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Misjudging universities

Updated Nov 29, 2014 11:46am


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The writer teaches physics and mathematics in Lahore and Islamabad.
The writer teaches physics and mathematics in Lahore and Islamabad.

THE headlines earlier this week were celebratory: a Pakistani university has been included in the “500 Best Global Universities” by the US News and World Report. Although Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad occupied only the 496th place — well below 10 other universities from neighbouring India and Iran — this is welcome news. Have we actually zoomed up and away from the rock-bottom standards of our higher education?

Sadly, the flawed methodology used by the Report means that this happy conclusion cannot be affirmed or denied. If used to assess universities in the United States and Europe the approach, though controversial, has some degree of validity. But, applied to developing countries like Pakistan, Iran, and India, it can lead to absurd conclusions.

Take, for example, the inclusion of QAU but the absence of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) from the top 500 list. QAU is a rather ordinary Pakistani public-sector university where I have taught for 41 years, and where I still continue to teach voluntarily. I have much affection for it. LUMS, on the other hand, is a private university for Pakistan’s pampered super-elite with much greater resources, financial and intellectual. I do not have the same positive feelings for LUMS, where my two years of teaching ended mysteriously and unpleasantly. So, whereas I wish it were the other way around, honesty compels me to say that LUMS is superior as a university to QAU. Those familiar with both institutions will surely agree.

The rot can be stemmed if the HEC and PCST agree to reverse policies that incentivise corruption.

Just what have the Report’s editors been smoking? According to its website, the Report judges a university by the quantity of research produced. More precisely, 65pc of the grade comes from counting the number of PhDs produced, papers published, and citations earned. Another 25pc is for an (undefined and undefinable) “research reputation”, while the remaining 10pc is for “international collaborations”. This recipe is not unreasonable. After all, publishing research articles in good journals and counting citations is important in assessing individual and institutional academic achievement. Having PhD students undoubtedly helps generate a culture of research.

But there’s a catch. Social scientists call it Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” This law is nearly as ironclad as one of physics. A corollary: robust systems may suffer some distortion but weaker ones can be willfully deformed and massively manipulated by prevailing local interests.

Pakistan’s academic system is, as everyone agrees, far from robust. An estimated 40pc of students cheat in matriculation, intermediate, and college examinations. Teachers are no more ethical than shopkeepers, policemen, politicians, judges, and generals. Because of policies that reward authors of research articles and PhD supervisors with cash and promotions, our universities have turned into factories producing junk papers and PhDs. Publishing papers is now a well-developed art form that combines outright plagiarism, faking data, showcasing trivia, repeating old papers, and using fly-by-night journals. With apologies to the few genuine students and their supervisors, the fact is that PhDs are awarded to all and sundry.

From many grotesque examples, I will repeat one that I had argued out fruitlessly for many months with Dr Javed Leghari, who became the Higher Education Commission (HEC) chairman following Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, the principal architect of the numbers game.

This concerned a physics PhD thesis that was guided by an “HEC meritorious professor” at Balochistan University, co-supervised by the then vice-chancellor of Quaid-i-Azam University, Dr Masoom Yasinzai. The thesis title was A quantitative study on chromotherapy. The text contained equations that apparently bestowed respectability. Together with several notable Pakistani physicists, I saw this as nonsense. But months of effort failed to convince Dr Leghari, who refused to reveal the names of the referees.

As a last-ditch effort, I sent a copy to two distinguished physicists who I knew for many years. One was the physics Nobel Prize (1979) winner, Steven Weinberg, and the other was the physics Nobel Prize (1988) winner, Jack Steinberger.

Weinberg wrote a point by point criticism which ended up saying: “I am appalled by what I have seen. The thesis shows a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of physics. This thesis is not only unworthy of a PhD, it is positively dangerous, since it might lead patients with severe illnesses to rely on ‘chromotherapy’ rather than on scientific medicine. I find it difficult to understand how this thesis could have earned its author any academic degree.”

Steinberger was equally negative: “a reasonable physics department should not have accepted anything like this work … Following world news this past decade, I have been very unhappy about the Pakistani political instability and social problems, but I had imagined that its cultural level was better than what I now see.”

This rot can be stemmed if the HEC and Pakistan Council for Science & Technology agree to reverse policies that incentivise corruption. This will not be easy. Resisting pressures from greedy beneficiaries of the present system will require enormous moral strength, especially now that the Report has demonstrated the rewards for wholesale publishing.

My last meeting with the current HEC chairman, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, was a surprisingly pleasant one. He expressed concern at the decay within and seemed receptive to the following suggestion: “Let the HEC require that an author of a research paper, for which he or she desires official credit, to give a video-recorded presentation before the institution’s faculty. This would be archived for free access on the HEC website.”

All necessary technologies needed to implement the above are already in place. The benefits would be two-fold. First, any piece of genuinely important research would become widely known. Second, fake research and corrupt practices would be readily spotted.

Many months have passed since our meeting. Although my emails requesting signs of progress remain unanswered, I remain hopeful that the honourable chairman’s reply is somewhere out there in cyberspace.

The writer teaches physics and mathematics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, November 29th , 2014

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (110) Closed

Abdulrehman Nov 29, 2014 06:49am

The rot is not going to stop by fixing HEC or devising means to catch the pseudo researchers. We have become a '2 number' society because of our '2 number' leaders. The scum at the top needs to be removed to have any chance of stemming this rot.

AdHawk Nov 29, 2014 08:50am

Keep fighting the good fight Hoodbhoy Saheb. You are among the ever-dwindling sane voices in Pakistan. As for the Pakistani higher education scenario, the term 'garbage in, garbage out' is a bullseye.

a_writer Nov 29, 2014 09:03am

Dr. Hoodbhoy:

I wish South Asia ( Pakistan, India and all the other nations) had more people of your caliber and integrity to lay out in stark terms what ails our education system. I don't think I have read a column in recent times that is this refreshing and at the same so brutally honest with what ails the Universities and colleges in South Asia.

Hafeez Darwasih Nov 29, 2014 09:31am

wish that we can see a country with genuine PhDs, who would have fact based solutions to our problems and can participate in the country's progress.

