Higher Education Needs Right Intervention and Focused Approach

By Prof. Dr. Habib ur Rehman (Sitara e Imtiaz)


The academic staff members of the Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST) are overwhelmed by the ousting of the Chairman of the Higher Education Commission and are of concerted view that the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan is made to fail during the past three years and that the ousting of the Chairman was required to save the institution.

The ousted Chairman has damaged the cause of the commission

The articles of Akmal Somro titled, “Pakistani Higher Education Boston Group Kay Shakangay Main” and Dr. Noman Ahmed titled, “HEC in Focus” published on the 31st March, 2021 in the Tahleemi Zavia, Pakistan’s largest educational news and Dawn of the 30th March, 2021 are eye opener.

Dr. Javed Laghari, former Chairman of the HEC, in his article titled, “Fix the HEC”published in the News of the 8th April, 2021 concluded that the Chairmen of the HEC after him have badly damaged the commission.

Dr Javed Laghari, former chairman HEC.

In particular, the later made it completely fail. Dr. M. Iqbal Choudhary, Coordinator General of the COMSTECH, in his article titled, “Baseless Accusation” published on the 21st April, 20121 in the Dawn placed the things in true perspective.

The statements of Dr. Muhammad Ali, Convener of the Vice Chancellor Committee concerning the bad shape of the HEC are endorsed by the Vice Chancellors of the public sector universities in the country.

Article of Naeem Masood, renowned journalist, in his article concerning ranking of Pakistani universities published on the 25th April, 2021 is also eye opener. The faculty of the public sector universities hold similar views.

The ousted chairman failed to utilizing scholarships available under the existing schemes/ programs for higher studies particularly in foreign top rated universities, initiating new scholarships schemes, launching the students’ loan scheme and considering strengthening the social sciences and religious studies to meeting the national needs and obligations.

The scheme are directed at developing the human resource relevant to the national needs for progress of the county and prosperity of its people.

The Muslims ruled the world in the past, the USA is No. 1 in the world, the Europe and Japan are ahead of us, if we ask question to ourselves why and how, the answer would be of course only due to quality education.

We believe that the real wealth of any nation is not the oil beneath its lands, neither is its mineral resources nor agriculture outputs, but the quality of education its people are blessed with. Those are no other way to progress.

Therefore, if we really want to make over country strong and prosperous, we need to educate our children to international standard. Barack Obama said that if you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs.

Our governments should also create standard feasibilities for meaningful education for the youth as there was no other way to progress, not in the past neither it is now and nor it would be any in future. We just need to provide facilities for standard education to our children. The important of all is the qualified teachers and for that we need to provide education and training to them so that they may be able to meeting the international teaching standards.

At the individual level we are concerned though for education of our children and invest heavily in their education but as a nation, so far, we have not realized the importance of education. We also know that education is the only mean for development of a country and its people but unfortunately successive governments of our country did not realize rather failed to understand that no country of the world is developed without giving foremost priority to education and to that effect providing facility for quality education to its children.

We stress importance of education, most of the times, to the extent of lip service but have not been serious in creating institutions of international standard where facilities for meaningful education are provided. 

We understand that some institutions of the country like HEJ Research Institution of Chemistry, University of Karachi, created and developed by Prof. Salimuzaman Siddiqui and later by Prof. Atta-ur-Rehman and their colleagues and its expansion with the passage of time to a world level institutions.

The nation of Pakistan shall remain thankful to them for their selfless services and great contributions for developing the institutions to the international standard. May Allah blessed them with highest reward for their contributions for the development of institutions and the country and also guide those who have nothing to their credit but pointing a finger toward others without realizing that other are toward them.

It is worth mentioning that students from developed countries come to study in the centers under the umbrella of the HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry.

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman won international praise and acknowledgments for his outstanding contributions and extraordinary achievements. Few remain critics of the contributions of Prof. Atta-ur-Rehman and launched a malicious campaign to defame him.

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman

Any person of conscience cannot deny extraordinary contributions and outstanding achievements of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman in developing the HEC Research Institution of Chemistry and other institutions and making them pride of the nation.

If one criticizes other, he should possesses courage to mention his own contributions and worthiness. His extraordinary contributions as Federal Minister and Chairman of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan are acknowledged by all and sundry and that period is still remembered as a golden period of the science and higher education sector.

Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman is most decorated scientist of the country and Muslim world. He has many achievements and national and international awards to his credit while his critics are empty and have nothing to show but just to utter jealously and misguide people by issuing false statements with malafide intention to damaging the repute of the great scientist of our country.

It may be concluded that critic of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman are in fact biased and have nothing worthwhile to their credit. Did they build any institution of international repute and did any of them have fraction of the achievements compared to Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman.

