DURING the last 3 years about 8,000 foreign scholarships worth about 50 billion rupees were blocked by HEC, and only about 500 scholarships could be awarded.
This huge amount of money remained unutilised while Chairman HEC kept complaining of a lack of funds.
The damage done to the quality of education is irreparable as the induction of thousands of young men and women, trained in the top universities of the world, could have made a huge difference to the quality of higher education.
The motives behind the go-slow in the award of scholarships are not understandable, since Dr. Tariq Banuri thus deprived our brightest youth from being trained abroad.
With the mushroom growth of 50 new universities in the last 3 years (25% increase in a total number of universities) without the availability of qualified faculty, Dr. Tariq Banuri has succeeded in bringing the entire higher education sector to its knees!
Most other programs were also stopped by the former HEC Chief, including those that promoted research.
Young faculty members starting out in their careers are eagerly looking for research funding.
It is in this early period of their research careers that they need maximum support since the funding and facilities in universities are often not available.
HEC had therefore started a massive program for funding of research projects when I was its Chairman, which provided much-needed oxygen to our young faculty members as well as supporting senior researchers.
The academic community was shocked when this key programme was abandoned and research funding came to a grinding halt. There was a national hue and cry at this anti-national action of Dr. Tariq Banuri, but to no avail.
The excuse given by Dr. Tariq Banuri was that it was more important to focus on the quality of undergraduate education than on research in our universities.
Of course, one needs to improve the quality of undergraduate education, but this is not achieved by blocking the training and induction of young faculty members abroad and stifling the research environment by blocking the national research programmes.
This does exactly the opposite, which is what the real sinister objective has alas been.
The Vice Chancellors made repeated complaints at the declining state of universities and at the lowering of the quality of education and research during the last 3 years, but Dr. Tariq Banuri persisted in this unfortunate agenda.
Complaints kept reaching the Prime Minister’s office, where it was decided to wait patiently in the hope that things will change.
The Chairman of the Vice Chancellors Committee, an eminent educationist, also unsuccessfully tried to persuade Dr. Tariq Banuri to change his anti-education policies.
No consultations were made with the stake holders and new totally destructive policies regarding PhD programmes were also bull dozed through.
Many major universities simply refused to follow some of the insane programmes formulated by HEC, the University of Karachi being one of them.
One illustration of the destructive new policies of HEC relates to the local PhD programmes.
When I was Chairman HEC, it was decided to control the quality of PhD programmes by 4 key measures:
1) The students enrolled for PhD had to clear International subject GRE exams
2) The theses had to go through plagiarism checks through a software that could catch even one sentence if copied from another published source
3) The PhD student had to publish at least one paper in an internationally recognised journal prior to publication of PhD thesis.
4) Local evaluation of PhD thesis was stopped and all theses had to be sent to at least two foreign experts in well recognised universities in advanced countries for evaluation and approval.
This resulted in a sharp increase in the quality of doctoral research and a corresponding increase in high quality international publications.
So dramatic was the change that Pakistan overtook India in terms of research publications per capita, and the Indian government decided to abolish its UGC and set up a Higher Education Commission of India.
The programmes that I had started were presented in a special Cabinet meeting to the Indian Prime Minister — see article in The Hindustan Times entitled “Pak Threat to Indian Science” by Neha Mehta https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/pak-threat-to-indian-science/story-nRKhumMj54 uzKtA8be6FxI.html
However in an astonishing move directed to reduce quality of education and research, Dr. Tariq Banuri decided that PhD theses need not be evaluated by foreign experts but sent to local faculty members.
This essentially meant that a PhD Supervisor could recommend his friends in other universities to evaluate the PhD thesis, who would readily accede to covering any blemishes in the work. Without proper external evaluation by eminent experts the quality would nose-dive.
In a related astonishing move, HEC struck the final death blow to higher education. It decided that the Master’s degree was no longer necessary for admission to a PhD programme and that students will be admitted to a PhD degree directly after a Bachelors degree.
This would contribute to the complete destruction of the national PhD programmes as our doctorate degrees would no longer be recognised internationally as per international requirements (the Bologna protocol). This mandates the presence of 3 independent cycles of education.
The first is the undergraduate cycle of education, the second is the graduate cycle leading to a Masters degree and the third is the doctoral cycle leading to a PhD degree.
The decision by Dr. Tariq Banuri not to follow the international standards but to go to a two-cycle education system by eliminating the need of a Masters degree, is the final nail in the coffin of our higher education structure and will bring all our universities crashing to the ground.
In this context it is also important to understand that the vast majority of the BA’s and BSc’s that are produced by our schools and colleges are of very poor standard.
Taking them directly into a PhD programme is ridiculous and nothing but a well thought out conspiracy to destroy this nation.
The Master’s programme partly compensates for the deficiencies. However, the damage done to individual minds in the previous 16 years of poor quality education involving rote learning rather than understanding the subjects is too big to be tackled at the Masters level.
The disease must be addressed at the school and college level, if we are to produce good quality Master’s and PhD students.
To blame only our universities for the poor quality of the output is not fair. We need to address the root cause of the problems which lies at the lower levels of education.
The destruction wrought by Dr. Tariq Banuri and his team of expensive illegally hired consultants is huge and it will take us years to recover from the mess he has caused.
He has teamed up with the likes of Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who according to Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Shoab Amjad is working on a foreign driven anti-national agenda. Readers are advised to see the following video in this connection: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct= j&url=https://m.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3D92flAUwA5 Yo&ved=2ahUKEwiWvM23k-HvAhWvCmMBHbp-BhEQjjgwAXoECAQQAg&usg= AOvVaw3UiA5BWt0ZAElpxzJegguw
Dr. Banuri is now attempting to cover up the damage done by lies and insinuations. For instance he is accusing the government for putting pressures on him to part with expensive lands in universities.
This is another trick. The HEC has nothing to do at all with university lands.
This is the legal responsibilities of the Syndicates and Senates of the respective universities.
One can check with the Vice Chancellors of our major public sector universities that no one from the government has approached them to part with their university lands.
Dr. Banuri also came up with a crazy formula to slash the budgets of our research centers but he was stopped in his tracks by a timely intervention by the Ministry of Education.
We need not fear foreign enemies. The enemies of Pakistan lie among us. It is the enemy within that we must fight at every corner.
To destroy a country, all we need to do is to destroy its higher education sector. That is what has been going on in Pakistan for the last 3 years.
—The writer is the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Science & Technology, former Federal Minister of Science & Technology & former Chairman of Higher Education Commission.