Sunday, October 19, 2008
LAHORE: Outgoing Chairman of the Higher Education Commission, Dr Attaur Rehman, has issued a long rejoinder to nuclear scientist Dr AQ Khan who had recently criticized the performance of the HEC and Dr Atta for not using billions of taxpayers’ funds properly.
In his rejoinder Dr Atta thanked Dr AQ Khan for not doubting his and integrity but said his statement appears to be based on some serious misunderstandings as not one but 47 new universities had been established in the last six years.
“As many as 47 new universities had been established and 18 new campuses of universities have also been established during the six year period of HEC’s existence,” he said. University enrolment has almost tripled from 135,123 to 363,700 during this 6 year period of HEC thereby providing far more opportunities of our youth to acquire higher education.
“It has been alleged that 6 foreign universities were planned to be set up in Pakistan but not a single one has been established. Actually, it was only in February 2008 that 4 projects for the establishment of universities in collaboration with Germany, Italy, Austria and China were approved.
Subsequently, the new government established a Cabinet Committee to review the programme and to consider if funding could be made available for it. The Cabinet has yet to make a final decision in this respect and so the programme has been essentially frozen, largely due to the serious financial situation of Pakistan. How could money have been wasted for this programme when not a single new building for these universities has so far been built or faculty hired?
The need to establish foreign universities in Pakistan has been questioned. It needs to be understood that without a critical number of world class engineers and scientists, Pakistan cannot hope to compete in the highly competitive global economy. Our students would be exposed to high quality faculty from foreign countries, follow their curriculum, pass their examinations and get degrees from top universities from Germany, France etc.
They would therefore reach international standards of education, science and engineering in a very short period. India produces over 400,000 engineering graduates annually while Pakistan produces only about 8,000 engineering graduates. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) set up in 1960s helped to transform India and ushered in an IT revolution—-as a result India presently earns tens of billions of dollars in exports of software. India has also decided to expand its present programme of IITs and also significantly increase the number of Indian Institute of Science so that it could compete with advanced countries.
It has been claimed that HEC programmes have not had any major impact on higher education. This is completely incorrect as proved by the following facts:
(a) In a recent USAID Report (still in draft form) it is stated 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.”
(b) The world’s top science journal “Nature” in an editorial published on 28th August 2008 acknowledged “the solid foundations” built by HEC during the last 6 years under my Chairmanship and urged the new government to continue to support this important sector to prevent us from going back to the “Stone Age”.
(c) The World Bank was asked by Government of Pakistan to carry out the performance audit of HEC. A 128 page report published by the World Bank has praised the excellent initiatives by HEC.
(d) The British Council in another recent comprehensive report published earlier this year has praised my own leadership as Chairman HEC in the following words “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”
(e) “Science Watch” published by the Thomson Reuters group have recently given Pakistan the “Rising Star” status in five fields of science and engineering, the highest number achieved by any country in the world.
(f) The enormous emphasis laid by HEC on research has resulted in 400% increase in research output in international journals from Pakistani universities. The research output in international journals originating from Pakistani institutions has grown from a only about 600 research articles in year 2002 to over 1714 by the year 2006 and 2407 articles in 2007.
(g) During the 56 year period (1947-2003) not a single Pakistani university could qualify to reach the ranks of the top 600 universities in the world. Today 3 of Pakistani universities are in this category with the National University of Science and Technology standing at a very respectable number 376.
(k) Previously our degrees were not recognized internationally as we had only 16 years of study programmes before students obtained the Masters degrees. HEC introduced a 4-year undergraduate programme which is being implemented in a phased manner over a 3 year period. This will result in international recognition of Pakistani degrees.
(h) A huge emphasis has been placed on quality of education. National rankings of our universities were published, thereby generating competition.. Quality Assurance Cells have been established in different universities and student evaluation of teachers’ performance introduced.
(i) Video-conferencing facility has been provided in 28 universities with the key feature of live interactive lectures from technologically advanced countries.
(j) A major national research grant programme was launched. The National Research Programme for Universities (NRPU) facilitates research pursuits of researchers. The year saw the approval of 195 projects in Agriculture, Food Sciences, Archeology, Biological Sciences, Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics and Pharmacy for funding over a maximum period of three years. There is tangible excitement in the air where faculty members are working in their state-of-the -art and well equipped laboratories.
(k) Strict financial discipline is maintained by HEC. All its programmes have been regularly audited by government auditors as well as private international auditors. It is also the first government institution which fully implemented SAP accounting system thereby being completely transparent in all transactions.
(l) A major programme of post- doctoral training in top foreign universities has been initiated which has already benefited some 200 faculty members.
(m) A strict project monitoring system was introduced and quarterly reports are sent to Planning, Finance and the Chancellors of public sector institutions.
(n) A transparent process of appointment of Vice- Chancellors was introduced based on open advertisement and final recommendation by a search committee comprising eminent scholars.
It has been stated in an earlier article which appeared in the newspaper that too much money has been spent on higher education at the cost of lower level education. This is incorrect. Less than 15% of the entire education budget is spent on higher education. According to international norms at least 25-30% of national budget should be spent on higher education. During the last two years per student expenditure has actually gone down by about 30% due to inflation and the tripling student enrolment.
Has HEC made a difference in the last 6 years as compared to performance of the erstwhile UGC in the previous 56 years. One needs only to talk to any Vice-Chancellor of a public sector university or visit hundreds of new institutions established during the last 6 years to get a fruitful answer.
One is at liberty to turn a blind eye to HEC’s achievements, but they will not cease to exist. What is presented above are undeniable facts and in the final analysis what matters is not what my supporters or critics say, but the opinions of neutral international experts mentioned above who have carried out a detailed analysis of the Higher Education sector in Pakistan and paid glowing tributes to our achievements.
To identify me with President Musharraf or any other past government is incorrect, although I must acknowledge the tremendous support provided to HEC by General Musharraf. I am a scientist and not a politician. I received four Civil Awards (Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Imtiaz and Nishan-i-Imtiaz) from successive governments of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Mohtarama Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Shaukat Aziz. I have tried to serve my country honestly and to the best of my abilities and will continue to do so Inshallah in the years to come.