Confused Nov 29, 2014 09:56am

Mr. Hoodhbhoy has a reasonable demand. However, the problem here is the same that is eating at the root of the Pakistani society and that is being the society being accepting of cheating and mediocrity. This is because there is never any consequence for doing wrong. For a start, instead of videotaping, how about the HEC expel the cheating PhD students and ensure that they do not get admission into any university in Pakistan. Only then can we can see some sort of respectability return to the Pakistani institutions of learning.

AYZA Nov 29, 2014 10:26am

As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head first, and it's quite disappointing to note that senior university heads don't take the time or effort to "fact check" a Ph.D candidate's research. There is a reason why many South Asian students seek to continue their higher studies for a Masters or Ph.D degree abroad where nepotism or mediocre research will not be acceptable or tolerated. There are some cases where unethical academic practices do take place even at universities in North America and Europe, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

The future is quite bleak if our top university and college administrators are not holding themselves and their students to a high, principled standard. The nation is at risk when shoddy academics are promoted in place of genuine intellectual academia. Those students such as family members who work so very diligently and toil from early morning to late into the night at Ivy League universities abroad would never have been admitted if their academic work was in any way compromised or plagiarized.

As Professor Hoodbhoy rightly emphasis, Pakistan's university leaders need a strong moral compass with high principles whom students can look up to, respect and emulate in order to be successful in the the world around them. Failure is not an option, especially if one wants to succeed with honesty in any arena of life.

Muhammad Bilal Khan Nov 29, 2014 10:29am

True thoughts, on a true matter, by the rightly true person.

Nauman M Nov 29, 2014 10:32am

Brilliant Sir, you have spoken my heart out about the prosaic quality of research that comes out these days. (Exceptions are there and my sincere apologies please).

In the early 1970's I found myself losing my hair and sleep for a good four years of hard but rewarding work at a London college. At the end, I was still not satisfied with my work even though some new developments did emerge in the new codes of practice as a result of our department’s concerted research efforts. However, the benefit of the work paved way to my approach and mind to depend more on working from first principles as a general rule. I have never looked back. But I hear these days some PhD's can be earned by merely following a course and sitting exams with a little bit of some project work which is hyped up as a dissertation. How strange and watered down has the old value of ‘research’ become?

“…the principal architect of the numbers game.” I could not have agreed with you more in particular during President Musharraf’s time, freebies were being offered to anyone to go abroad who got enrolled by hook or crook at some established universities.

abro Nov 29, 2014 10:40am

HEC's days are numbered. With the establishment of Punjab HEC by the blessing of the Sharif brothers, it is only a matter of time when it will be devolved.

Faisal Nov 29, 2014 10:43am

quite impressed by your opinion about quality research... above all the best part is the your solution of mentioned problem.. Sign of real thinker and author

Shamim Malik, Ph. D. Nov 29, 2014 10:51am

Prof. Hoodbhoy, This article is a constructive criticism to improve integrity of HE system. I took statistical mechanic and nuclear physics from you during 1980-81 and I appreciate your teaching methodology and honesty. It is a long time, you may recall, you and your wife invited five of graduating student at your home for evening meal. Although, I do not live in Pakistan, I read your articles whenever I get a chance. Regards,


Sana Nov 29, 2014 10:51am

Research based studies and writing are two important factors that are completely neglected in our university culture. If a student is motivated and willing to publish research paper and article he will do it on his own, otherwise there is no guide available and the rest only emphasis on getting A grades and memorization. ALAS!

Karachiwalla Nov 29, 2014 11:17am

I know two students studying at QAU: my niece studying biology and my nephew in mathematics. They tell me that this university is no different from Karachi University although they went there thinking it would be much better. Teachers are lazy, don't turn up for classes, and have no interest in teaching. They don't like to be asked questions in class but are indulging in politics all the time. Still they publish dozens of papers ever year and get various prizes. Who knows what is in those papers. Both students are fed up but private universities are too costly. And who knows what they would get there even if they could pay for it. Bad situation. Only way is to leave the country.

Main Amir Hakim Nov 29, 2014 11:25am

My dear Profes Pervez Hoodbhoy Certain universities in the West too are bestowing PHD's to our students who lack the basic understanding of the subject. Whether it is done to earn money or with some other deep purpose I have failed to understand. You have very correctly given the percentage of our matriculates and others who rely on cheating. If our generation comes from such a lot and system, what could be expected out of them except for plagiarism. A friend who had in the recent past interviewed Engineers for some positions in the Energy sector told me that most of the candidates did not know the Ohm's Law. Men of integerity and value that lived in your and my age are either finished, migrated or extinct. The modern brew comes from the ingredients we are feeding in. Many thanks & Regards. Mian Hakim

Sheraz Khalid Nov 29, 2014 11:45am

Dr. Sahab plz throw some light on atomic energy institutions. They are worse in all Pakistan.

observer Nov 29, 2014 11:53am

I am not an academic or knowledgeable anywhere near the writer, but I feel and share his dis-satisfaction over the system, even at the Highest level. Is there any institution in this country which can claim to free from 'corruption' ? Standard of University for producing PhDs ! Like the hand raisers in the Democratically Elected Assemblies. What a great shame ! Even though, grudgingly however, he has preferred LUMS against QAU, the institution he has served for 41 years and still teaches voluntarily.

Adam Bezar Nov 29, 2014 12:00pm

Mr. Hoodbhoy is a lone crusader who has been raising voice against deteriorating standards of higher education in Pakistan. Mr. Hoodbhoy who got his PhD from MIT and has also taught there knows higher education at its best. Unfortunately, HEC's top slot was mostly occupied by political appointees who served the interests of their masters than then nation.

Qasim Bughio Nov 29, 2014 12:54pm

An eye opening article that portrays a true picture of our higher education and state of research in the country.

Qasim Bughio Nov 29, 2014 12:59pm

Its an eye opening article that portrays real picture of our higher education and present state of research in the country......Dear Hoodbhoy! keep contributing, we are with you to bring positive change in academia.

Qasim Bughio Nov 29, 2014 01:12pm

An eye opening article by a genuine researcher and teacher that portrays the true picture of higher education and present day state of research in the country.

Qasim Bughio

ASHFAQ ALI Nov 29, 2014 01:15pm

One of the major reason for all this is that we don't have Faculty who are capable enough to guide the students during his/her research as a PhD student. The same Pakistani students who join foreign university works very well as there is a good system in place for timely research activities. Sadly HEC dont have the vision and will to tackle these issues.

