Higher education turmoil

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman
N.I., H.I., S.I., T.I., FRS, UNESCO Science Laureate

IN 2018, Dr. Tariq Banuri, was appointed Chairman HEC. The recent allegations of corruption and nepotism by NAB and the hue and cry raised by the Vice Chancellors regarding his destructive policies, have a led to a closer scrutiny of his credentials, on the basis of which he was selected as Chairman HEC.

The HEC Ordinance requires the Chairman of HEC to be “a person of international eminence and proven ability who has made significant contributions to higher education as teacher, researcher or administrator”. Dr. Tariq Banuri did not meet these requirements.

An examination of his biodata has revealed that he would not be eligible at even a junior academic position at a university of Pakistan under the prevailing HEC rules.

These require a minimum of 10 international research publications in internationally recognised journals even to be eligible for an Associate Professorship in a Pakistani public sector university. He had, only 4 international research publications. https://faculty.utah.edu/u0845940-Tariq_Banuri/research/index.hml

The Utah University is a second-tier university of USA. The university website shows that he was not a tenured full Professor there, as was claimed at the time of his appointment. He was only a Lecturer in a college there and that too not at a tenured position.

How he could have convinced the Selection Committee of his suitability in preference to the top scientists of Pakistan led by Syed Babar Ali is anyone’s guess.
NAB has taken serious note of his actions.

The illegal appointment of cronies as expensive Consultants against government rules, and massive wastage of public funds have led to the National Accountability Bureau starting investigations against him. His case is also under consideration for placement in the ECL list.

Some of the steps that he took to destroy higher education systems include doing away with the need of a Masters degree and allowing students with Bachelors degrees to be admitted directly to a PhD programme! We all know what the standards are of most students that pass out from our colleges.

Most cannot write a single sentence in good English, and to expect them to directly enter a PhD programme is an action directed at destroying research in all universities of Pakistan.

This decision was in direct conflict with the international requirements laid down under the Bologna protocol for higher education.

These requirements mandate the need of three clear educational cycles before a PhD degree can be awarded, the undergraduate stream leading to a Bachelors degree, the Masters stream and the PhD stream.

The removal of the middle Masters cycle of education would ensure that all our PhD degrees will be de-recognised internationally, causing a huge collapse of the entire system. The enemies of Pakistan could not have planned things better.

Clearly there was a sinister plot under way, and it was stopped by the government by the removal of Dr. Banuri.

Another strange action of Dr. Banuri was to do away with neutral external evaluation of PhD theses by foreign experts. This has now allowed evaluation of doctoral theses by local faculty members.

A PhD Supervisor can under the new HEC rules send the theses for evaluation to his friends within the country! All the talk about quality was just a smoke screen, as the actions taken were mostly to destroy the quality of education and research, and even recognition of our degrees internationally.

The slogan used frequently was that there was need to focus on the quality of education.

Who would argue with that? But behind this camouflage were actions that did exactly the opposite.

Dozens of HEC programmes were closed down including free access to analytical services, access to research funding, split PhD programmes etc.

Dr. Hoodbhoy was seen defending Dr. Banuri vehemently in the Islamabad Club at a jointly organised Press Conference. This nexus between the two convinced many about the anti-Pakistan forces at work. Dr. Hoodbhoy is well known for his anti-Pakistan, pro-Indian views.

He had openly criticised Quaid-i-Azam for the formation of Pakistan, and refused to accept the two-nation theory.

He had also criticised Allama Iqbal as well as our luminaries such as Dr. A.Q. Khan and Dr. Samar Mubarakmand.

The anti-Pakistan designs of Dr. Hoodbhoy have been revealed by a number of eminent independent experts.

These include Lt. General Amjad Shuaib (R) who has presented the sinister nature of the activities of Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy in a video recording, claiming with strong evidence that Dr. Hoodbhoy was a traitor to Pakistan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92flAUwA5Yo
Dr. Banuri is now making all sorts of bizarre claims about the reasons for his removal.

The facts are that there were mountains of complaints against him including his arrogant behaviour with the Vice Chancellors, his refusal to meet and discuss the various issues with the stake holders, his appointment of expensive consultants illegally, his repeated attempts to destroy research in the country, and massive wastage of public funds. These have led to a serious NAB investigation.

Dr. Banuri has tried to dodge the above core issues by claiming that he was removed because he demanded accountability of three Centers at the University of Karachi.

The truth is that the differences between him and the Ministry of Education were NOT about accountability at all but about the future funding mechanism and the budgetary mergers with the Karachi University.

There are legal agreements with international organisations such as UNESCO about financial autonomy of the UNESCO Center of Excellence at Karachi University, so while the Center is of course accountable for all funding received from the government and its accounts are therefore regularly audited, a budgetary merger is forbidden under the international agreements.

The Ministry of Education, which is the parent line Ministry of HEC, had correctly pointed out in a detailed letter that the funding formula proposed by Dr. Banuri (involving 90% cut of funding and then offering small additional grants against productivity) had no international precedence. In fact it will be tantamount to closing down the leading research institutes of Pakistan.

There was also a joint letter written by many Centers in Karachi University to HEC, protesting at the new HEC funding mechanism. This was only one of his many actions but this was a minor issue.

The real issue related to the collapse of research and the sharp lowering of quality of undergraduate and postgraduate education through the steps described above.

Much damage has been caused to higher education by appointment of a weak academic who would not be eligible for a post of Associate Professor at any public sector university of Pakistan. It will take years to recover!

—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.