In Defense of Pakistan's Higher Education Reform

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy is a vocal critic of Pakistan's Higher Education Reform initiated by Dr. Ata ur Rahman, adviser to President Musharraf, in 2002. This reform resulted in over fivefold increase in public funding for universities, with a special emphasis on science, technology and engineering. The reform supported initiatives such as a free national digital library and high-speed Internet access for universities as well as new scholarships enabling more than 2,000 students to study abroad for PhDs — with incentives to return to Pakistan afterward. The years of reform have coincided with increases in the number of Pakistani authors publishing in research journals, especially in mathematics and engineering, as well as boosting the impact of their research outside Pakistan.

Reacting to the recent publication of a report on reform by Dr. Athar Osama, Prof. Adil Najam, Dr. Shams Kassim-Lakha and Dr. Christopher King published in Nature Magazine, Dr. Hoodbhoy wrote a letter to the editors of the magazine that was highly critical of the HEC under Dr. Rahman. Here is Dr. Rahman's response to Dr. Hoodbhoy's latest criticism:

There are four aspects of the comments of Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy that need to be considered:

1. Firstly, Dr. Hoodbhoy himself admits that there has been a huge increase in international publications at QAU after HEC came into existence when he mentions the number of international publications in the two time periods. Strangely, he picks a six year period, 1998-2003, and then compares it with the subsequent 4.5 years (?) , 2004 to mid 2008, (the correspondence occurred in August 2008, so he could not possibly have had access to the figures for the entire year) I can only assume that he has mentioned 2003 by mistake in the second “5 year” period as there is no reason to include the publications of the year 2003 in both time periods, which he has done. It is clearly unfair to take two time periods of different durations and compare them.

2. In the first 6 year period (1998-2003), Dr. Hoodbhoy admits that there were only 631 research publications from QAU, but in the second 4.5 year period these had risen to 1482 research publications, a tripling of publications on average per year, even by his own estimates.
3. As the HEC programs began in 2003 and their real impact occurred 2-3 years later, a year-wise comparison is far more relevant than an average over a 5 year period as the dramatic change that has occurred gets partly masked when a 5 or 6 year average is taken, though it is still very visible. Dr. Hoodbhoy ignores the figures that Dr. S.T.K. Naim had worked out that in the year 2004, there were only 84 research publications from QAU (an average of only 7 publications per month), but by 2008 they had increased many fold.
4. The citations argument used by Dr. Hoodbhoy is invalid as citations increase with the passage of time. Dr. Hoodbhoy, therefore, wrongly compares the citations of papers of an earlier period with those of a later period. To clarify this issue further, if two papers of equal quality and in a similar field are published, say in 1998 and 2007, and the citations of both are counted in 2008, then the paper which was published in 1998 will have accumulated more citations by 2008 because of the much longer 10 year time period, than the paper published in 2007, as that would have had only one year for the citations to accumulate. Dr. Hoodbhoy is therefore comparing apples with oranges when he tries to compare citations of papers published in an earlier period with a later time period. In order to fairly compare citations, the same duration of time period must be taken. Thus if one takes 1998 publications and counts the citations till 2008, then one will need to take the 2008 publications and count their citations till the year 2018, before one can compare the figures for the citations of the two sets fairly.

The undeniable fact is that the total number of research publications from universities in Pakistan was only about 600 per year till 2001 but then started rising rapidly, and by the year 2008 it had increased to over 4,300! Brazil achieved such an increase over a 35 year period between 1960 to 1995, which Pakistan achieved in only 6 years. After my appointment in March 2000 as the Federal Minister for Science and Technology in Pakistan, I convinced the government to enhance the budget for science and technology in Pakistan by 6000% between July 2000 to October 2002. After my appointment as Chairman, Higher Education Commission (Federal Minister) the budget for higher education was similarly increased by 2400% during 2003 to 2008. Major achievements during these periods were:

1. Establishing 51 new Universities and awarding institutions during 2002-2008,
2. Tripling university enrollment (which had reached only 135,000 from 1947 to 2003) to about 400,000 in 2008,
3. Establishing a powerful Digital Library which provides free nation-wide access to every student in every public sector university to 45,000 textbooks/research monographs from 220 international publishers as well as to 25,000 international research journals,
4. Establishing video-conferencing facilities in most public sector universities that allow lectures to be delivered live and interactively to students in Pakistan from technologically advanced countries
5. Enhancing salaries of academics so that salaries of University Professors were increased to a level about five times the salaries of Federal Ministers, with a corresponding reduction in tax from 35% to only 5%, in order to attract the brightest young men and women into academia,
6. Promoting research through a massive research grant program which resulted in a 600% increase in ISI abstracted publications from about 600 per year in 2001 to 4300 research publications in 2008, accompanied by about 1000% increase in international citations in the same period,
7. Placing a satellite in space (Paksat-1) which is now used for distance learning by the Virtual University,
8. Establishing video-conferencing facilities in most public sector universities and initiating a lectureship program, allowing live interactive lectures to be delivered from technologically advanced countries,
9. Providing free access to scientists/engineers anywhere in the country to sophisticated instruments installed in any institute in Pakistan.

