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Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The Educationist Interview

Dr. Atta recommends 6-point formula to HEC Pakistan

Says Punjab and Sindh HECs are illegal  

Those who are saying higher education is devolved to provinces under the

Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The Educationist Interview
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The Educationist Interview

18th Amendment, they are totally wrong

Every single appointment in university should be PhD based and TTS

When I was Chairman HEC, 97.5% peoples sent abroad were coming back and they were being observed

By Shabbir Sarwar & Ali Arshad

Those who are saying higher education is devolved to provinces under the 18th Amendment, they are totally wrong. Punjab and Sindh higher education commission are controversial and illegal entities according to the Supreme Court decision and the Constitution of Pakistan, said Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, former chairman HEC and former federal minister for science & technology.

During an exclusive interview with The Educationist, Dr Atta said it was very unfortunate situation that higher education was being devolved. “The decision of the Supreme Court is very clear. When I filed the petition that the higher education should be federal subject, the Supreme Court decision is very clear.

He said ultimately they (provincial commissions) will be needed to dissolve. Lower education has been devolved to the provinces but higher education must be protected under the Constitution and must remain a federal subject. Following are the details from our discussion with him:

The Educationist: Sir, please tell us about your education and career?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: Well, my school and college education is from Karachi then I did my PhD in organic chemistry from Cambridge University in 1968. I have 1032 publications in several fields of organic chemistry including 731 research publications, 37 international patents, 68 chapters in books and, 195 books published largely by major US and European presses. 82 students have completed their PhD degrees under my supervision. I am the Editor-in-Chief of eight European Chemistry journals. I am Editor of the world’s leading encyclopaedic series of volumes on natural products “Studies in Natural Product Chemistry” 48 volumes of which have been published under my Editorship during the last two decades.

“The decision of Supreme Court is very clear. When I filed the petition that the higher education should be federal subject, the Supreme Court decision is very very clear. Those who are saying higher education is devolved to provinces under the 18th Amendment, they are totally wrong. Punjab and Sindh higher education commission are controversial and illegal entities according to the Supreme Court decision and the Constitution of Pakistan. Ultimately they will be needed to dissolve.”

The Educationist: Sir, you are the founder and legislator of Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. How do you see the current status of higher education in Pakistan?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The remarkable change is taken place in the higher education sector after the establishment of HEC. All universities were publishing together 800 papers in international journals per year now last year we have over 12,000 papers in international journals. Main emphases of HEC was faculty development. We have sent thousands of faculty members to abroad for training.

The Educationist: But how do you differentiate where you left the HEC and now it is working at this stage?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: During the period of 2008 to 2013 was very tough for the Higher Education Commission when everywhere a discussion was open that the higher education sector was being handed over to the provincial governments. I had resigned in protest from the post of HEC chairman. Individually I have filed a petition in the Supreme Court that higher education should be the federal subject and court was agree with my petition. In 2008 when I resigned we had 7 universities in top 300, 400, 500 top ranking of the world according to the Times Higher Education, UK ranking. KU, NUST, UET Lahore and others. Now I see HEC is getting up again, unfortunately some very good peoples have resigns and left the HEC, which badly affected the functioning of HEC. Like Dr. Sohail Naqvi who was very important for the institution. Now Dr. Arshad has joined the HEC as Executive Director he is a value edition. Dr. Mukhtar is now Chairman HEC now we can see HEC.

The Educationist: A very serious issue in our country is brain-drain, when we sent our students abroad for PhD they did not came back to serve our country. OR if they do come they didn’t get adjusted and leave after some years. How do you see this issue?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: When I was Chairman HEC, 97.5% peoples sent abroad were coming back and they were being observed. We had ensured that when they come back they have assistant professor salary and their first year salary was paid by HEC although they were placed in the universities. A very smooth absorption system was existing, nobody used to leave the job from Pakistan. In my time we were facing the opposite issue brain-gain not brain-drain (while smiling). We should try to adopt the same system again to control brain gain.

The Educationist: In the wake of the 18th Amendment, Provincial higher education commissions have been established in Sindh and Punjab. How do you see this development?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: Yes, it is very unfortunate situation. The decision of Supreme Court is very clear. When I filed the petition that the higher education should be federal subject, the Supreme Court decision is very very clear. Those who are saying higher education is devolved to provinces under the 18th Amendment, they are totally wrong. Punjab and Sindh higher education commission are controversial and illegal entities according to the Supreme Court decision and the Constitution of Pakistan. Ultimately they will be needed to dissolve. Lower education has been devolved to the provinces but higher education must be protected under the Constitution and must remain a federal subject.

The Educationist: How do you see the working of teachers associations?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The teachers should realise the heart of the universities are students and they are there to serve to the students not help themselves. They should never fight for their demands, better facilities. They should fight for quality of education, development of research culture, better infrastructure, labs facilities, good examination system and so on. Unfortunately, teachers associations are focusing on their own welfare issues and not for better quality education in universities.