IRFAN ALI Changazi Nov 29, 2014 01:58pm

Mr Hoodbhoy, you are pointing the real holes in the HEC Pakistan. But if there is HEC, atleast we come to know about these sort of problems. If there were no HEC then who will be judging PhD's in those universities.

AD gopang Nov 29, 2014 02:01pm

Its the eye opening, and heart-rending realities, author has discussed, the same is repeated in every university of Pakistan, because only students are encouraged to produce research papers without proper guidance. Pakistan is research country where students are trained to research and find cradiable truth of society where a person lives, only we are implied to produce the research papers whether copy pasted or synonamised. no one is ready here to be good researcher but amount of papers should published.

Umer S. Nov 29, 2014 03:00pm

Dear Prof. Hoodboy,

I think you've missed an even bigger shortfall in our Research Culture, one that has a bearing on the quality, authenticity and quantity of research produced by our educationists: Industry driven demand for research!

The countries you used to compare research with are the same ones that fund their Universities to create research labs for specific, goal driven end products or general advancements in their fields. Who funds them and why is the question we need to answer - the governments along with the industry which needs to continually evolve to stay at the forefront of knowledge economies need it for survival.

You're a indeed a very learned person, and I read your articles, so I'm putting this question to you: How do we develop an authentic system for research and cultivate a culture in the Country with our industry and government lacking the will to seek advancements in their respective fields?

Looking forward to your reply,


Umer S.

Indian Guest Nov 29, 2014 03:09pm

Dr. Hoodbhoy's battle with the HEC is famous and has been going on for some years. What is laudable is that he identifies the problems with higher education (particularly post-graduate) and provides practical solutions. Doctoral research (as also research by faculty) relies on self-policing to maintain research and professional integrity. If processes that can plug holes in this system of self-policing were in place, then integrity can be maintained. Dr. Hoodbhoy's idea of a seminar presentation that is video-taped and made available to the public is a very good one.

One other improvement would be to make external examiners mandatory on a doctoral dissertation committee. Most US universities insist on this requirement as it makes the process open to outside scrutiny and lowers chances of internal interference. In these days of Skype and teleconferencing, it will be easy to get high quality examiners from anywhere in the world to sit in on a doctoral examination. I am sure there are other such ideas that are practical and implementable. Dr. Hoodbhoy is a tireless advocate of high standards in research and of research integrity. It is a pity that the HEC does not pay greater attention to him.

Umer S. Nov 29, 2014 03:16pm

I don't mean to undermine LUMS; it a great institution, providing excellent education to students, that said, I also think its a glorified tuition center!

The reason I say that is because we, as a society, need our Universities, including LUMS to rise further and accomplish what made Harvard, MIT, and the likes what they are today: Ground breaking research, and commercialization; incubation of ideas into successful businesses. If our aim to work towards a knowledge based economy, producing hundreds of graduates for MNCs, and importing them to other countries is NOT going to solve our problem, or is it?

In my humble opinion, we cannot afford to become complacent.

Moona Nov 29, 2014 03:17pm

Have to admire your honesty.

Faroha Nov 29, 2014 03:28pm

Sadly, I tend to agree with Parwez Hoodhbhoy on this point. I, as a recipient of a PhD (Chemistry) from germany and a joint PhD from Korea, would love to come back to Pakistan and contribute. I, however, do not know how to do so. The pity is that HEC is making next to no efforts to increase the standards and integrate PhDs to profit the current system, apart from an IPFP program

KhawarMehmood Nov 29, 2014 03:50pm

It is people like you who give us hope Dr. Hoodbhoy.

Waqas Ahmed Nov 29, 2014 04:00pm

Thank you for raising voice on account of bad education standards in this country.

Gashtmali Nov 29, 2014 04:01pm

While Dr Hoodbhoy has some rather bizarre ideas about Pakistan's nuclear program, I have to agree with his contention on the state of Pakistani academia. The rot extends to all aspects of our society and the academic sector is in free-fall like everything else.

Ghani K Nov 29, 2014 04:24pm

A society where a previous law minister claimed PhD in law from a university called Monticello, the university probably exists on the other side of the moon. He got away with it, no one questioned him from the floor of the parliament. Plagiarism in our educational institutions is no crime if you can get away with it .

Firaz Lyallpuri Nov 29, 2014 04:30pm

Actually something was happening during the Musharraf era when some European Universities were about to be signed up to set up their “branches” in Pakistan and offer us top grade University education and their qualification certificates which would be of value. Whatever happened to that great idea?

In the same period, I remember watching a TV live program where a collection of potential post graduate candidates were voicing their opinions in the presence of the then Federal Minister of education. Most of them looked like friends of friends selected to go abroad with a knowledge that when they come back, it will be the attraction of being called a doctor which would matter more to them than the actual value of the course. The Minister also looked gleeful.

Tasadduq Nov 29, 2014 04:30pm

PH is undoubtedly the most enlightened and brilliant educationist in Pakistan for which he deserves recognition and respect. Among some 200 million Pakistanis, the likes of Hoodbhoy are a rare species. In a country where cheating, corruption and dishonesty are an integral part of the culture, it is not surprising that dubious or fake Ph.D's can be awarded to so many, including in scientific disciplines. It is also not surprising that apart from only a couple of scientists no one found anything wrong with the invention of 'water car' by a crook. To the contrary, the 'inventor' of the water car had full support from a whole spectrum of 'scientists' and scientific institutions. But did the fault lie with the crook or those who who claimed to be top Pakistani scientists and who ignored the laws of thermodynamics?

Azad Khial Nov 29, 2014 04:49pm


Pardon me if I'm wrong, but from your reference to our leaders you sound like a PTI supporter.

I would just like my PTI friends to know that their leader, the learned oracle Imran Khan, considers Dr Hoodbhoy (one of our preeminent scientists, thinkers and scholars) an American agent.

I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

AhmerNY Nov 29, 2014 04:59pm

Mr Hoodbhoy, nice article. However, you may agree with me that it would have been surprising to see either LUMS in the top 500 universities. There is no one, I mean no one, other than Pakistanis who know about LUMS. A university is known by its alumni and we have not even one person of significance to highlight to the world. And you go to Silicon Valley and NY, people know of Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, which are also their Government run institutes. Honestly speaking, LUMS or QAU will not even make it to top 50 universities if you just compare it to the institutes in India. My heart bleeds when I have to say this as a Pakistani.