The Bottom Line: In the final analysis, it is not what I or Dr. Hoodbhoy think about the developments, but what is the opinion of neutral international experts who have carried out detailed year-long reviews of the developments during the period that I was heading the Higher Education Commission. A few extracts are given below:

1. Prof. Fred Hayward (independent international educational consultant from USA) carried out a detailed analysis of the developments and published an article entitled “Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan: Political & Economic Instability,” Date: Number 54, winter 2009 Source: International Higher Education Quarterly. I quote: “The news about Pakistan over the last few years has been dominated by reports of political turmoil, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, economic decline, and the Afghan War. What has been missed is the phenomenal transformation in higher education over the last six years, which represents a critical development for Pakistan and a potential engine for growth and national recovery.”
2. Report of US-AID about HEC states that “We are very impressed with the breadth, scope, and depth of the reforms implemented by the HEC since 2002. No other developing country we know has made such spectacular progress.”
3. World Bank Report is very complimentary of many excellent programs introduced.
4. British Council: The report states: “I have worked in many countries in South America, the Middle East, North Africa, and in Russia and India, over the last six years. None in my view, with the exception of India, has the potential of Pakistan for the UK university sector, largely because of the dynamic, strategic leadership of the Chairman of HEC”.
5. Nature: Several articles and editorials have appeared in the world’s leading science journal “Nature” (the most recent in the issue published on 3rd September 2009) in which the very significant progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector has been applauded and the need for the new government to built on the solid foundation laid has been stressed.
6. Science Watch (Thomson Reuters) has ranked Pakistan as a rising star in five disciplines, more than in any other country of the world.


Riaz Haq's Note: For the first time in the nation's history, President Musharraf's education adviser Dr. Ata ur Rahman succeeded in getting tremendous focus and major funding increases for higher education in Pakistan. According to Sciencewatch, which tracks trends and performance in basic research, citations of Pakistani publications are rising sharply in multiple fields, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, material science and plant and animal sciences. The number of papers published by Pakistani scientists reached 4300 in 2007 (For comparison purposes, India-based authors published 27000 papers in 2007, according to Science Watch). Over two dozen Pakistani scientists are actively working on the Large Hadron Collider; the grandest experiment in the history of Physics. Pakistan now ranks among the top outsourcing destinations, based on its growing talent pool of college graduates. According to Pakistan Software Export Board, Pakistani IT industry has grown at 40% CAGR during the 2001-2007, and it is estimated at $2.8 billion as of last year, with about half of it coming from exports. As evident from the overall results, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of universities and highly-educated faculty and university graduates in Pakistan. There have also been some instances of abuse of incentives, opportunities and resources provided to the academics in good faith. The quality of some of the institutions of higher learning can also be enhanced significantly, with some revisions in the incentive systems.

Admission meritocracy, faculty competence and inspirational leadership in education are important, but there is no real substitute for higher spending on higher education to achieve better results. In fact, it should be seen as an investment in the future of the people rather than just another expense.

Of the top ten universities in the world published by Times of London, six are in the United States. The US continues to lead the world in scientific and technological research and development. Looking at the industries of the future such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, green technologies, the US continues to enjoy a huge lead over Europe and Asia. The reason for US supremacy in higher education is partly explained by how much it spends on it. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform, "The Future of European Universities" points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.

In spite of the new education policy promising to more than double education spending from about 3% to 7% of GDP, uncertainty remains about the budgetary situation. Continuing political instability and the deteriorating security situation have created a loss of confidence in government and new questions about the future of higher education. These factors threaten to reverse the phenomenal gains of the last few years, and undermine the prospects for national development toward a knowledge economy. In addition, there is growing uncertainty about the future of the Higher Education Commission, including its administrative and financial autonomy. Thus, one of the few hopeful signs of progress in Pakistan appears to be in jeopardy. While there are many claimants on the national budget in this period of economic difficulty, the failure of higher education transformation would be a devastating reversal for Pakistan and make economic growth, social recovery, and political stability even more difficult than at the present time.

