Political economy of higher education in Pakistan | By Wajhullah Fahim


Political economy of higher education in Pakistan

EDUCATION promotes long-term economic growth, spurs innovation, strengthens institutions and fosters social interconnection for any society. But in Pakistan, university graduates students are facing serious problems and issues which become a barrier for the them in contributing well-being of themselves as well as on whole society. The research findings of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) have revealed the education system in Pakistan especially the higher education system is facing serious crisis. The research findings showed more than 30% of university graduate students are unemployed and 50% of students want to leave Pakistan.

Our attitude towards education is the basic problem for all the levels of education not only higher education. Our educational attitude is based upon receiving knowledge which is memorizing and re-producing in exams. This issue is not a new issue, if we study our history, we can see our attitudes towards education are not up to the mark. During Mughal Empire, Muslim kings were highly busy in making of Taj Mahal and enjoying romantic poetries. They did not focus on the construction of educational institutes. During British colonization, more than 8000 religious scholars issued fatawa against English education. This attitude also introduced obedience education among us which is conceptualized as not allowing questions. The obedience education has eroded the critical thinking of the students. Our education system doesn’t allow challenging the existing knowledge. Along with this if any professor wants to inculcate critical thinking among students he/she expel from the university.

Another problem is politicized of the HEC. Since 2002 when HEC is established, the chairman of HEC is appointed based on political affliction due to which he works according to willing of politicians, not for improving quality education. By chance when any chairman appoints on merit then he/she cannot work, such as in the case of Dr Banuri. In addition to this HEC has no transparency and predictable policy. They appoint VCs of the university according to the direction of the government. There is no mechanism to evaluate the performance of university professors and lecturers. They get promotions on the number of their publications. The VCs of the university are appointed on the basic political support and affliction. Due to which quality of the higher education in public sector universities is declining day by day.

During 2021-22 federal government reduced the budget for the HEC which created financial problems for the public sector universities. As there is no alternative source of funding for the public sector universities, they have started spring intake, weekend classes and evening/self-supporting programs due to the quality of higher education is deteriorating. With the increased student intake, the number of students is increasing while the numbers of faculty staff are constant. The global standard of pupil-teacher ratio is 20:1 while in Pakistan this ratio is more than 30:1. Along with the increase in student strength, infrastructure development such as class rooms, libraries, hostels, transportations, and sport grounds also need to increase, but in Pakistan universities administration only focusing on increasing student strength. In addition to this, the numbers of university sub-campuses are also increasing. According to reports, there are more than 5000 university sub-campuses in Pakistan. This shows excess demand for degree certification by students which further intensifying the poor quality of higher education.

Now we need to revisit our higher education policies. For quality higher education HEC along with universities should be given autonomous status. Political influences on the HEC and the university campus need to be neutralized. As the majority of public universities hold vacant land, they can use this as revenues generating opportunity. A proper accountability mechanism for university administration and faculty members needs to be designed. As university receives billion of rupees as development and research budget from HEC, but no one is accountable and the designed mechanism to evaluate and promotion of the teaching faculty is the number of publications which is not the appropriate way. Together with these, there is a requirement for evaluation programmes for all universities (Public or Private), in which average and below average universities should be banned.

Along with HEC and university administration, the teaching faculty and students are also the main stakeholders. The professors and other teaching faculty should encourage students for critically thinking during classes and also in exams. Without the direct involvement of the student in the whole process, the current situation cannot change. Instead of using the top-down approach, bottom-up approach is needed in the current scenario. For the implementation of the bottom-up approach, the ban on student unions should be uplifted. Along with higher education, we need to shift some attention towards vocational institutes. In 2021-22 allocated budget for vocational education was only PRS 3 billion which should be increased, so that people can acquire some skills according to market demand. In this way, we can reduce the youth unemployment rate.

—The writer is working at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) Islamabad.

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