Uza Syed Nov 29, 2014 05:12pm

Dr. Atta Ur Rehman's tenure at HEC and his control of HEC through his equally questionable protege Dr. Sohail Naqvi must be investigated for possible misappropriation of its funds as well as negative influence on our educational policies. If President Musharraf is guilty of any major crimes, his trust of and complete dependence on such an egomaniac like this Professor Rehman is one.

Dr Carla Nov 29, 2014 05:21pm

Hoodbhoy is a great man and progressive thinker. He is always honest. He is trying very hard to develop scientific temperament in Pakistanis. This particular raking is based on only certain Parameters. Indian universities are in top 20 in many other university rankings. IIMn and Hyderabad business school are in top 10 in some world university rankings based on the success of students. Sadly some university rankings are not based on quality of studies and success of students but they are based on facilities, research facilities, funding, Phds and so on.

Muhammad Waqar Nov 29, 2014 05:23pm

Yes, it is a number game! The people of Pakistan have been addicted to this system! We will have to make effort to get them out of this addiction!

quadian Nov 29, 2014 05:32pm

Quaidian once Quaidian forever no one can beat us because we are Quaidian!!

Mohammed Khanzada Nov 29, 2014 05:35pm

esteemed professor is complaining for decades about problems in education . i appreciate his sincere , but useless effort. corrupt society produce corrupt people. Pakistan is long way from ideal place to live. i think we should keep trying to improve Pakistan. hopefully it will paid off. .

Hayat Nov 29, 2014 05:46pm

@Azad Khial There is nothing about being a PTI supporter in that....we already know we are living in a corrupt society, It is a fact .....where everyone from judges to election commissioners to bureaucracy are corrupt.......... Well if you want to call everyone PTI supporters and want to keep living in this corrupt society then please do live....just know that the world does not work like that any more and developed nations always take great pride in their educational standards.....We were made in the name of Islam.....can you tell me one thing about islam that is prevalent in our society.........Islam says that members of parliament should be saadiq and ameen ....Your constitution says that article 62 and 63 should be implemented on all parliamentarians....the day you start implementing it everyone in parliament becomes your mortal enemy......That is the kind of society we are we do not want to listen to the truth and if someone does speak the truth we become their enemiess.....

fatima Nov 29, 2014 05:46pm

Rather HEC is busy to ensure that no one cross the lines of "ideology".

Javed Anjum Sheikh Nov 29, 2014 05:55pm

We have two types of PhDs 1. Local 2. Overseas

Overseas have alos have two types

  1. From English Speaking Countries
  2. From Non-English Speaking Countries

From Non-English Speaking Countries further have two types

  1. from EU (excluding UK)
  2. from China or Far East countries
asmat kharoti Nov 29, 2014 06:03pm

it could be digested that someone has received doctorate degree from any Pakistani university without being eligible, but what happened to American institutions which have produced PhD's, if one has ever met them he or she would not be able to hold back laughter. A person with vast travel experience and lot of knowledge, has confirmed it from a reliable source that America and certain other western countries export fake degrees while they never allow a faking one to stay in America. one of such examples exists in our university i,e the UoB, who has done his PhD from States on volcanic stone but cannot talk about his thesis for consecutive five minutes only.

ROHIT PANDEY Nov 29, 2014 06:05pm

Ah, well , that news item about the position of one university in Pakistan made me hopeful that there was a spark alive in Pakistan.

The author's description says that no academic excellence of note exists in Pakistan.

There seems an existence of a very strong academic and technological drive in North and East Asian countries...but, nothing of note in Islamic countries?

The play of cultural differences is TELLING-the first and foremost requirement would be a certain inherent reverence and respect for education-something Indian-Hindu culture shares with rest of east and north Asia...and,that explains why India did put on a sound footing higher education quite early after Independence.

In the US Indians have risen to the very top in industry, academics and in applied sciences like medicine and engineering

Satya Nadella's rise to the CEO\s position in Microsoft and the presence of high-profile presence of about 35,000 physicians of Indian origin or the presence of Indians in highest positions of the Obama administration speaks volumes about the pay off India is getting because of implementation of right policies by Nehru!!!!..

imranrahbar Nov 29, 2014 06:12pm

why cant Pakistan make dr hoodbhoy chairman of HEC???

Don 57 Nov 29, 2014 06:14pm

I am currently MS student facing these problems infact we all are.The writer is absolutely right.We need quality of education not the quantity of PHD's and the number of universities producing garbage and throwing it into the market.

RIP "Education System"

Malik from Australia Nov 29, 2014 06:16pm

I congratulate Professor Hoodhboy for writing such an incisive, honest and brave commentary on Pakistani research and education system. My own feeling is that we need to impose self-discipline in our endeavours, including teaching, learning, and research. It would take time and a lot of courage and patience, but we will get there. The Indian and Asian Institutes of Technology used to be looked down upon only a few decades ago. But look how much they have progressed since. I sincerely hope that Professor Hoodhboy would continue to speak his mind.

ROHIT PANDEY Nov 29, 2014 06:18pm

If a Nobel laureate like Abdus Salam is IGNORED on some religious pretext, it speaks VOLUMES about the underpinning of the society-the fixation with religious dogma above everything else?

Unless that fatal flaw is fixed nothing much is going to be achieved in realms of reason rationality or science,one would think?:)

khurram Nov 29, 2014 06:27pm

very nice article... The problem of all of our education system is lack of merit. I am graduated from Cambridge university .. I was jobless for one year in Pakistan then i decided I should go back find some job there and I got severals... One of my friend who graduated from Pakistan got job instantly due to some :"safarish" although there was no vacancies there and her grades were really low.. Every department is corrupt from student to teachers to vc appointment .. Only Pscycophant succeeds in Pakistan

Nasser Nov 29, 2014 06:28pm

Good criticle article, but not unexpected. The whole NIZAM is rotten to the core in Pakistan; and since meritocracy does not exist, it is the rubbish which reaches the top of our society; and they do not get more rubbish than Zardari and the Sharif family.

