State of higher education

March 26, 2023

Managements of most universities have rejected proposed amendments to the PHEC rules

State of higher education


he higher education system in Pakistan presents a dismal picture in terms of catering to quality education. An effective higher education system produces efficient human capital and contributes to knowledge economy. In Pakistan, the educational system is mired in a labyrinth of structural, strategic and behavioural problems. Recently, vice chancellors of 32 universities across the Punjab have unanimously rejected the proposed amendments to the Punjab Higher Education Commission Act, 2014.

The proposed changes would take away some of the remaining autonomy of the commission. The PHEC was formed as a part of the devolution plan enshrined in the 18th Amendment to the constitution. The proposed amendments in Section 3, 5, 10 and 12 put this regulatory body under the minister of higher education. They also curtail the autonomy of the PHEC chairman and jeopardise the role and functions of the accreditation committee. Should the draft pass into law, the PHEC will turn into an ineffective body.

Political influence plagues seats of higher learning from the selection of heads of the institutes to the syndicate committees. The final selection of a vice chancellor is made by the chief minister. The political parties in power want to ensure that the appointee will be aligned to their preferences. Political interference is therefore structurally legitimised. The parliamentary members, present in the syndicates in the name of public representation, pressure and demean the office of vice chancellor and make a mockery of hundreds of eminent scholars by overseeing their recruitment and their careers.

Too often, the political appointments try to micromanage academic decision making at the universities. Why cannot we have boards of governors comprising professionals in their respective fields rather than such political appointments like they do in private sector institutions? The difference in terms of quality of education, environment, and faculty and impact factor between public and private universities speaks for itself. Power sharing between the vice chancellor and the syndicate becomes a strange medley of political intervention. It can sometimes be beneficial for some stakeholders but blemishes the quality of education.

The spillover effects of such power sharing are visible from the recruitment of teachers to providing a conducive environment for learning to students and faculty members. Political intervention triggers preferential treatment in granting additional duties to sycophants along with perks and privileges. This leads to brinksmanship and politicking among faculty members. With the exception of a few senior posts, the criteria for grant of additional administrative powers to faculty are at best dubious. The additional duties add valuable marks to profiles and generate a vicious cycle. No wonder, too many teachers at every campus are seen politicking.

Publications appearing in dubious journals represent a serious issues. Most researchers today appear to be focusing on quantity instead of quality. Even, the HEC, the premier oversight body, prefers published articles over teaching experience in making recruitment and funding decisions.

Another issue that bedevils universities in Pakistan is the publication of articles in dubious journals. Sadly, most researchers focus on quantity instead of quality. Even, the HEC, the premier oversight body, prefers published articles to teaching experience in its recruitment and funding decisions. That is why many brilliant teachers never get promotions. It is not the quality of education or the diversity of knowledge - the real precursors of a knowledge economy - but the number of articles even if they are published in some ghost journals. University professors thus compete in the number game, in some cases paying hefty amounts to the ghost journals to get promotions in their jobs. How can a university professor, who is also teaching full time, be expected to publish dozens of research papers in a single year? If he does, what can be the academic or practical worth of such papers?

Apart from discrete procedures of interview and written tests for the recruitment of faculty, there is no concept of teacher training. But training is necessary to cater to the needs/ mechanisms of teaching at university levels. Lamentably, in Pakistan teaching is considered the easiest of professions rarely in need of training. Like a lawyer, who is required to have definite knowhow before appearing in courts, a university teacher must be acquainted with teaching methods and state of the art techniques to compete in the global market. Most faculty members, however, are not properly trained in pedagogy or andragogy. The recruitment of visiting faculty and distribution of classes is also a challenging procedure.

The chasm between graduates of public and private universities is growing wider. Disheartened foreign-qualified professionals are increasingly choosing to settle abroad.

The colonial mindset is another problem in higher education. The administrative staff of a public sector university assumes the air of privileged bureaucratic class. This is apparent from the fact that the people at the helm of administrative affairs are provided facilities and perks that are not available to faculty members or students. How can we develop higher education when the purveyors of education live in an environment of class division?

Provision of facilities at department level is another issue. Public universities rarely pay adequate attention to such issues. Consequently, students choose private institutes that have far better facilities.

Structural and behavioural reforms are urgently needed in the higher education system to make it capable of producing skilled, competent and potent human capital. Continuing the neglect of education will only aggravate the miseries of an already struggling country.

The writer is a lecturer in English at Government College University, Faisalabad

State of higher education