KARACHI, Dec 21: Looking at how higher education had performed over the past 10 years after the Higher Education Commission (HEC) came into existence in 2002, professor of nuclear and high-energy physics Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy speaking at T2F here on Friday said that the country started to focus more on quantity rather than good quality research.
“Following 9/11, between 2002 and 2008, there was a huge increase in the education budget and various people saw it as an opportunity to use the money for revamping higher education. That was also when Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rahman created the HEC and recruited Prof Dr S. Sohail H. Naqvi as his executive director,” Dr Hoodbhoy started his talk from the very beginning.
“But when large amounts of money start coming into any sector, it also raises questions about whether the funds are even being spent well,” he said while admitting that in the beginning even he thought that higher education in the country was finally on the right track and also became a part of it. “But I left the HEC after two years as a committee it had formed to make decisions was not being given a chance to do that,” he said.
“In the past 10 years of HEC’s existence the country has seen an increase in universities, but then one also has to maintain some standards in those institutions,” he added.
“Before Dr Atta became the chairman of the HEC, there was this view that the number of PhDs was rather small. So he decided to increase their numbers and that was how, unfortunately, numbers instead of quality became the goal,” he said.
“Suddenly there was a flood of students who came to universities just for PhDs. Any student would knock on my door in the Quaid-i-Azam University to announce that they wanted to do their PhD with me. If asked in what subject, they would say any subject regardless of having any background in that field. Then one supervisor had many PhD students and at one time one of them had 30 students at the university. The teachers themselves had barely done PhD. This situation dropped the standard of education,” he explained.
“Colleges, too, were quickly upgraded to universities, and new PhDs entering these colleges and universities dropped the standard even further. It was a vicious cycle,” he added.
“And all the PhD theses were not also genuine and rather utter rubbish in some cases,” he said while giving an example of a lady who got her PhD on the basis of her thesis about curing illnesses by looking at different colours.
Two other things that the HEC did which turned out to be disastrous, in Dr Hoodbhoy’s opinion, were “starting grand projects and introducing corruption into the very fibre of the academia in Pakistan.”
He provided examples such as the nine European universities project started in around 2005. “The idea was to open campuses of several European universities in Pakistan with mostly foreign faculties. This was a bad idea even back then. When foreigners coming here even for conferences had their reservations about security, how could one expect an entire faculty coming here from abroad,” he asked.
As for the corruption, he lamented that it was also done by ordering unnecessary and obsolete equipment which were never used.
“I got to know about a useless piece of equipment being ordered for my physics department in the Quaid-i-Azam University.
When I called Dr Atta about it he said they had decided to give us the equipment. When I informed him that we did not need it, he said that it had already been approved by a bigger and senior physicist than me, Prof Riazuddin. And then when I went and asked Prof Riazuddin about it, he informed me that he was under pressure to agree to getting the equipment by the HEC. So the machine eventually arrived in 2008 and at a cost of Rs400 million, excluding its running costs. Today it is there as a good museum piece,” Dr Hoodbhoy said.
Another thing that the HEC had been responsible for, Dr Hoodbhoy said, was the increasing number of papers being written for foreign journals.
“They thought that the academic papers being written here were too few so they urged professors to write more papers. Einstein wrote some 50 papers in his entire life but our scientists here are writing 50 in five years. As a result the few genuine scientists here have come under immense pressure to compete with the paper writers rather than focus on their work,” he said.
“And the trend of writing papers continues even though many of them are plagiarised and downloaded,” he said. “So,” the professor concluded, “the past 10 years of higher education was not really a revolution, but a setback! People have a right to higher education but it cannot be done like we have been doing it. It is like getting false currency instead of real money for your work,” he said.