EducationFeaturedVolume 13 Issue # 03

Who’s damaging higher education in Pakistan?

Madam Shahnila Ahmad* has called Mr. Ali Hassan to her office in Lahore. Apparently, she wants to discuss with him “proofreading” of her MPhil thesis, as her visitor is a professional copy editor. However, a brief chat between the two makes it clear that she wants much more than just a proofreading.

“In fact, I want major changes in the text of the thesis, so that no anti-plagiarism test could reject it,” Madam Shahnila, a lecturer at a government college for women in Lahore, tells Mr. Hassan. “Frankly speaking,” she adds a little hesitantly, “some chapters of the thesis have been copy-pasted from a previous research work. “And I need your help to make it presentable to my supervisor,” the lecturer says sheepishly. “You know, it’s really a tough job to run a house, look after two kids and husband, alongside a full-time teaching job,” she justifies her demand. “That’s why, I had to just manage it through all means available to me.

Ghulam Abbas*, a faculty member at a social sciences department of The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, finds nothing surprising in the request of Madam Shahnila. “I know dozens of MPhil and PhD degree-holders who got their degrees on the basis of works to which they had contributed almost nothing,” claims Mr. Abbas.
“I have established a setup in private to guide the MPhil and PhD scholars on how to write various chapters of a thesis and how data analysis is conducted through SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) programme,” Mr. Abbas tells Cutting Edge. “And would you believe that majority of the research scholars, including teachers of colleges and universities, want the whole job done for them?”

They offer a reasonable remuneration for the service provided to them “as they have no time to carry out the cumbersome task of writing a thesis and conducting data analysis.” He adds,
“I am morally bound to protect privacy of my ‘clients’; otherwise, it would have astonished you that how many ‘scholars’ got their MPhil and PhD degrees on the basis of the works to which they had contributed almost nothing,” claims the IUB faculty member.

Prof. Dr. Obaidullah does not totally reject the assertions of Mr. Abbas. “Yes, it is true that the education sector, in general, and higher education in particular, could not be established on a sound footing over the past decade or so,” he admits while talking to Cutting Edge in his office at the Institute of Education and Research, University of the Punjab, Lahore. Universities and academicians have failed to develop a good research culture at their institutions, he says. “That’s why our education system is not producing good teachers, good researchers and world class research works,” he regrets. The language and content quality of dissertations, especially those being produced by social sciences scholars, is so poor that the international research journals mostly refuse to publish them, Prof. Obaidullah says.

And its results are obvious, he adds. The recent publication of Quacquarelli Symonds World Universities Rankings 2017 saw only one of our 180 plus universities included in the top 500 universities, at 431st place on the list. In the world University Ranking last year (2016), issued by the Times Higher Education, not a single Pakistani university made it to the top 500, whereas only three universities were included in the top 800. These universities were: Comsats Institute of Information Technology, National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and Quaid-e-Azam University.

Prof. Obaidullah believes that reasons for this degradation in the higher education sector are multiple. The higher education sector was devolved to the provinces through the 18th Amendment in April 2010, but the process could not be completed despite the passage of over seven years. All federating units have not constituted their own higher education commissions yet, and those which have set up have continuously been in a clash with the federal government’s HEC, All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association and other bodies concerned. That’s why their focus has not been on promotion of higher education, but legal battles and survival issues. Majority of the higher education commissions in provinces even lack the capacity to run the affairs of higher educational institutions (HEIs) smoothly, believes the PU professor.

Dr. Ali Gul Khushik has some other points to shed light on the topic. He is an assistant professor at the Department of Economics at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro. Talking to Cutting Edge at a seminar in Islamabad recently, he said that universities all over the world perform two basic functions: teaching and research.

He says that all renowned and credible international ranking systems in the world are assessed and evaluated through their ability of producing quality research material which contributes approximately 85% to its overall score. An evaluation of our universities, based on the criterion of the above aspects, show that our educational institutions are only limited to teaching institutions, with relatively less focus given to research. He believes that mismanagement on the part of universities or HEIs, lower budgetary allocation by the government and lack of investment in research and development by private firms are contributing to the deteriorating and dismal prospect of higher education in the country.

Allocation for research and development expenditures, he adds, have always remained low, with only 0.29% allocation of GDP, way less than the average expenditure in developing countries (2.4%) of their GDP on research.

According to a recent survey, Pakistan is short of 40,000 PhDs. Currently there are 60,699 researchers working in Pakistan, out of which 10,670 researchers hold a PhD degree, which is far lower when compared to the developed countries. This is why, Pakistan was ranked 131 out of 141 countries in the Global Innovative Index (GII) 2015. The country’s GII index has continuously suffered a downward trend over the past five years, regrets Dr. Khushik. Though the HEC has granted thousands of PhDs since 2002, and students returned to Pakistan after their completion, the declining trend of GII has created an alarming situation for the higher education sector in Pakistan, he believes.

He says that Switzerland tops the Global Innovative Index (GII) rankings with 57% of foreign researchers working in the country due to generous and attractive incentives being offered to them. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, there are no rewards and benefits provided to the researchers due to which our GII rankings are constantly declining for the past few years.

Dr. Khushik says that the HEC has always laid more emphasis on quantity rather than asking for quality, telling the researchers to produce more publications, and did not keep a check on the quality of the research material. This has led to one of the main reasons, as to why not a single research journal in the scientific and engineering fields has received global recognition and exposure so far, Dr. Khushik seconds Prof. Obaidullah’s assertions.

The University of Sindh teacher lists another reason, attributed to the downfall of higher education: the affiliated colleges, which play a major role in degrading the reputation of the degrees. Most colleges in the country have affiliations with one or another college or university for their undergrad and postgrad degrees. The affiliated colleges, in most cases, have poor infrastructure, dismal conditions of laboratories and building, and ineffective and poor teaching staff, claims Dr. Khushik. The most disheartening part is, however, that the very same students in affiliated colleges end up getting the same degrees, as their fellow students studying at the main campuses, who enjoy better teaching staff and facilities. This further hampers the positive reputation of the academic programme and the university itself, concludes the researcher-cum-teacher.

*. Names changed on request