HEC in doldrums

Pakistan’s GDP expenditure on education teeters under 3 per cent, making it the lowest in the region. Devolution of Education as a provincial subject was supposed to make education viable provincially. It didn’t work that way.

While others struggled, some provinces really did well in promoting primary and secondary education, making practices transparent, improving passing ratios and student retention, etc.,—critics however argue that this progress became administration heavy, expecting the schools to show higher enrollments and, doing little to encourage and measure quality education.

Perhaps that is one reason why, despite remarkable textbooks in the public sector, quite a few public school children, once graduated, find it a challenge to adjust to elite colleges in the country. The same is true for many private schools and franchises in Pakistan.

True, challenges persist for primary-secondary education, but those for Higher Education can be multiplied manifolds. Approximately 6 000 scholars were awarded PhDs from 2012 to 2016 and 62 000 students received their Masters and MPhil degrees in the same period. The regulatory body for higher education was put in place to aid academic excellence in Pakistani university scholars but sadly they have since waded in troubled waters. In a recent bid the chairperson HEC appealed to the secretary education and the prime minister about keeping political interference out of their affairs. He was especially woeful about the budgetary shortages.

Higher Education sector is the backbone for any developing country enabling research and development that ensures cross-sectoral sustainable development. This process will flourish if given a free hand and generous treatment. Having provincial education ministers to chair the universities may appease the government and bring meager funding but in the process such a practice could seriously limit their academic freedom. The government must consider that giving HEC a pea-sized share from the education budget could sabotage the quality of research.

In recent years international regulators have shown their concern over the quality of academic research in Pakistan. How can we improve this? More opportunities for teachers to write genuine research, collaborate both nationally and internationally and inspire students to bring in innovation could just make the clock tick on quality education.

Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has responded to the HEC chair’s concerns positively, ensuring that political meddling in education will not be acceptable. But no strategy is in sight to make the ailing higher education strong again.

All eyes are on the PM to make true of his promise of making Pakistan a resilient country. HEC promises of unbounded potential.The question is, are we ready to give what it takes to make it?

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