Pakistani PhD papers are nearly all rubbish. Who uses such research; and how many citations does it receive - internationally (or even nationally) - I would say "none?". Further the "research" is usually done by someone else, and based on copying from various other sources - internet makes this process even easier. No wonder the disgust shown by the US researchers.

Go Nawaz Go! Go Nizam Go!

yasir Nov 29, 2014 06:50pm

While videos of presentations etc soulds like a good idea, the fact of the matter is, these studies being published are already available for scrutiny to anyone who wishes to, only that no one actually wishes to critically study them. Videos might as well end up being used as learning material rather than being received and challenged critically. What we lack in Pakistan is a peer review culture. Fellow scientists reviewing each others work on scientific merit rather than personal basis. Much like our doctors or judges, scientists here think it impolite and rude to critically review a colleagues research work .. those who do end up developing feuds. Tglobal scientific community frankly has much more important studies to review from other places than to pay much attention to what comes out of Pakistan, and may only do so at the exclusive requests of respected colleagues such as Mr. Hoodbhoy. What Dr. Pervez and other accomplished academics need to do is visit universities across the country and encourage students and academics alike to develop a healthy peer review culture

Shah Nov 29, 2014 06:53pm

@Confused You suggested, "HEC expel the cheating PhD students and ensure that they do not get admission into any university in Pakistan." Have you considered political pressures in this approach? Moreover, it may not be unusual to use it for malicious reasons. How to gurantee transparency of the process?

Instead what Hoodbhoy is suggesting is more subtle way of putting fight against mal-practices. Don't put people in defensive mode at first step. Let them face their own colleagues and the public through public defence of their research. Almost eveywhere public defence and presentation of the research is widely accepted practice. Video recording the event and archieving on HEC website is reasonably good measure to deter 'jaali' researchers.

Sami Nov 29, 2014 07:01pm

Lets suppose 60% of students passing PhDs, in Pakistan, are not worth such a respectable degree and its really bad. But we should recognize that this is mirroring the decadence of society where most of the people have no respect of education and scholarship. They just want a good paper (degree) to get a job etc.

HEC has at least opened the door for students (very few, of course) who wants to struggle hard to improve their level of scholarship with a "suitable" monetary support apart from thousands of students they sent abroad. As indicated by great professor it can be improved by including check and balance by other scholars and I hope HEC will listen to such suggestions. In any case no body can inject love of scholarship in the society and it will take its time but at least now a process has started where students get incentive if they agree to go for research ..

Ali talha Nov 29, 2014 07:02pm

Dear dr hoodbhoy Yes you may be spot on the drawbacks of our education system but would like to disagree on downgrading QAU. Inspite of resource limitations they are doing there best to contribute to science and technology

Ali talha Nov 29, 2014 07:07pm

@Karachiwalla i am also the student of QAU and i assure you the teachers will take regular classes and in research they will derive the best out of you

asim Nov 29, 2014 07:11pm


Hi Khurram, I am sorry to say judging from the bit of English that you have posted, you do NOT sound like a graduate from Cambridge. Please do not insult yourself and that great University. Do you mind?

Shah Nov 29, 2014 07:13pm

Sir, we put each other names as authors in manuscripts (even in irrelevant fields) on reciprocal bases just to catch up to the number game, and get the fruit. Other signs of the wisdom of HEC beside incentivising corruption; 1. A paper in "Science" has the same weightage as any xyz journal (9 papers in Science can't make you eligible for the position of associate professor while 10 in ghost journals can do the trick.) 2.....

N. Siddiqui Nov 29, 2014 07:27pm

@ROHIT PANDEY The number of Pakistani descent physicians and surgeons exceeds 17,000 persons. Obama has praised the community on Pakistan national days, on many occasions. This is quite a reasonable number keeping in view the numbers of Indians and Pakistanis on US soil.

Mohsin Nov 29, 2014 07:55pm

Please ask Weinberg what percentage of the papers published in Nature and Science, contain reproducible research? Ask him, since ElectroWeak Theory, what has the Western World really accomplished in terms of pure physics? Has there been any real progress in the fundamental areas? Ask him what is this "Dark Energy" business? Also ask him what he thinks of "String Theory".

Western Science has been on a downward slope for a while now. The golden age of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg etc. is long gone. Their physicists are now just running after funding, for the most part. Only those questions which are sure to draw the largest funding are allowed to be asked. They know their current models are incapable of solving the problems posed by cosmology and the nature of the physical forces, case in point: Gravity. Yet, no one dares challenge the dogma of their crippled edifice.

reality bites Nov 29, 2014 08:00pm

Spot on analysis by Dr. Hoodbhoy.

Masood Ahmad Khan Nov 29, 2014 08:15pm

Apropos to the this article, I still remember director of Institute of Pure & Applied Biology of Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan in 1991-93 (commentator was student in the same session) who used to advise Ph.D. scholars to have a recourse on ݙنگ ٹپاؤ i.e. resorting to fictitious data collection and writing thesis on plagiarism. That fellow director retired in 1995 but he was responsible for producing the lot who is at the helm of affairs now to follow honestly his teachings. Such kind of a sordid affairs in every walks of life are the reflection our decaying society which entrusts and protects the corruption and whistle blower is deemed as the spoiler of the system!

MA Nov 29, 2014 08:16pm

The concerns raised by Dr. Hoodbhoy are absolutely genuine. I have a feeling that "corruption" in research publications and Ph.D. dissertations is widespread and no-one is really there to stop it. The main responsibility goes to the Ph.D. supervisors but unfortunately the "cash awards" from HEC for supervising a doctoral student and publishing in an "impact factor journal" push them to a weaker position. Then there is the culture of "friendly authorships"; you write my name and I will write yours, and both get benefits. Our research system is loosing respect (if it had any!) and we need to reconsider our approach on this large-scale production of Ph.Ds.

Zulqarnain Saadi Nov 29, 2014 08:41pm

Excuse me, please. Honesty also compels me to tell you Dr Hoodbhoy that internationally a university is not judged for how many MBA's it produces, nor just Physics is the only field of study. A university is judged for the Scholarship & Research it produces both in Natural and Social Sciences. Merely Social Sciences Research is unmatched at QAU compared to any institution.

Now, would you please bother to stop misjudging universities?

sap india Nov 29, 2014 08:47pm

I have not seen a more elegant solution oriented advise given for reforms in education than this one ....though I am an India still Mr hoodbhoy attracts me at times by his valuable opinions on embettering education.....

