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October 4, 2018

A question of quality

Opinion

October 4, 2018

With its 100-day plan, the incumbent PTI government hopes to bring about improvements in the country’s education sector, which emerged as a major challenge soon after the 18th Amendment was passed and the subject of education was devolved to the provinces.

In addition to many other challenges, there is a gap between research, technology and industry in Pakistan. As a result, the country’s higher education sector has been affected. Over the last decade, dozens of public and private universities have been established. However, the time has now come to ensure the quality of education. For this purpose, there should be regular and productive links with industry and research to make education more self-sustainable and achieve the desired economic growth.

There are countless issues with respect to the standardisation of research. These concerns can be tackled by activating review and scrutiny committees and imposing standard checks on editors, editors-in-chief, co-editors, and reviewers to minimise the chances of nepotism and favouritism in publications. Research journals should be strictly scrutinised and cogent plans should be devised to utilise these research publications practically.

Realistic research should be encouraged to solve the country’s problems and possibly contribute towards development. Along with this, there should be suitable opportunities for qualified students that are relevant to their careers, research and contributions. Any immoral and illegal practices and violations with regard to ‘naming’ the publications also need to be stopped. Unfortunately, if students only seek to obtain MPhil or PhD degrees, they can never make any useful contributions towards research.

Appointment and promotion policies need to be reviewed and the elements of exploitation, nepotism and favouritism should be deeply scrutinised and removed. If rules and procedures exist for the recruitments in higher education colleges, there should also be a unanimous recruitment procedure for autonomous universities based on competitive examinations. Our flawed recruitment system that provides maximum chances of political interference to accommodate blue-eyed candidates needs to be reformed.

Why don’t we have even a single Pakistani university that ranks among the top 500 universities in the world? Which educational institutions do our PhD students, researchers and scholars – on whom we are investing national and internationally – turn to? Are our universities successful in producing researchers who can ensure self-sustainability and development in the country? Does the quality of our research match that of the developed world with whom we are competing?

Why doesn’t our research meet international standards when our universities and their teaching faculties aren’t entirely below acceptable standards? Why we are facing problems in establishing world-standard research laboratories equipped with modern apparatus? What eventually becomes of our talent, especially those students who secure 99 percent marks?

If talented students are unable to contribute to the country’s economic and civic growth, there is something wrong with our existing education system. Our education system should follow a pattern that can eventually work to our benefit.

There is a need for competitive remuneration for our teaching and research faculties that ought to be at par with the basic payscale of bureaucrats, judges and public prosecutors who are getting reasonable stipends in the form of executive, judicial and prosecution allowances. There is also an urgent need to scrutinise and regularise lavish payments and fund utilisation by some heads of the institutions.

At a time when the government is asking bureaucrats to save money, it should also look into the affairs of these autonomous institutions. This involves asking questions about how many hostels are operating and how many employees – including cooks, watchmen, drivers, peons, gardeners and helpers – are working in the houses of departments heads, faculty heads and directors. We must also ask why public employees are working in some private bungalows. The austerity initiatives should also be extended to these educational institutions, along with proper checks and balance.

There ought to be proper planning to check autonomous public institutions and regularise the autonomous private institutions. For instance, if a biometric attendance system exists in an institution, it should apply to all employees. The exclusion of BPS-17 and above officers from this system would, therefore, constitute extreme discrimination.

The government should strictly discourage the administrative staff’s alleged involvement in forming any forms of groups and taking sides in some institutions.

Lastly, there are some public-sector institutions that are facing severe financial challenges. Some of them are unable to pay their employees’ salaries and pensions. Why aren’t they self-sufficient when they are charging exorbitant fees from students? What is going wrong?

Today, our youth desperately need 10 million jobs and the country also necessitates greater economic growth. Yet, the real challenge for the incumbent government is how to make higher education more productive to achieve priorities? Now that the new federal government has promised to establish a world-class university in the PM House, which comprised over 1,096 kanals of land and other lavish facilities, the question is whether hundreds of Pakistani universities lack sufficient land or buildings? The answer is no.

Every university has reasonable land and building. Most universities have only one deficiency: the standard and quality of education. Creating only one standard institution may help the country’s higher education sector. But the most favourable move would be if the government focuses on the existing postgraduates institutions. The government should follow the pattern that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has followed to overhaul law colleges and universities, and regulate and uphold the legal profession.

The government should fix higher education in accordance with the modern needs of the country and focus on reforming hundred of existing institutions. It should prioritise the quality of education, not the quantity of educational institutions.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: s_irshadahmad

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