Let us hope that the recent appointment of Dr. Javaid R. Laghari as new Chairman of the HEC will help clarify the situation and restore confidence in the future of higher education in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan

Pakistan's $2.8 Billion IT Industry

President Musharraf's Legacy

Education in Pakistan

Reforms? What Reforms? by Pervez Hoodbhoy

India's New Millennium in Science

Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan

Nature's Coverage of Higher Education Reform

Asia Gains in World's Top Universities

Poor Quality of Higher Education in South Asia

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy's Letter to Nature

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Here are some excerpts from a report of Pakistan's Higher Education Commission (HEC) under attack by crooked politicians:

ISLAMABAD: Parliament’s revenge against the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for its laudable role in identifying the fake degree holding MPs will not only destroy the higher education structure, built in decades, but also threatens huge and committed $550m (Rs47 billion) in foreign assistance.

Informed government sources told The News that the USAID had hinted on Friday of keeping on hold the committed $250 million assistance under the Kerry-Lugar Act to establish three centres of excellence besides pursuing certain other potential goals for higher education development in the country.

Already, the World Bank, which has only recently approved $300 million soft loan for the HEC to support its various programmes for the next five years, has verbally told the commission’s bosses to wait as the Bank is unsure about the future of the HEC.

The sources said that the USAID, in its communication with the HEC officials, has indicated of not doing the cost reimbursement PIL for the next six months because of a meeting the USAID had with the Economic Affairs Division, which has told the American agency that the HEC is going to be devolved.

Out of the $250 million, so far only $45 million has been transferred to the HEC by the USAID, which had agreed to hand over to the HEC all the education related programmes handled by the US Financial Assistance Development (FAD) programme. Now for the HEC officials, all the committed US aid for the HEC is frozen.

The sources said that under the USAID assistance programme, the HEC had designed to set up three centres of excellence (CoE), including the CoE in water resource at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, the CoE in food security at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and the CoE in energy at the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar.

Already, as reported, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) would lose 300 million dollars of loan approved by the World Bank (WB) to support its various programmes for the next five years.

According to the report, the $300 million equivalent credit was supposed to finance the government’s tertiary education development programme. It is said that the loan deal would automatically come to an end after the devolution of the HEC due to some legal implications. “There is a clause in the agreement between the WB and HEC that any change in the legal status of the HEC would end the agreement at once,” the reporter quoted HEC Executive Director Dr Sohail Naqvi as saying. This is a soft loan.

The HEC is facing the wrath of the parliamentarians after it had refused to accept any pressure for the verification of the MPs’ degrees, more than 50 of which have already been declared invalid whereas above 200 degrees were termed suspected.

The federal and provincial governments and members of parliament and provincial assemblies exerted all sorts of pressure on the HEC to stop it from the verification work but to no avail. Later, more than 200 MPs refused to cooperate despite the apex court’s decision, refusing to provide to the HEC or the universities concerned the details of their qualification certificates and degrees to stop their verification by the HEC.
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In its meeting on March 28, 2011, the federal cabinet, instead of devolving all functions of the Education Ministry, decided to retain several of them at the federal level by assigning these functions to different ministries and divisions like the cabinet and foreign ministry.
Riaz Haq said…
Here is a News report on US Aid for Pakistani universities:

The United States will build new Faculty of Education buildings at six Pakistani universities and renovate a seventh education facility, as part of an agreement signed Wednesday between the universities and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said Karen Freeman, USAID Deputy Director for Pakistan.

She stated this while addressing the signing ceremony of a memorandum of Understanding for construction and rehabilitation of faculty of education buildings, says a press release. The construction will take place over the next two year and the new and renovated buildings will eventually house approximately 2,000 students of two new teaching degrees: the four year Bachelor’ Degree in Education and a two-year Associate Degree in Education in teaching that USAID helped design and introduce in order to increase quality of teacher preparation across the country and 100 faculty members each year.

“Pakistan and the United States have enjoyed a long and productive relationship that spans more than 60 years and covers a variety of fields. Today’s ceremony is yet another expression of the US Government’s long-term commitment to help build a stronger, more prosperous Pakistan,” she added.

“It gives me great pleasure to be here with you today to witness the signing of the MoU between the seven of country’s public universities and two of USAID implementing partners for the construction and rehabilitation of Faculty of Education buildings across the country. The contribution to the Pakistani education system is yet another example of the US long-term commitment to helping Pakistan address its development priorities.

“Our collaboration in higher education sector spans more than five decades. One of our first undertakings in this sector was the construction of the Institute of Education and Research at the University of Punjab in 1960s. fifty years later, this institute continues to help the country shape its education policies. Over the years, we have worked together to build more higher education institutions that have since become premier centres for knowledge and learning. I am very proud to list among such the Institute of Business administration in Karachi, the Lahore University of Management Sciences, the Faisalabad Agriculture University as well as the Peshawar Agriculture University, and many more,” she said.