ROHIT PANDEY Nov 29, 2014 08:49pm

West of India, among the Muslim countries lies a little country-with a per capita income of about $38,000, a plethora of high-tech industries and is called the "start-up capital of the world"

Weizmann Institute of Science and Technion are beacons of excellence in research and tech innovation and lie in this little land.

It is peopled by a religious group which has EXCELLED OVER THE CENTURIES and this group can boast of DOZENS of Nobel prizes spanning the entire breadth of science...despite systematic persecution over the centuries this group has been subjected to?

I wonder what the learned professor,with his itinerant interests would have to say about this country and it's citizens.....stark contrast to a country which REJECTS it's ONLY Nobel laureate?:):):)

just_someone Nov 29, 2014 08:51pm

You, of all people, should know the difference between a teaching institution/liberal arts college, like LUMS, and a research based university like QAU. There is a reason Amhersts, Williams, Swarthmore, etc Colleges are never in any serious ranking of world institutions.

Tom Nov 29, 2014 08:52pm

I weep with Dr Hoodbhoy. A society that does not question is bound to decay and die. Feel sorry for both Pakistan and Afghanistan which had a prolific history starting from world's first university in Taksasila.

Logic and reasoning will NEVER prosper in a land of draconian blasphemy laws built to subdue human spirit of questioning.

ROHIT PANDEY Nov 29, 2014 08:59pm

@a_writer Sir,India DOES have plenty of people of calibre-the present Governor of Reserve Bank of India.Dr Raghuram Rajan has had an education - from Indian Institute of Technology,Indian Institute of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a professor in University of Chicago? That is,as an engineer,management graduate and as an economist?:):):)

Just for your edification and information,sir?:):)

Faisal Nov 29, 2014 09:22pm

Good idea sir.

muhammad tariq Nov 29, 2014 09:36pm

Progressive thoughts!

Altaf Bhai Nov 29, 2014 10:04pm

Wow. I'm shocked at all the negativity coming towards the pakistani higher education system and especially the standards of Quaid-e-Azam University.. Every single comment agrees with Professor Hoodhboy and generally speaking he is right but there is still light at the end of the tunnel. I graduated from Quaid-e-Azam university with a Masters degree in Chemistry in 2013, and i have to say that it was an amazing experience. The department of chemistry maintains a high standard is unlike any other university in Pakistan. Nearly all of our faculty were phDs and not the ones mentioned in the article, almost 80% of our teachers had done their masters from QAU and later PHDs from abroad. Many of our own pHDS go for post doctorates to other countries and return with the highest honors. Our teachers were extremely professional , all our labs had the latest equipment and ACTUAL research goes on there which i have seen and done with my own eyes. Our record room where we keep all the research has material from the 1970s. Consider this example.. My 3rd and 4th semester classes had a total of 10 students,, we had 6 courses and 3 lab classes giving us a total of 9 teachers. Can you imagine we 10 people had 9 PHD professors teaching us . The level of interacction we had with our teachers was absolutely amazing. Our university has a quota system with people coming from all provinces.. its like a mini Pakistan.. and i think it deserves the ranking it got. I'm sorry professor..i think you're department of physics is not upto the mark.. please have a look at the other departments aswell before coming to conclusions.

Ahmed Nov 29, 2014 10:29pm

See I have experienced education in Pakistan from the University that Dr. praises - LUMS. Another problem with a rotting society is that our standards become so low; so as Dr Pervaiz points out that LUMS is better than QAU he knows very well that LUMS will not hold water against almost any University in the United States. Now a lot of LUMS graduates will say that they are who they are today because of LUMS; all I can say to that is "to each his own". I truly believe that LUMS merely gives a platform for truly talented people; people who are already talented. That's what LUMS is a mere platform. The business school is devoid of any intellectuals or teachers who inspire students; these teachers run away from debates and cannot write coherently and I'm talking PhD's from abroad. I did my undergrad from the US and a master's from LUMS and I can almost call my master's a "jali" degree. LUMS is in love with itself and has no real competition and that's why they are rotting. I hope one day I can atone for my "jali" degree by getting it from the US.

Ahmed Nov 29, 2014 10:30pm

See I have experienced education in Pakistan from the University that Dr. praises - LUMS. Another problem with a rotting society is that our standards become so low; so as Dr Pervaiz points out that LUMS is better than QAU he knows very well that LUMS will not hold water against almost any University in the United States. Now a lot of LUMS graduates will say that they are who they are today because of LUMS; all I can say to that is "to each his own". I truly believe that LUMS merely gives a platform for truly talented people; people who are already talented. That's what LUMS is a mere platform. The business school is devoid of any intellectuals or teachers who inspire students; these teachers run away from debates and cannot write coherently and I'm talking PhD's from abroad. I did my undergrad from the US and a master's from LUMS and I can almost call my master's a "jali" degree. LUMS is in love with itself and has no real competition and that's why they are rotting. I hope one day I can atone for my "jali" degree by getting it from the US.

Yawar Nov 29, 2014 11:02pm

Dr. Hoodbhoy Sir,

A very good article indeed. Please continue your efforts. You are like a faint glimmer of hope in a vast sea of corruption where the law of the jungle is the norm.

Yawar Nov 29, 2014 11:11pm

@imranrahbar, you asked "why cant Pakistan make dr hoodbhoy chairman of HEC???" Because we live in a sifarishi and corrupt culture that follows the law of the Kalisnakov. Even if he is made the chairman, the government will appoint its cronies around him who would not allow him to function.

Masood Ahmad Khan Nov 29, 2014 11:18pm

Apropos to this article, I still remember director of Institute of Pure & Applied Biology of Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan in 1991-93 (commentator was student in the same session) who used to advise Ph.D. scholars to have a recourse on ݙنگ ٹپاؤ i.e. resorting to fictitious data collection and writing thesis on plagiarism. That fellow director retired in 1995 but he was responsible for producing the lot who is at the helm of affairs now to follow honestly his teachings. Such kind of a sordid affairs in every walks of life are the reflection of our decaying society which entrusts and protects the corruption and whistle blower is deemed as the spoiler of the system!

