How (not) to promote research

August 13, 2023

HEC’s current policies to stop plagiarism are manifestly inadequate

How (not) to promote research


t is mid-July and the heat in Peshawar, like many other cities in the country, is making it difficult to sit without the air conditioner - at least a fan. However, Farman*, a graduate student, has come to attend an introductory lecture series on the Philosophy and Methodology of Research, arranged in an open lawn by some student volunteers trying to plug the loopholes in the students’ academic careers for one reason or another.

Farman’s clothes are soaked in sweat as he sits with more than 40 students. I ask him why he has come to attend a research methodology course, having already done that during his master’s. He says: “We didn’t [study research methodology] because our teacher said there was no need to study it.” I ask how had he then managed to write his research thesis, he responds with a familiar story.

“Our teacher said that we were not PhD students who needed genuine research. Any research we did was not going to bring about a revolution in the country. Therefore, our teacher, who was very kind, told us to look up some previously submitted thesis and resubmit it.”

I ask him the title of the thesis he submitted, he cannot recall it.

Farman’s is one of many similar responses. Most of the course participant hail from public sector universities in Peshawar. Other students, are all praise for Farman’s teacher. “Yes, he did not teach us how to conduct research. But, he was straightforward and did not ask us to produce original research. He spared his students the effort and the expense needed to engage ‘professional research writers.’”

The going rate for a plagiarism-free research thesis is between Rs 50,000 and Rs 300,000. The tariff for including your name among the authors of a research paper also varies. Siddique*, a political science student at a public university in KP, who has co-published 13 research papers with his supervisor, doesn’t remember what the papers were about because he never read them. He only paid up to Rs 40,000 per paper to his supervisor for including his name as a second author. I visit his supervisor’s researchGate profile. He has produced eight papers in just one month (May 2021). This is amazing performance - two papers a week besides teaching and supervising students’ research. The next month (June 2021), however, he has slowed down a bit, publishing just four.

Due to my research interest in the education sector in Pakistan and my experience as a student, I have observed that the problem is not limited to one or two professors. Rather, it has developed into a parallel culture at many educational institutions. Adnan*, a university graduate and now a government employee, cannot recall the title of his thesis. He says, “Our teachers did not teach us how to conduct research. However, in the final semester, they asked us to submit a thesis.” Adnan did not know how a research thesis was written. He asked a friend, who had graduated from another university, to send him a soft copy of his thesis. After he submitted the thesis, he was called by the professor and told off for plagiarism. When the tried to defend himself, the professor pointed out that while he had put his name on the thesis, he had forgotten to change the name of the university. Despite the faux pas, Adnan managed to graduate from the university.

A computer science graduate from a public university says that their research supervisor advised them to complete their thesis by using the AI model, ChatGPT.

While the world is preparing to readjust its educational standards to match the changing needs of the society, university students in Pakistan are struggling with learning how to read and write. Unsurprisingly, English graduates end up at language academies for English speaking courses and to learn how to write essays to pass a CSS examination. This practice of spending money on tuition after tuition reminds me of Bob Talbert’s saying: “Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more.”

Ali*, a graduate in English, was asked by his supervisor to quickly prepare a paper from his research and send it to the former along with the publication fee. The supervisor promised Ali that the paper will carry only Ali’s name followed by that of the supervisor. “There was no mention of a third author,” he says. However, when the paper was published, the first author was neither the student nor the supervisor, but the chairperson of the department. Ali would later learn that a vacancy had recently been announced at the department for a permanent lecturer and as a candidate his teacher, having a contract-based job so far, felt the need to offer the chairperson a “gift.”

The supervisors already wield enough authority to exploit their students. The HEC, to quote Dr Tariq Rahman, need not “invent new tortures” for research students. Dr Bokhari*, a PhD student in pharmacy tells me: “I rue my choice of a public university over a private one. I have ended up spending more on my supervisor several times the fees charged by a private university.” He says research students dare not comment on social media posts of other teachers, not in the good books of their supervisor.

The HEC’s policies regarding publishing papers remind me of an allegory: A person who had dug a well, asked a wise person in his vicinity what to do with the excavated soil. He was advised to dig another well for that. He complied, but then there was more soil extracted from the new well. The wise man again advised him to dig another well for that. The HEC, in my humble opinion, has been doing the same.

Given that Pakistan does not create as many jobs as it produces graduates per annum, the only option for the graduates is to migrate to other countries. However, we must admit that a software engineer who has published more than a dozen papers but does not know how to put page numbers on MS Word documents; and a political science graduate who has written a thesis and published papers on the Merger of FATA but does not know under which constitutional amendment the merger took place, may become professors in Pakistan but are very unlikely to get a decent job in a foreign market. Those occupying the seats of power in academia should hang this saying on their walls: “Employees don’t need college degrees; they need college education.”

The writer holds a master’s degree in international relations from a British university. He can be reached at and @nadeemkwrites

How (not) to promote research