The Educationist: What is your take on the recent decision taken by HEC on Tenure Track System against some professors in universities?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The Tenure Track System was introduced to research, not for administration positions. If the teacher is appointed on tenure track on an administrative post and he is not doing research, so he is doing violation of true spirit of TTS. If someone is doing research and publishing research papers and simultaneously he is doing administration work so I have no problem with him. Therefore, HEC is right on its decision.

The Educationist: Student unions are working in educational institutions in de facto manner and VCs say they are creating problems for the academic process, how do you see these unions?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: Student unions are illegal under the law. Problem is that political parties have their unions, they support and pay money to the union leaders and support them in political activities and interrupt academic environment in universities. They should be focussed on positive activities like debates, sports and others, so that is encouraging.

The Educationist: What do say about Punjab HEC Chairman Dr. Nizam’s proposal of three pro-VCs appointment in all public sector universities?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: Federal HEC should decide all these matters, not any provincial HEC. The HEC Pakistan is in favour of pro vice chancellors because a VC is engaged in many kind of works and matters. He could not see all matters and every kind of development in a university. Vice chancellor is the supreme person and power of the university. I agree with the appointment of pro vice chancellors proposal. But it should also be decided by the federal HEC regarding how many pro VCs are required for a university.

The Educationist: Previously we have seen that vice chancellors were not in favour of even a single pro vice chancellor, so how he will adjust with three PVCs?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: This should be the decision of the vice chancellor. Pro VC has to work under the VC, so VC must have authority to hire and fire one or more PVCs.

The Educationist: There is a lot of debate on universities ranking. What’s your take on this issue. Why Pakistani universities are behind?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: International university rankings are based on creativity. If you have very large number of student, zero ranking, if you have millions of dollars equipment, you have zero ranking. If you have many libraries, zero ranking. Rankings come from international journals and high impact factor publications. It comes from science citation of index, it comes from international awards taken by the faculty, it comes from the numbers of PhDs. All these things are linked to creativity. Funding must be increased in the higher education sector. If we look to the good university in the world, National University of Singapore ranked in top 25 universities by higher education UK ranking. The budget of that university is Rs 170 billion. Quaid-i-Azam University and NUST have about Rs 5 billion budget. So you cannot race Suzuki with Ferrari. If we want to compare our universities to the world, we must have to increase their budget and resources.

6-Point Formula: My 1st recommendation is HEC should send 2,000 bright students from different universities every year to the top universities abroad. Secondly, research grant should be made at least 100 thousands. Thirdly, there should be proper job placement after scholars returning to Pakistan. Fourth, TTS system salary must be higher 3 to 4 times than BPS system. Fifth, PhD level new appointments must be on TTS not BPS. Every single faculty appointment in universities should PhD based and all of them must be on TTS. Lastly, the government must increase budget of higher education”

 

The Educationist: How do you see the pressure from politicians on vice chancellors (in admissions, appointments and other issues). We have seen the example of Islamia University Bahawalpur?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: I think it is terrible, if a VC cannot stand up to the politicians, s/he should not be the vice chancellor. A VC must be the real person, with strong character, and must has the courage to say no to the politicians, if any political person try to fall in admission process and try to appoint anybody, VCs should come out publically and complain about him to media and different talk shows. If a VC is a weak person, s/he should not to be a Vice Chancellor!

The Educationist: How we can improve research culture in our universities?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: In my institute, The International Center of Chemical and Biological Science, University of Karachi, we have 120 students of German for chemistry in my institute during last five years. This is the only center of its kind in the OIC Islamic world, it is only one in 57 countries. We evaluate our faculty performance on international measures. Second factor is students support, 400 t0 500 students are supported with grants like scholarships, third factor is technicians, and we have 6 professional engineers in our institute for maintenance of highly sophisticated equipment.

The Educationist: What is the message you want to deliver to HEC Pakistan?
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: My 1st recommendation is HEC should send 2,000 bright students from different universities every year to the top universities abroad. Secondly, research grant should be made at least 100 thousands. Thirdly, there should be proper job placement after scholars returning to Pakistan. Fourth, TTS system sal

ary must be higher 3 to 4 times than BPS system. Fifth, PhD level new appointments must be on TTS not BPS. Every single faculty appointment in universities should PhD based and all of them must be on TTS. Lastly, the government must increase budget of higher education to make our universities at a par with international standards. You can never get international ranking without it. The biggest problem in quality education is lack of quality faculty.

Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The Educationist Interview
Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman: The Educationist Interview

If a Vice Chancellor cannot stand up to the politicians, s/he should not be the vice chancellor. A VC must be the real person, with strong character, and must has the courage to say no to the politicians, if any political person try to interfere in admission process and try to appoint anybody, VCs should come out publically and complain about him to media. If a vice chancellor is a weak person, he/she shouldn’t be a VC.”

 

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