Shamim Malik, Ph. D. Nov 29, 2014 11:23pm

@Altaf Bhai -I am glad you are proud of chemistry department over physics but both physics and chemistry departments are integral part of QAU. When I did my M. Sc from physics department in 1981, physics,chemistry,economic were hallmark of QUA as a respected institution. I know, many of students form physics department had played a crucial role for Pakistan, and it may be true for chemistry true. I am not sure how things might have changed over the years, but I believe, Prof Hoodbhoy's article focus is expose integrity of higher education system in Pakistan

Omkar Nov 29, 2014 11:45pm

@ROHIT PANDEY For a country of 1.2 billion,India's educational system is only marginally better.Only six percent of engineers are employable.Same goes for doctors.Now,a good looking illiterate minister with a Yale degree is bent upon teaching th "correct" history.So we are learning a thing or two from Pakistan! If Pakistan and Indian leaders had some vision,we will be spending more on education and basic necessities rather than building nuclear bombs.

prof Nov 29, 2014 11:50pm

It is true that LUMS, comparatively speaking, produces some defendable outputs but if one looks at the resources of LUMS it becomes evident that its very circumstantial success mainly depends on the perpetuation of difference. Also there is no evidence that corruption and other shortcomings of state universities are unknown at LUMS.

VPSingh Nov 30, 2014 12:11am

Institutions like LUMS are furthering the cause of class system!

The central govt. needs to pay attention to the plight of state universities!

Dr Siddiqui Nov 30, 2014 12:15am

The key problem with institutions of higher education has been politics. Political appointments have ruined higher education; political appointed Nikumaas are clueless in terms academic affairs; they want total control to project their gigantic egos! The chaos at KU, QAU, HEC etc is too obvious! People who are clueless about education and technology are formulating policies and running institutions as Akbar e Azam! Also the Federal government is not playing an active role in running HEC and institutions of higher learning! Politicians, the product of Lord MaCaulay system, are totally inept and are clueless in terms of the basics of teaching, learning and academic integrity!

arashid Nov 30, 2014 01:22am

Nice article... But why does QAU despite being formed to do a research failed to attract best talent in Pak. Why does best talent goes to Engineering and medical colleges... Rest reaches to QAU.. but QAU has huge potential to take a leading role in research and recognise itself as a very good institutions as it expect gradutates for its programs. Curriculum designed is very good and I was excited to join MSc., electronics program. Main thing it taught me to come out of Rutta system of Pak, think and execute things as I wish.. though for my engineering ambitions I got very little support, but from my experience of UET Lahore, QAU has lot to offer to B.Sc., level grades..

Asef Nov 30, 2014 01:36am

very good writing with examples. Research habit should b developed at grass root level

Bilal Khattak Nov 30, 2014 01:39am

I started to despise Mr Ansar Abasi when he said those disgraceful words for you. Every time his name pops up in the news as a "senior analyst", I can see his shallowness oozing out of his 'tehzeebiafta' exterior. I am taking the opportunity to say that I believe he is an unworthy and shallow person.

I respect you for being a sane voice of rationality in the flood of madness around you. Sometimes I worry about your life and I hope you are mindful of your security, as we all know the 'absurdities' around you are nihilistic and destructive. I will always respect you Mr Hoodbhoy for presenting those TV programs on science which enlightened us in the language and style which we were able to grasp, as growing children.

ROHIT PANDEY Nov 30, 2014 01:45am

@N. Siddiqui I am glad that physicians of Pakistani origin are having such a success in the US...

By the way, an American of Indian origin Dr.Vivek Murthy has been appointed the Surgeon-General of the US.

Glad to see south Asian compatriots making their mark as well??:):)

Arslan Nov 30, 2014 04:30am

Prof. another brave and insightful article. While there are many in the academia who share your views, in the hrah environment of Pakistan there are few who can voice their opinions as clearly and tellingly as yourself. Hopefully more will follow your lead and speak their mind.

Nov 30, 2014 04:31am

I am completing my PhD in Sweden. My time span for earning PhD degree will be about 5 years. So far I was required to work at least 10 working hours( means I roughly work about 13 hours) a day, 6 days a week. In my PhD work I have been entirely responsible for formulating the research work, developing the numerical modeling schemes, implementation, execution, compiling the results, providing the justifications and writing the Article. I have been paid much better than what any PhD student is paid in Pakistani Universities. I would say that my working hours and efforts well match with the payment. May I ask and suggest the followings: i) what the Universities in Pakistan pay to any PhD student for demanding such a quality work? Input Vs output ii) Only publication in any well reputed international Journal should be qualified to claim any academic credit. iii) With deep sorrow, I would say that we were among third world but over the period of time we progressed negatively and perhaps new term would be needed to rank us as "fourth world" and perhaps after few years "fifth world" will be appropriate for our society. iv) Allah only help those who help themselves. It is only Allah's mercy we are still surviving. v) We are a society without justice and without rule of law. Without justice none of the societies had survived in the known history. vi) only little time is left for our survival.

Tariq Syed Nov 30, 2014 05:27am

I left Pakistan 30 yrs. ago in my teen age life. The way i see Pakistan, It is going south very rapidly. We need to spend some serious funds in our schools system to get the positive results. The results may not be seen in our life time but its a good start. That leads me to ask one question, Who will initiate all this, Our politician?. You can't teach new tricks to a old dog

Ali Nov 30, 2014 06:09am

I will also include Agriculture University Peshawar in one the top universities in Pakistan. There may be others but I can only speak about this one as I studied there and I do check their PhD thesis. I do see their standards are at par with any good university in the USA.

Ghazanfar Nov 30, 2014 07:01am

Please also add another point that he genuine research requires genuine industrial and scientific infrastructure and societal infrastructure in the country.

If you want to improve research paper quality, simply accept papers ONLY from certain creditworthy journals.

Pirzada Nov 30, 2014 07:10am


I have a strong feeling you belong to the "numbers game" brigade that Professor Sahib has so eloquently mentioned in his article or a budding cricketer of some repute and promise to have gone to Cambridge.

khalid khan yousafzai Nov 30, 2014 08:16am

it is not possible to live in the clean section of a dirty pond. the whole pond must be cleaned to have a clean corner somewhere.

Najma Nov 30, 2014 08:33am

@abro Amen

Najma Nov 30, 2014 08:36am

Why don't we have a Zarb-e-Azb against corruption and bad governance?