Karen Freeman said: “I am happy that through today’s commitment we are continuing this tradition of supporting Pakistan in its efforts to develop strong education institutions.” She said that these new facilities will help attract and train best young minds to teaching profession and will help improve the professional knowledge and skills of many other teachers.

Higher Education Commission Chairman Dr. Javaid Laghari appreciated the efforts of the US Government for improving the quality of education across the country. The $15 million construction initiative was officially launched today at the Higher Education Commission, where representatives of the USAID signed MoU with representatives of the seven universities. As part of the agreement, the US will construct new Faculty of Education buildings at the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University in Quetta; the Hazara University in Mansehra; the University of Education in Lahore; the University of Sindh in Hyderabad; the University of Karachi in Karachi; and the Sardar Abdul Latif University in Khairpur (Sindh). The US will also help renovate the Institute of Education and Research at the University of the Punjab.


http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=90967&Cat=6&dt=2/3/2012
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a News story about HEC's performance:

To get an understanding of the working of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and developments occurred in the last few years in the sector of higher education in Pakistan, an official delegation of representatives from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan visited HEC head office here in Islamabad.



HEC’s Executive Director, Professor Dr S. Sohail H. Naqvi welcomed the delegation and apprised them about the functions and role of HEC for strengthening the higher education sector in Pakistan. He informed that the establishment of the HEC in 2002 has heralded a revolution in higher education in Pakistan. “The HEC has accomplished more in nine years since its establishment than was achieved in the first 55 years of Pakistan’s existence.”



He said that research output has grown eight-folds since 2002 (from 815 in 2002 to 6,200 in 2011) whereas 80 per cent of these research publications from Pakistan are coming from higher education institutions (HEIs). Naqvi further mentioned that output has more than doubled just in the last three years and is expected to double again in the next 3 years.



He claimed that Pakistan today is a regional leader in ICTs, which other countries are following. The digital library provides access to 75% of the world’s literature (23,000 e-journals and 45,000 e-books). He also informed that due to revolutionary reforms in the sector, Pakistani universities have been included among the top world and Asian universities and Pakistani higher education model is being followed by other Asian countries.



He also highlighted the development strategy of HEC and various steps undertaken to improve quality of teaching and research, equitable access to higher education, university-industry and community linkages and human resource development in Pakistan. The delegation appreciated the role of HEC in brining vibrant and effective changes in the higher education sector of Pakistan and showed keen interest for collaboration with HEC and Pakistani higher education institutions.



The delegation also visited Quaid-i-Azam University and National University of Science and Technology and attended the presentations about these two leading universities. The delegation was led by Sardarbekov, Deputy Governor of Naryn Oblast, Kyrgyzistan and Farkhod Rakhimov, First Deputy Minister Ministry of Education, Tajikistan. Shamsh Kassim Lakha, former federal minister of science and technology and Asadullah Sumbal, senior economist Asian Development Bank along with senior officials of the university of the Central Asia accompanied the delegation.


http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-119350-Pakistani-higher-education-model-being-followed-in-Asia
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Dawn report on an emerging science city in Karachi:

....Of these five centers, one is the only institute for human clinical trials in Pakistan, the other a core of computational biology and the third provides consultancy to people suffering from genetic diseases.

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The centers and their growth have been working towards what has been termed as a ‘silent revolution’ and had been described by Professor Wolfgang Voelter of Tubingen University as a ‘miracle.’

The Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Research Institute of Chemistry was only a small post graduate institute before a generous donation of Rs 5 million in 1976 set the center towards the path of excellence. Latif Ebrahim Jamal’s endowment, on behalf of the Hussain Ebrahim Jamal Foundation, was the largest private funding for science in Pakistan at the time.

The center houses old NMR machines of 300 megahertz to state-of-the-art Liquid Chromatograph Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (LCNMR).

Under the leadership of eminent chemist Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, the institute became a magnet for more funding and projects from around the world. Over a period of time, it received $30 million in funding from various countries. Recently, Islamic Development Bank (IDB) donated $ 40 million for research on regional and tropical diseases. Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, a renowned chemist and the former chairman of Higher Education Commission said,

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Currently, the center has one of the largest PhD programs in the country in the fields of natural product chemistry, plant biotechnology, computational biology, spectroscopy and other disciplines at the frontiers of science.

