management & Electrical/Telecommunication and later added more streams of engineering and management.
The idea behind the program was to offer a foreign degree along with local degree to incorporate the flavor of internationalization that is embodied in the phenomenon known as TNE or Transnational education. Soon after the launching ceremony of DDP Dual degree program I had an opportunity of meeting the rector of CIIT Dr. Junaid Zaidi in Lahore who very briefly informed me about this huge initiative long awaited in Pakistan’s education sector.
However, after listening to him and discussing the salient features of the program I gently pointed out to him the technical snags and issues that he may encounter in getting this program regulated and accepted by the HEC and the PEC as many of the clauses and the delivery procedures, curriculum course title etc. did not correspond to the required strength and workload that is expected from a full load of credits that are prerequisites to complete a dual degree program elsewhere in the world.
The definition of a dual degree program means “Two degrees studied consecutively at two institutions in two different countries” this as far as I know is also the part of the draft policy for dual/joint or double degree programs in Pakistan. It is beyond doubt that Dr. Junaid Zaidi has been working very hard since he took over as the rector of CIIT way back in the year 1998 and the formation of CIIT as a public sector university in the year 2000.
This was a huge step towards internationalization and providing an opportunity to Pakistani students to earn a respectable degree from two countries which would enhance their career prospects worldwide.
However, it was shocking to see that CIIT launched a multimillion marketing campaign to promote the DDP’s without going through the formalities and getting the prerequisites of these programs completed and approved by the regularity authorities The Higher Education Commission and the Pakistan Engineering Council.
The huge marketing and awareness drive showing the advantages of the dual degree resulted in almost 3,000 students getting enrolled in these programs many of them already graduated without knowing that this was not a program that is approved by their own degree validating authority HEC. No student or parent alerts at that time were seen that are usually issued in the print media warning the students regarding the accreditation of such programs. Hence the issue went unseen while the students kept on progressing within their programs.
The tuition fee for the DDP program was substantially enhanced and the total fees for those who opted for this dual four years degree was approximately PKR 1.3 million with BSP 500 per month going to Lancaster University. It is interesting to note that the non DDP students in 2010 were paying less than PKR 4, 00000 for the entire degree program. While Comsats and HEC confronted each other and meetings continued to resolve this issue the first badge of DDP students graduated in 2014 and it was at that point that the students found out about the degree that they were to get had no validation/accreditation from HEC or PEC.
Following this several more batches of students with engineering and computing science subjects have graduated. The students started to agitate and the parents became furious and extremely worried on the value of the degree for which they paid heavy tuition fee from their hard earned income and above all the highly valuable time of their children was lost in obtaining a worthless paper.
During this time some of the students approached the Lahore High Court and some of them the federal ombudsman. The decision of the worthy courts clearly indicated that Comsat should have taken due permission/NOC before launching this program and even before advertising the DDP and therefore they should get back to HEC and PEC for approval and ensure that the students are provided with a degree that is accredited in Pakistan and since it would be a local degree the extra tuition fee received on account of the Dual Degree name should be refunded to the students.
I had an opportunity of following this issue since quite some time and a number of students who graduated spoke to me and visited me to discuss and find a resolve to this. I also had an opportunity of meeting the Chairman HEC Mr. Mukhtar Ahmed who is known for his honesty, loyalty and commitment with the Higher Education Commission and has served the HEC since its inception and understands very well the sensitivity and magnitude of the situation. However, his version is that no institution whether public or private can be allowed to violate the regulations set by HEC and the integrity of the degrees awarded under these regulations has to be protected and safeguarded at all costs. He emphasized that it is in the interest of all institutions and stake holders in Pakistan to follow HEC code of ethics and the accreditation norms that are laid down in the Higher Education policy and framework. He went on describing the three possible solutions to the current issue keeping in view the future of 3,000 students which according to him was his main concern and he said he will go all out in helping CIIT to find a solution that is best suited to this situation. He described the three options that are available to CIIT as follows:
A. As a onetime solution CIIT can offer their own local degree which would be acceptable to HEC and PEC
B. CIIT can offer a joint degree bearing signatures both the vice chancellors and on all transcripts which should be accredited by the UK Engineering Council/IET and subsequently by PEC/HEC
C. CIIT can offer a standalone Lancaster degree which should kept their local approvals from relevant authorities that can be justified and again acceptable to PEC/HEC
He said he is very supportive and would encourage institutions to internationalize for which HEC is doing all out efforts but award of degrees through international MOU’ that do not comply with the local regulations by HEC or PEC shall not be allowed and it is his responsibility to ensure that people adhere to these rules and policies to ensure quality or recognition of our degrees. He said that he has done all to suggest and propose possible solutions to the DDP crises and it is now up to CIIT to accept the proposal and ensure that Comsat students under such programs are given due relief and compensated.
When I contacted Mr. Junaid Zaidi and explained him the situation and asked for his views he assured me that CIIT is looking into this matter seriously and it will never go against the rules and regulations of the Higher Education Commission or PEC and according to him he will follow and respect these regulatory bodies to safeguard the interest of the degrees that are awarded in Pakistan.
He feels that if an error was made in launching this program this needs to be corrected and put right for the benefit and future of CIIT students which are his priority. I am sure the management of CIIT will realize the importance of this issue and will not only put the house in order and revisit its policy on internationalization but swiftly move to resolve this issue without any further delay, taking in confidence the effected students and the stake holders.
To conclude it seems some light on the other side of the tunnel for these students and I am confident that the issue of DDP will soon be resolved and the students already enrolled or graduated will move on in their lives, higher studies or get jobs to contribute to the industry and development of Pakistan and we wish them all the best.
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