Muhammad Ali Nov 30, 2014 09:24am

Its a shame to see the most important sector, the nutrition of a patriot (assuming every human born on the motherland within the system feels home ) is being corrupted by greed which is killing creativity and self-confidence of our youth. They will depend upon shortcuts, buyout clauses to graduate rather than using research and learning to patiently climb the academic ladder of achievements.

Simon Nov 30, 2014 09:55am


You are living in denial.

Whilst agreed the Electroweak Theory seemingly may sound like an academic endevour only and not having perhaps produced an answer to something practical or an answer to our modern day needs. But be assured, there is something in the pipeline which will emanate as a result of it. And Weinberg or scientists like him are not going to simply hand this over to us as a gift on a plate. After all, Alexander Bell did not set out to invent the modern mobile phone. It's advent is a byproduct of many discoveries and inventions related to his original thoughts.

in the meantime, there is nothing stopping us to produce Einsteins, Oppenheimers, Flemings and the likes. Would it not be nice if we can invent a vaccination to cure some strains of cancer and lead the way for a change?

Adam K Nov 30, 2014 09:56am

@imranrahbar Dr. H would be a good choice except you are assuming his outspoken style will sit well with the people who appoint HEC chairs and other higher mucky mucks. Academic excellence does not translate into managerial and leadership excellence. You have to play politics to achieve anything managerially.

Adam K Nov 30, 2014 10:02am

@just_someone You'd be surprised to learn that these excellent "liberal arts" institutions emphasize both teaching and research. Try getting a teaching job there without a Ph.D. and you will soon find out. These excellent institutions probably surpass most South Asian (or even Asian) colleges and universities. There few any just teaching universities left in the US.

Nazrul Isalam Nov 30, 2014 10:08am

@abro Zardari et al started the decline of federal HEC!

Dr Siddiqui Nov 30, 2014 10:12am

The key problem with institutions of higher education has been politics. Political appointments have ruined higher education; political appointees are clueless in terms academic affairs; they want total control to project their gigantic egos! The chaos at KU, QAU, HEC etc is too obvious! People who are clueless about education and technology are formulating policies and running institutions as Akbar e Azam! Also the Federal government is not playing an active role in running HEC and institutions of higher learning! Politicians, the product of Lord MaCaulay system, are totally inept and are clueless in terms of the basics of teaching, learning and academic integrity!

Adam K Nov 30, 2014 10:26am

I enjoy reading Dr. Hoodbhoy's op-eds, including the last three ones education he has written for DAWN. I have several questions to ask him. 1. I know you are a lone voice, but what leadership effort did you take in your 41 years to impact the quality of research at QeAU specifically and other research universities in Pakistan? Perhaps you may wish to share those experiences with your readers. 2. As the research efforts in Pakistan are dependent on Pakistanis who hold (a) foreign Ph.D.s who return home; and (b) domestic Ph.D.s from Pakistani research Universities (one hopes at the top ones like QeAU and LUMS), then there is a growing deficit in staffing current and future demand. How would Dr. H address this deficit? 3. As the substandard Ph.D.s proliferate, how will Dr. H prevent these from damaging current and near-term (until better Ph.D.'s can replace them ) pedagogy and research conducted at higher education Pakistani institutions? 4. How does one improve the larger Pakistani macroenvironment to support these efforts and encourage more people to pursue Ph.D.s at better Universities abroad AND return home, rather than stay abroad?

s.khan Nov 30, 2014 10:26am

Your description of mediocrity in higher education is applicable to other spheres of endeavor in Pakistan. The country doesn't have the culture of meritocracy and the incentives are wrongly aligned. sycophancy, right connections and other favours can help achieve the goal without hard work and creativity. Bureaucracy suffer from the same problem. Unless a system of meritocracy and the reward and punishment are not introduced it is hard to see outstanding results. Hope lies with the private sector. As former president Ronald Reagan used to say: government is not the solution, it is the problem. The best that can happen to Pakistan is to get the government out of the way in as many spheres as possible to the extent it becomes almost invisible. Pakistanis are talented enough and given the right environment and incentives they can achieve astounding results.

ROHIT PANDEY Nov 30, 2014 12:59pm

@Omkar Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy's article " Sending Pakistan to Mars' should throw light about the educational milieu in India.

He was awarded the UNESCO Kalinga Prize ( instituted by the Govt. of Odisha ????) for popularizing science in Pakistan...

Once one starts making an UNBIASED enquiry one often goes through very painful discovery process-often closely held beliefs which we cherish or one reason or another, are often not true?

Did you know Johannes Kepler the man whose devised theories of planetary motion believed for a long time that the motion of Earth was circular and not elliptical,which he was forced to retract in light of experimental evidence?

Kepler was a priest before leaving priesthood for science and thought god would like motion to be circular for one reason or another?:) Interesting huh?:):):)

Malik Achakzai Nov 30, 2014 01:13pm

We support your suggestion to HEC for recording a video of the seminars while getting through PhD completion process. It will be dual side benefit.

rehan Dec 01, 2014 10:15am

Since the Report in question has something positive to say about Pakistan so it necessarily must be "flawed" , right? . That's interesting !

sarah Dec 01, 2014 02:22pm

no institution in Pakistan is working toward the betterment of education system. universities in Pakistan are nothing more than but degree awarding factories. corruptions is now deep rooted at every level and we have become a shameful nation. the faculties appointed in many public sector universities not even satisfy the notion of "merit" even 50%, appointments are on the basis of references, the same faculty members somehow become Phd doctors and from there the entire system of education gets destroyed. HEC on the other hand has failed completely in its regulation. there are many useless so called universities on every inch. producing equally useless graduates and doctors. good educations is expensive for those who really want to work with loyalty and honestly.

Sohaila Javed Dec 01, 2014 03:40pm

So true! The academic world in Pakistan suffers from a pathology that is deep and strong and can only be cured and healed by a team of compassionate physicians who are spiritual warriors, rigorous practitioners and ethical beings, so rare anywhere around .... This world needs to be born again from the creative source of its origins ... so words from above have no affect as we wait for "a loving gaze and a very well lighted eye till eternity".

Zafar Dec 01, 2014 03:47pm

Respected Sir Love your each word and every sentence which is a true picture of introspection!