The three institutions they mentioned in their statements and article are judged by independent global agencies and ranked them among the best in Asia and world and the institutions won number of international awards. Similarly, Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman has won all national awards and have number of international award to his credit again it is worth mentioning that none of these including a convener of the Punjab Search Committee, all put together, have not even fraction of the honors/ awards of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman to their credit.

The faculty members strongly condemned the negative statements launched by few individuals having anti-state agenda. They said that a person who openly says that atomic weapon of Pakistan is ‘patakha’ and condemns Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan for making the state a nuclear power to making defense of Pakistan impregnated, obviously work for his foreign masters and thus cannot be in favor of good thing happening in the country. His opinion about creation of Pakistan, founder of the nation and defense institutions is well known.

So, GoP should pursue its agenda of making HEC further strong and to strengthen the higher education sector for the progress and prosperity of our country. The damage done by the ousted Chairman and his accomplices needs to be corrected to save the higher education sector of the country. He remained in isolation and never tried to appreciate ground realities. He failed and failed miserably and destroyed the higher sector further.

The above mentioned articles of Akmal Somoro, Dr. Noman Ahmed, Statements of Dr, Muhammad Ali, Vice Chancellor Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Dr. Javed Laghari, former chairman of the HEC, Prof. Iqbal Choudhary, Coordinator General, CONSTECH and article of Naeem Masood may be consulted to having true perspective of things.

The most competent must rule otherwise we will fail. And if we don’t want to fail we need to select best from the bests to run our institutions. The best means those who have their stake in Pakistan, have earned international recognition and have proven ability and capacity to understanding complexities of our higher education system and to making the difference in favor of the people of Pakistan. 

To equipping our teachers with the necessary skills and ability for imparting standard education, we need to allocate sufficient funds for the purpose. Similarly, to provide facility of standard education to our youth, we need to invest in them.

It is strange that USA and West are worried about education of our children and give grants for creating and improving education facilities but we are not at all serious rather we mismanage the foreign grants meant for improving the education facilities.

Being such, the things are same as they were 30 years or 50 years back despite tall claims and shall remain the same after another 50 years and beyond if we continue failing to realizing that miracles are brought about nothing else but only by education.

We badly need to enhance the standard of our education and institutions, so that our graduates may be able to compete at the international level. During the years 2000 through 2008, budget for the higher education was increased many fold and universities witnessed unprecedented development during the period. Credit goes to Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman for moving things happened and moving forward on fast track.

However, the trend and pace could not be continued; the budget was reduced or allocated budget has not been utilized and not spent where it should have been spent. Being such, the institutions of higher learning went down and exemplary HEC of Pakistan intentionally pushed back.

The UGC admirers are of the opinion that the UGC was more productive than the present HEC. Successive governments may want to spend on education but some time heads of institutions divert funds towards irrelevant and unimportant tasks and set unachievable targets; governments are misled by incapable heads who make institutions fail and their purpose lost.

The HEC met with same kind of fate, it failed and failed miserably. Some of its programs were closed down or budget is utilized on unimportant things or not spent for the purpose it was allocated. The HEC was made stranger to the universities, faculty and even Vice Chancellors as they never welcomed at any level in the HEC. Consequently, the HEC lost connections with universities and provisional HECs rather relationship of the HEC with universities and Vice Chancellors virtually ended; the budget is reduced, scholarship are abandoned or decreased, funding cut and institutions of higher learning were pushed into unending finance crises.

The major failure of the HEC was its inability to utilizing approved scholarships and spending its budget for the purpose it was not meant. The hard earned ranking of Pakistani University which was increased was brought down. The details of mismanagement and failure of the HEC is given as under;

The scholarship programs (existing and forthcoming), students loan schemes for government/ semi Government employees for tertiary education for their children,donor portal for expatriate Pakistanis to involve them for supporting scholarships for the undergraduate studies of the needy students and to shifting focus on social sciences and religious studies were very important for human resource development hence prosperity of the country and its people.

The programs are also directed at meeting the demand of qualified faculty in the institutions of higher learning, enhancing the quality of education, human resource development in important areas, helping the needy students for completing their studies to making the dreams of their parents come true.

In particular, the loan schemes for needy students for their studies and making right focus on social sciences and religious studies is very relevant and need of the time.

The scheme of 5000 overseas scholarships for Ph.D. studies was approved in 2018 but remain unattended during the last 3 years. The scholarships schemes including, Ph.D. overseas scholarships Phase-3 under which 2000 Ph.D scholarships were approved in 2018 with the cost of Rs. 21 billionwere to be implemented in 7 years till 2025.

However, the program has not been implemented. The government should take immediate necessary measures to materializing the scholarships, so that targets set for thehuman resources development are achieved. 

The major failure of the HEC was the non-utilization of the approved 5000 overseas scholarship. Non-utilization of the allocated budget was indeed tragic.

