Notifying nationalism

May 17, 2015

The directive issued by the Punjab Higher Education Department to contain and direct research in universities has perturbed the country’s academia

Notifying nationalism

Punjab Higher Education Department issued a notification on March 27 advising all the public and private-sector universities and institutions in the province to nurture nationalism among their students. "… it has been pointed out by various security agencies that research topics being given to the students in the universities of the province are anti-Pakistan and anti-cultural in nature," reads the notification addressed to vice chancellors and rectors of universities and institutions in the province.

The notification further states that the competent authority has taken serious notice of this situation and desires that the academia plays a constructive role in nurturing nationalism among the youth of this country.

"The concerned quarters may be sensitised to avoid inculcation of anti-cultural and anti-Pakistan sentiments amongst the students by giving such topics for debate and research," says the notification.

The directive most probably was issued in the backdrop of the efforts of faculty members at a private university in Lahore to hold a seminar on Balochistan.

Dr Muhammad Nizamuddin, Chairman Punjab Higher Education Commission, does not endorse the notification. He says, "There was no need for this notification. This notification has a history and I think it was sent on the directions of higher authorities."

He adds that in the early years of Pakistan several people had done research on the social, economic and political viability of the country -- "The research culture of the country changed under dictators likes Ziaul Haq. This directive will hardly change anything. This too is being discussed in universities".

He admits that the policy of "publish or perish" undermines the relevance and quality of research in Pakistan especially in social sciences -- "At the base of higher education lies the culture of debate and discussion".

The officials of HEC say that the Punjab Higher Education Department has no authority to issue such directives to universities. They can only be forwarded to HEC or provincial HECs for deliberations.   

The officials of HEC say that the Punjab Higher Education Department has no authority to issue such directives to universities. They can only be forwarded to HEC or provincial HECs (already constituted in Punjab) for deliberations which are competent authorities to discuss such issues with universities.

Dr Rubina Saigol, a Lahore-based independent researcher on social development, thinks such directives reflect our national security paradigm, which sees India as an external threat and ethno-national movements in Balochistan, Sindh and KP as internal threat -- "Pakistani state has always been insecure. Education is the most effective tool to inculcate the state-defined nationalism. The notification is dangerous and shows that state has been re-asserting its paradigm."

However, Dr Saigol says the number of research papers being written in social sciences is not the only issue. "The quality of research is as much an issue. Teachers and students depend mostly on survey-type questionnaires for research," he says.

She analysed research theses of Education department of the University of the Punjab, Lahore in 2005, and found 80-90 per cent of those theses upholding the existing ideas about nationalism and religion. "They were all done on the basis of calculation of percentage of survey results", she says, continuing that when students write research papers on subjects such as history, "they are replete with misplaced and unverified references to religion, jingoism and other historical myths."

She adds that some private institutions have been producing quality research though.

The number of research papers in Pakistan has increased considerably in the last two decades, from 893 in 1996 to about 8,000 in 2014. But the number is disappointingly low in social sciences and humanities. In 2012, the latest year for which figures on research output across disciplines are available, the number of research papers produced in social sciences, including management sciences, was 208 and only 17 research papers were produced in arts and humanities, as opposed to 4,237 in natural sciences, 1,931 in life sciences and medicine, and 895 in engineering and information technology.

"There are less than a dozen internationally-recognised social scientists in Pakistan," says Dr. Mohammad Waseem, Professor of Political Science at Department of Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Terming the issuance of notification a standard approach, he adds, "campuses cannot be controlled by authorities from outside".

Ali Usman Qasmi, a teacher of history at LUMS, looks at the notification differently. He says this kind of notification means things are improving, even though nothing substantive has happened -- "Most people who went abroad on HEC scholarships have joined private educational institutions. They have created some liberal space, especially in the private sector universities. It’s not vibrant, but at least Pakistani historians have started rewriting history. We have started arranging seminars on issues which were ‘untouchable’ a decade and half ago. We have started discussing the question of Baloch nationalism".

He agrees that most of the research in private sector is being done in English but "book is not the only medium, there is equal reliance on internet etc."

Yaqoob Bangash, another young social scientist who teaches both in public and private sector universities in Lahore, believes that it is difficult to control research in the age of internet -- "We need to improve the quality of research. PhD means a substantial addition to the existing knowledge. HEC has introduced a numbers game in research. Nobody talks about the quality of research, for which there is space in both private and public sector universities. LUMS, which is a private institution, did not allow arranging seminar on Balochistan but teachers at the Karachi University managed to arrange the same seminar."

However, the Punjab University, the oldest public sector university in Pakistan, was quick in responding to the notification and sent a report based on MPhil and PhD research topics conducted between 1995 and 2015. "We have categorically told the authorities that our universities do not allow students to carry out research against the ideology of Pakistan," Khurram Shehzad, spokesperson of the Punjab University tells TNS.

Officials in HEC tell TNS that the Commission has been striving hard to promote quality research in social sciences. "This directive can be a blow to our efforts. HEC has already been encouraging social scientists to do research on the real issues of society like inflation, extremism, terrorism and sectarianism," says a senior official of HEC.

He says HEC allocates around 30 per cent research funds for social science. But, "For 2011-2012, the Commission approved only four per cent for social sciences research projects".

The 3rd International Social Sciences Conference, ‘State and Society of Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities’, organised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) on May 13-14, 2015 highlighted the importance of quality research.

Dr. Mansoor Akbar Kundi, Executive Director of HEC, said that the conference provided a perfect platform for our social scientists to deliberate on the causes behind little research in institutions of higher learning. He called for a major change in the mindset of our faculty members and researchers.

Vice chancellors of several universities and faculty members admitted that research in social sciences in Pakistan is still far behind other disciplines due to consistent negligence on the part of policy makers and underlined the need to reorganise and restructure the social sciences education and research in Pakistani universities. They talked about incorporating new ideas and new themes in research in the field of social sciences.

Notifying nationalism