EARLIER in the week, the HEC chairman announced several changes for undergraduate and PhD degrees in the country. Under the new policies, the two-year BA/BSc and MA/MSc programmes would stop being optional and be phased out, while a four-year BS programme would be offered in their stead. The more significant policy change, however, affects the admission criteria of the PhD programmes offered in the country. The minimum requirement for years of study for admission to a PhD programme has been reduced from 18 to 16. Through this, the requirement for obtaining an MPhil degree to pursue a doctorate degree has also been waived; students can now apply for a PhD programme directly after completing a four-year BS degree. However, students who obtain admission to a PhD programme after completing their BS degree will have to put in more credit hours of work as compared to those holding an MPhil degree.

Not everyone has welcomed these changes which have drawn criticism from teachers’ and lecturers’ associations. The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association has voiced its concerns, pointing out that the new policies would reduce the quality of research, which an MPhil degree focuses on, and also imperil students’ prospects of admission to PhD programmes in foreign universities where a Bachelor’s degree from Pakistani educational institutes is often not accepted. What has also been underscored is the failure of the government to take the viewpoint of academic circles into consideration. It is an open secret that the existing higher education and research culture in the country is nowhere near where it should be. According to the HEC chairman, the new changes have been introduced to address the disparity between the country’s higher education system and industry where an average graduate has few marketable skills. However, for any new policy to work, a much larger debate is needed on the issue, along with efforts to address the many deep-rooted structural problems of higher education in the country.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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