THIS is with reference to the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) decision to abolish the two-year bachelor’s degree programme. This is a serious threat to the financial and academic autonomy of public-sector universities.

The decision has been taken without proper consultation with the stakeholders, especially the public-sector universities, the vice-chancellors and the Federation of All-Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA).

In principle, public-sector universities are supposed to accomplish their internal academic matters individually without any intervention. The public-sector universities must be trusted and allowed to decide issues, such as admission policy, curriculum development, quality assurance, or the introduction of novel ideas concerning academic programmes.

As per HEC statute, its role should be facilitative and supportive towards the universities. The commission is supposed to prepare through consultation with the institutions, plans for the development of higher education.

However, by imposing decisions, such as the abolition of two-year bachelor’s degree, without any in-depth debate, the HEC has ruined its image and the very cause of its formation; the socioeconomic reform of society and the country.

The main, and perhaps the only, reason for the abolition of two-year bachelor’s degree is the argument that graduate degree programmes around the world are typical of the duration of three to four years, and, hence, the students with two-year degrees will not be able to apply for foreign master’s degree programmes, which require applicants to have completed 16 years of education.

Now the question has the answer inherent in it; to be admitted to master’s programmes (MS or MPhil) in most technologically-advanced countries, the requirement is 16 years of education and our students with MSc, MA or MCom degrees were eligible for MS before the confusion was created by HEC. These students have been going abroad, including those on prestigious scholarships, since ages and they are able to do so on the basis of 16 years of education regardless of what the degree nomenclature happens to be.

Most faculty members from public-sector universities and officers in government/private organisations have also been getting admission to programmes to which HEC is now worried about.

In Pakistan, a bachelor’s is generally the minimum requirement to get a salaried job in most places, at least in conventional office settings. It is still very much an employer’s market, with there being far less jobs than the people, and they can toss out whatever criteria they want, which usually is a BA, BSc or a BCom cut-off. Lest it may confuse anyone, these are all two-year degree programmes.

The job market that is not bound to follow HEC guidelines, and thus the prevailing job crisis will worsen when this sector searches for the difference between an associate and a bachelor’s degree and will find the former inferior to the latter. About a decade ago, university degrees were renamed from master’s to graduation, and the resultant confusion in the job market forced the universities to first issue an equivalence letter to the effect that the ‘graduation’ was actually ‘masters’, which had its own irony, but then the University of Karachi rolled back the programme and returned to the old nomenclature. And yet the HEC found it appropriate to make an announcement without any consultation to at least protect the future of young individuals.

In the present financial crunch, most underprivileged families rely on their new generation to earn a livelihood. With the imposition of decisions under debate, the youth will be forced to opt to stay away from a degree programme that has no social acceptability which is by far more important than their admissions outside Pakistan.

Even in today’s deteriorating job market, the jobs available to present bachelor’s in art, science or commerce seem diversified. It includes eligibility for CSS/PSC examinations, clerical, banking/marketing, media jobs and so on and so forth.

As the worst by-product, it will diminish the enrollment in public-sector universities which has already been reduced considerably over the years with the emergence of many private-sector ‘academic factories of mass production’.

Furthermore, the irony of fate is that the authority that was meant for socioeconomic development is catalysing the ultimate collapse of the entire system by various illogical measures.

Prof (Dr) Intikhab Ulfat
Department of Physics
University of Karachi
Karachi

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2021

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