Young scholars research scientific literature at the LEJ National Science Information Center. The facility is connected to the world’s largest science database, ranging from thousands of primary research journals and books. -Photo by author
Young scholars research scientific literature at the LEJ National Science Information Center. The facility is connected to the world’s largest science database, ranging from thousands of primary research journals and books. -Photo by author
The ground floor of the institute holds 12 state-of-the-art Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) machines that are vital in the research of the structure, reaction and other properties of various compounds and molecules, as well as an X-ray crystallography setup which uses X-rays to learn the structure of crystalline material.

The X-ray crystallography setup is used to construct 3-D structures of molecules under study. -Photo by author
The X-ray crystallography setup is used to construct 3-D structures of molecules under study. -Photo by author
“We have recently finished the structure of a compound showing anti-inflammatory activity,” said Sammer Yousuf, senior research officer at the institute who was awarded the Regional Prize for Young Scientists by the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 2011 for her work.

“In the last two and a half years our institute was awarded 24 international patents,” Dr Rehman proudly adds.

Since its inception, the HEJ which was inducted into the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) in the ‘90s has produced hundreds of doctorates, thousands of papers and hundreds of international patents, and also helps over 350 industries across Pakistan. The Industrial Analytical Center at the HEJ provides testing, consultancy and research for various industries in Pakistan.

The construction of a state-of-the-art center for nanotechnology is underway while the Jamil-ur-Rehman Center for Genome Research, also falling under HEJ, is almost complete. The center, named after Dr Rehman’s father who was the main donor of the institute, already houses modern gene sequencing machines.


http://dawn.com/news/1058496/pakistans-silent-revolution
Riaz Haq said…
For the first time, nine research papers by Pakistani students have been selected for presentation at the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) Conference.

A total of 11 abstracts were submitted by M Phil students at Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) for the 114th international conference scheduled to be held in Boston later this month.

Leading author for the research papers and Head of Molecular Pathology at DUHS Dr Saeed Khan says the study of infectious diseases in Pakistan is critical, “because no one is safe till everyone is safe.”

The areas of research include diseases prevalent in Pakistan such as tuberculosis, HIV and Aids, Hepatitis B, C and D, and auto-immune diseases among other viral and bacterial infections.

Khan’s team comprises Asif Iqbal, Noorulaine, Nazish Haider, Maria Zahid, Zeba Zehravi, Fatin Zehra, Sehrish Mohsin, Noorul Huda, Ayaz Ahmed and Kanwal Niazi.

Khan, who will be the presenting author for his paper ‘Prevalence and drug resistance pattern of TB in different areas of Sindh’ says, “Due to the population not taking proper medication there is a change in bacteria making TB not treatable by drugs that currently available.”

The work is extensive and strenuous especially when researching and studying the pathology for HIV in Pakistan, Khan says. “The stigma attached to HIV and then the changes in prevalence among injecting drug users and sex workers is a challenge to track and document but it is important work which must be properly researched.”

One of the students and presenting author for research paper ‘Genetic diversity and geographic linkages of HIV using bioinformatics tools’ Maria Zahid says she didn’t expect such a positive response to their submissions.

“We had always planned to submit our (research) papers but was pleasantly surprised when almost all were accepted,” she told Dawn.com.

Zahid began working on her research paper in January last year and is analysing the circulation of the virus and which types and subtypes are common in Pakistan. “HIV has two types and 11 sub-types. We can only work on developing vaccines once we know which types and subtypes we are dealing with. Presently in Pakistan we have subtype A of the virus whereas worldwide subtype B is prevalent.”

The research team, which has been unconventionally awarded with grants to support their travel expenses is scheduled to depart for the United States on May 15 depending on the acceptance of their visa. http://www.dawn.com/news/1105040/duhs-students-set-for-unique-distinction-in-us
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistani, American academics meet to promote higher education linkages

HEC Chairman Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed addressed the 55 participants in a videotaped message saying, “The United States-Pakistan University Partnerships Program forges a spirit of academic collaboration between our countries’ higher education communities and contributes to the overall quality of higher education. Regular and meaningful discourse among scholars, students, and faculty has supported the Higher Education Commission’s goals to promote social sciences and humanities in Pakistan. Further, it has helped align research priorities and needs throughout the country.”

The University Partnerships Programme is a flagship higher-education program sponsored by the US Mission to Pakistan. It provides over $25 million dollars in funding to 44 universities in Pakistan and the United States to create three-year partnerships that foster collaboration, curriculum reform, and joint research. Since 2012, approximately 500 faculty members, administrators, and students from both countries have participated in this exchange programme. The first University Partnerships Best Practices Workshop was held in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-6-348538-Pakistani-American-academics-meet-to-p

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