Commercialisation of Higher Education in Pakistan | By Brig Muhammad Asif (R)


Commercialisation of Higher Education in Pakistan

IN a bid to end his decades old professional rivalry with Dr.Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, former Chairman of PM’s Task Force on Science and Technology, wished to bury their differences.

In an April email exchange made public recently, Rahman asked Hoodbhoy to let “bygones be bygones” and expressed “sincere regrets”.

Hoodbhoy, while wishing Rahman no ill, said that he was still “squarely responsible for having single-handedly engineered the destruction of Pakistan’s higher education system.

” He wanted Rahman to go on national television to confess before the people and beg for forgiveness.

While fully endorsing the observations and views of Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy about Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, I would like to add that after the appointment of the latter as the Federal Minister for Science & Technology in 2000 and the first Chairman of HEC in 2002, owing to his personal interests, a liberal policy for granting charter of degree awarding university/institute, to the public and corporate sector organizations, was adopted for eight years.

In his response to an article written against him by late Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, Dr Atta claimed; he “established” nearly one hundred higher education institutes, during his tenure from 2002 to 2008.

He probably meant to say that during his tenure as the Chairman, HEC granted the charter for awarding degrees, from graduation to doctorate level, in all imaginable disciplines ranging from Gardening to Nano Sciences to allow the purely privately business concerns make billions through the “Loot Sale” of MPhil and PhD degrees.

Because of Dr Atta’s personal interests, COMSAT Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) was given preferential treatment by the government of General Musharraf and HEC.

Besides the provision of Government and Army lands and buildings, situated at prized locations in major cities (free of cost), CIIT was given financial grants generously to function as a commercial educational institution.

The founding Director of CIIT Abbottabad Campus, established on a piece of land and infrastructure provided by the Pakistan Military Academy, has reportedly absconded after his PhD degree was cancelled by the concerned university on account of plagiarism.

Before the objections were raised by the Engineering Council of Pakistan, CIIT granted admission in IT and computer engineering programmes to the candidates who had done intermediate in Pre-Medical and Humanities in third division.

The so-called elite school systems became money-minting machines from 1978 onwards. After the appointment of Dr Atta as the Federal Minister and Chairman HEC, higher education also became a profitable business.

The grant of the charter of degree awarding institutes to the business concerns, including the so-called school systems, served to promote higher education at the cost of its quality.

Some chartered institutes besides promoting the loot sale of MPhil and PhD degrees, granted affiliation to the intermediate colleges for offering professional programmes at graduate and post-graduate levels.

Interestingly, some institutes awarded PhD degrees to the members of their own faculty in a period of about six months after they were granted the charter.

Resultantly, the scholars holding MA degrees in third division as private candidates, became Doctors of Philosophy in less than a year’s time.

The scholars with an MA degree in third division, registered as external scholars without any admission criteria, were also awarded PhD degree without any course work by such institutes, before the HEC asserted its authority to check such practices after the removal of Dr Atta in 2008.

In 2002, when I was serving at the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) as the Head of English Department, a PhD scholar in English Linguistics was posted to my department as an instructor, after having completed his course work at a university.

When I asked him which branch of linguistics his study was related to, he asked me what I meant by a “branch of linguistics”.

I told him that I wanted to know whether his research pertained to Applied Linguistics or some other branch of Linguistics.

He very frankly admitted his ignorance about different branches of Linguistics. When after a couple of weeks, he showed me his result in the course work, I was shocked to see; he had obtained more than 80 percent marks in every subject including Applied Linguistics.

When I asked him how he obtained over 80 percent marks in the subjects, he said; he had not even heard of.

His reply was, “sir I had forgotten”. After completing his research on; “Management of Large Size English Classes in the Middle Schools of Abbottabad City’’, he was deservedly reckoned among the highly qualified scholars in the field of English Linguistics and reportedly served as the Rector of a chartered university after retirement from the Army.

Unfortunately, education has been a business in the developed countries from the second half of last century, as well.

There are universities in the UK and other European countries functioning in residential buildings.

They make money by granting admission to the overseas scholars, who are interested in getting student’s visa, and by granting affiliation to the institutes in the third world countries for running programmes from graduate to doctorate levels.

The Federal as well as Provincial government must take notice to rein in the private educational institutions that had been fleecing the hapless parents for the last four decades.

The local and foreign higher educational institutions that have been functioning as business concerns, warrant the attention of HEC.

MPhil and Ph D degrees awarded by such institutions without admission criteria, course work and research (carried out without following the accepted scientific methods) should also be subjected to scrutiny.

—The writer is contributing columnist based in Islamabad.


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