The University of the Punjab drops its master’s degree programme for good, to the dismay of many a prospective student
Recently, the news about the University of the Punjab discontinuing its master’s degree programme in all disciplines grabbed headlines. To the dismay of many.
The matter, decided by a committee of PU deans, has been conveyed to all affiliated colleges, as per the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) directives. Next year onwards, no private or regular student shall be offered a master’s degree upon completing their two-year bachelors. Instead, those who have completed the two-year BA or BSc, will be offered placement in the fifth semester.
It is reported that the HEC has already announced BS Honours and MS programmes to replace the two-year BA and MA.
Speaking with TNS, Khurram Shahzad, the public relations officer (PRO) at PU, explains that “the discontinuation is HEC’s decision. If the body responsible for attesting and verifying degrees decides to no longer accept a programme, no university can continue with it.”
In nearly 100 years, this is going to be the first time that the students will not have the option to pursue an MA degree; instead, they will need to earn their 16 years of education by pursuing an Honours degree.
On the face of it, the decision does not appear alarming. But when seen in the context of the hurdles the students would face, it becomes clear why discontinuation is a cause for concern.
Getting higher education is a struggle for many, especially those based in remote areas. In the case of female students, the problems are even more numerous. For years, students who could not make their way into Lahore to get a degree would sit for examinations privately. In 16 academic years, they would obtain a master’s degree. But now, they have to work two extra years after completing an Honours programme to get the same credentials.
“Since the discontinuation is not the university’s decision, HEC officials are the ones to answer your queries,” Shahzad says, categorically. “If the HEC decides to give further extension, we could open the two-year programme to students. But if they don’t, then there is nothing that we can do.”
To get some sense of the situation, this scribe reached out to the HEC. In a detailed response, the higher education authority explained: “As part of HEC’s efforts to align Pakistani higher education system at par with international standards and transformation towards quality higher education system, the following have been introduced in chronological order:
Even though the decision to discontinue the master’s degree programme appears to be well-thought-out, the accompanying confusion for students remains an issue. Affordability is a major factor in this regard.
The HEC taskforce recommended to start 4-year BS programmes in the year 2004. Accordingly, the universities/ HEIs were conveyed the importance of launching BS — 4-year programme along with guidelines regarding the structure, semester-wise breakup, and programme offerings.
HEC Semester Guidelines were developed and circulated initially in 2008 and onwards revised in 2013 and 2016.
Comprehensive guidelines regarding offering of associate degree as an alternative to conventional BA/ BSc/ BCom or equivalent were introduced and circulated in 2011.
Bridging guidelines for BA/ BSc/ BCom or equivalent with BS programmes were developed by the HEC in 2013 and made part of the National Qualifications Framework of Pakistan developed in 2015.
“Accordingly, after a well-thought process, the decision regarding phasing-out of the two-year conventional BA/BSc/BCom and MA/MSc/MCom was taken due to quality concern in March 2017. All the universities were advised to discontinue two-year BA/ BSc/ BCom or equivalent and two-year MA/ MSc/ MCom or equivalent degree programmes with effect from December 31, 2018, and March 31, 2021, respectively.
However, considering disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and to protect the educational career of the students enrolled in such programmes, following the approval of the Commission, a one-time waiver was granted to the BA/ BSc/ BCom or equivalent degree holders enrolled in the Academic Year 2019. Accordingly, the timeline for admissions in MA/ MSc/ MCom or equivalent programmes was adjusted up till June 30, 2022.
“Now, as per new policy, the students having intermediate qualification may either take admission in a two-year associate degree (equivalent to 14 years of education) or four-year BS/equivalent degree programme (equivalent to 16 years of education).”
(The notifications are available with The News on Sunday.)
Even though the decision to discontinue the master’s degree programme appears to be well-thought-out, the accompanying confusion for students remains an issue. Affordability is a major factor in this regard. Coming from all over the country, the youngsters enrolled in the two-year programmes will now have to either complete a BA/ BSc Honours and leave without the master’s they intended to do, or stay for two extra years, bear more costs and finally get a higher qualification. Sadly, none of these options are pocket-friendly.
The writer is a staff member