As budget for the scholarship was allocated and the scholarships are still available, the government is required to form a comprehensive and fool proof system for utilizing the available scholarships, so that brightest young minds may be provided the opportunity for higher education.

The intent of the government to utilize the approved scholarship is indeed commendable. The country is short of qualified manpower in discipline of engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics and social sciences. Therefore, utilization of the approved scholarships and launching schemes of the more scholarships are needed for strengthening the faculty in important disciplines and developing the universities to bringing them at par with institutions of the developed world.

Not only that scholarships are not utilized but also the information regarding available scholarships not extended to the universities. Being such, the universities and youth are deprived of the opportunities for higher education.

Now, it is obligatory on the government to ensure the implementation of the 2000 scholarships under the Ph.D overseas scholarships phase-3 of Rs. 21 billion approved in 2018, so that our brightest young minds are sent to the top rated universities of the world.

Regretfully, no significant progress has been made for implementation of the US- Pakistan knowledge corridor Ph.D scholarships program approved in 2017 for Rs. 25 billion.

Another scholarship scheme of 2000 scholarships with the cost of Rs. 7.14 billion for the faculty development program was approved in 2017 for Ph.D studies has not been utilized to the extent it should have been utilized by now. Similarly, 5000 scholarship scheme under the Ehsas Scholarship Program to be awarded in next five years needs to be utilized in full, so that faculties desiring for scholarships may benefit the opportunities.

The scholarship meant for the students of the FATA and Baluchistan under graduate/ under graduate programs under the indigenous Ph.D scholarships program Phas-2 also needs to be benefited for development of the human resource of the area.

The postdoc fellowship scheme approved in 2017 for Rs. 2.77 billion for 5 years period needs revision so that local Ph.Ds may avail the opportunities of working in the foreign countries, get exposure of the universities of the developed world and learn the skills necessary to set and implement international research standards.

As the targets have not been achieved, steps need to be taken to ensure that every scholarship is utilized to the benefit of the faculty members. The HEC must ensures that the distribution of the scholarships is made transparent and same are allocated where required and only in the where country is facing shortage of qualified manpower.

The profit @ Rs. 800 million per annum on the endowment fund of Rs. 5.2 billion invested by the GoP in the name of National Endowment Scholarship Talent Company (NEST) incorporated in 2015 may also needs to be provided to the talented students, who do not have enough resources to continue their studies.

As per the policy of the GoP scholarships are to be provided for different levels of education to ensure vertical mobility to the most vulnerable segment of the society. As proposed by the Ministry of Planning and Development in 2018, the NEST may also be transferred to the HEC under the HEC Human Resource Development Division, so that it may perform to the satisfaction of all stakeholders and to achieve its objectives in a given framework of time.

The initiative of GoP for the students’ loan schemes for government/ semi-government employees (permanent/ contractual) for tertiary education of their children is in fact commendable and necessary measures to institutionalize the scheme are required to be taken to make it transparent and efficient, so that students may avail the facility of the loans to complete their studies. 

It is worth mentioning that the need base scholarships proved very successful and needy students have been availing that facility which enable them to complete their studies without any hardship, otherwise there are about 20-25% students who could not afford their tuition fee and living expenses.

The loans’ schemes will encourage parents and students to enroll for higher studies and complete their education without facing financial problems. The HEC need base scholarships criteria may also be implemented for the loans’ schemes so that transparency and efficiency are ensured.

Similarly the initiative of the Donor Portal for Expatriate Pakistani is unprecedented and also commendable. It is hoped that the program will be successful in helping the needy students for their studies. The process needs to be institutionalized and made transparent so that overseas Pakistanis may know where their donations gone and see for themselves the outcome of their donations. 

The GoP and HEC though focused on strengthening the social sciences but universities are still lacking the qualified faculty in the disciplines of social sciences, so focus needs to be continued on social sciences for some time till a balance between physical and social sciences may be created.

The HEC remained focus on social sciences and invested instrengthening them but further focus needs to be placed on strengthening the social sciences.

The focus of the GoP on religious education is timely. It is for the first time that the religious studies are also being focused. The initiative is indeed relevant and very important and will go a long way in strengthening the religious studies.

The religious studies should be made relevant. Though we also need to strengthening the religious studies but should not be considered as spiritual studies as that world mean to make people believe that spiritualization is enough and important.

This consideration will not serve the purpose and may prove harmful to the country and its people. The government should do meaningful consultation in making the syllabus acceptable to all and also in improving the image of Islam and Muslims in the world. 

Last but not the least, we need to give scientific outlook to materializing our proposals and planning, so that what we plan are meant and implemented and it cannot be like unless we ensure that our plans are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) and country and its people are the main beneficiaries. Ends

(Note: The Author Is Ex Vice Chancellor of the State-run Mirpur University of Science & Technology, (MUST), Mirpur (AJK).)