I am sure most of you are aware of the Govt’s decision of devolution of Higher Education Commission (HEC). I am sharing these few facts and figures with you believing that most of us actually have no idea about the role and contribution HEC has played in improvising Pakistan’s image to the world besides opening doors of opportunities to the bright and talented of our beloved Country.
What is HEC?
The world today recognizes that higher education is central to National Development and must be treated as a core subject at the Federal Level to fast-track economic growth in a sustainable manner. Fortunately, this realization came early to Pakistan which established the Higher Education Commission in 2002 based on the recommendations of a one year detailed analysis by the Task Force on Higher Education established by the Ministry of Education and led by Dr. Shamsh Kassim Lakha, former Minister of Education, and the Study Group on Science and Technology established by the Ministry of Science and Technology and headed by Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, former Minister of Science and Technology.
The subject of higher education has close, deep and multidimensional links to i) National Policy and Planning, ii) Economic Growth, iii) Scientific & Technical Research, iv) Defense Production, v) Industrial Growth and the vi) National Innovation System. Higher Education is not a subject that is confined to national boundaries since it is imperative to have International recognition of degrees for which adherence to International Quality Assurance Benchmarks is a necessity.
1. The establishment of the HEC has revolutionized higher education in Pakistan and has been recognized internationally for the transformation that has occurred in Pakistani universities located in every corner of the country.
(a) India became deeply concerned at these developments. In an article entitled “Pak Threat to Indian Science” published in the leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, India, on 23rd July 2006, Neha Mehta reported that Prof. C.N.R. Rao, (Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council) made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister and expressed serious concerns at the remarkable progress made by Pakistan in the higher education and science sectors under the Higher Education Commission. It was stated that as a result of the reforms brought about in Pakistan in the higher education sector “Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.: Unquote (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1082216661.html, Neha Mehta, “Pak Threat to Indian Science”, Hindustan Times, 23 july 2006).
(b) Most notably following the above mentioned presentation in the Indian Cabinet on HEC, India has modeled its future higher education strategy, with a five-fold increase in funding for higher education, on thestrategy developed by HEC. It is also working on establishing an organization similar to the HEC.
(c) Pakistan made good progress during the period 2001-2008 in higher education. There has been a 600 % increase in scientific publications in international journals and a similar increase in citations (the number of times the work of our academics is cited by others in their references) in this period. Today several of our universities are ranked among the top 600 (National University of Science and Technology, NUST was ranked at 350 in the overall world university rankings (Times UK Higher Education rankings, November 2009). In the disciplinary rankings, University of Karachi was ranked at 223 in the world, NUST at 260 in the world and Quaid-e-Azam University at 270 in the world in the field of Natural Sciences. This is no ordinary achievement after decades of stagnation.
(d) University enrollment has been tripled from only 135,000 during the 56 year period from 1947 to 2003 to about 400,000 by 2009. There were only 59 universities and degree awarding institutes in 2001 in Pakistan. These grew to 127 such institutions by 2008 and have grown to 132 such institutions today.
(e) Pakistan established one of the best digital libraries anywhere in the world: Every student in every public sector university today was provided access to 45,000 textbooks & research monographs from 220 international publishers as well as to 25,000 international research journals completely free of charge.
(f) Over 11,000 scholarships were awarded including about 4,000 scholarships for study in technologically advanced countries with about a crore of rupees being spent on each student being sent abroad. Some 3,000 indigenous Ph.D. scholarships were also awarded. More than 4,000 students are currently receiving PhD scholarships in leading universities abroad, along with an equal number in Pakistan. These studentsare beginning to complete their studies and join the universities in the country under the HEC program for placement of faculty in universities.
(g) There was a phenomenal increase in local PhD output, with the number of PhDs produced in 7 years (3028 during 2003-2009) being about equal to those produced in 55 previous years(3281 during1947-2002) with the quality being guaranteed through mandatory evaluation and approval by examiners in technologically advanced countries.
(h) Pakistan won four prestigious international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought about by the Higher Education Commission. These include the TWAS (Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Italy) Award for Institutional Development at the 11th General Conference of TWAS in Durban, South Africa in October 2009, the Austrian high civil award “Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande” (2007), the Fellowship of Royal Society (London)(2006) and Honorary Life Fellowship of KingsCollege , Cambridge University (2007) conferred on former Chairman Higher Education Commission
(i) An educational expert, Prof. Wolfgang Voelter of Tubingen University, who was conferred two Civil Awards from the Government of Pakistan for his contributions to the development of science in this country, paid glowing tributes to the Higher Education Commission in an article in Dawn on 28th November 2008 under the heading “The Golden Period”. I quote:
“A miracle happened. The scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan changed dramatically as never before in the history of Pakistan. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced it as “Pakistan’s golden period in higher education.” Unquote. (http://epaper.dawn.com/artMailDisp.aspx?article=23_11_2008_123_003&typ=0)
(j) Prof. Michael Rode, Former Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development wrote, and I quote: “The progress ( HEC ) made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects. To name just a few, the establishment of a free access to scientific literature by high-speed Internet for all universities, the thousands of promising young scientists who were granted PhD studies at top universities abroad, the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country and the programme of establishing new universities of science and technology, including technology parks attracting foreign investors, prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country enabled by the HEC’s chairman.The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that (the) policy and programme is a `best-practice’ example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.” Unquote. (http://dildilpakistan.wordpress.com/tag/dr-atta-ur-rehman/).
(k) Three comprehensive reports have been published after neutral peer reviews by World Bank, USAID and British Council applauding the work of HEC and calling it a silent revolution.
Today researchers from the Kohat University of Science and Technology publishes more papers in the world’s leading research journals than many local universities established decades ago, theUniversity of Gujrat boast the best Industrial Design department in Pakistan, The Karakoram International University, Gilgit hosts the Rector of the University of Bonn Germany to study climate change, Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur works with Egyptian biotechnologists for propagation of date palms while researchers at the Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences is pioneering shrimp farming on the Balochistan Coast. These are some glimpses into the accomplishments of the universities that have been established during the past eight years only, while those that existed before have gone on to join the ranks of the premier science and technology universities of the world, such as the National University of Science and Technology, ranked number 274 in the World in 2010, while the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore is ranked 281 by QS World University Rankings. From the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia to Cambridge University in the UK, just about every leading university in the world has close academic and research linkages with top Pakistani universities.
You destroy any country’s education system and you can take them to stone age. Trust me its more than inflating prices of fuel and food unnecessarily or throwing another tax burden on us. Devolution of HEC is one unwise step that can surely drag us 50 years back.