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Editorial: Higher education woes in Pakistan

No doubt the education system in Pakistan is in shambles and an overhaul is in order. However, it seems that the stakeholders are not interested – or for a better term not inclined – to change the existing state of affairs. The problem is clearly evident, but the people in charge do not seem to want to change the current state of affairs. In a recent development, the case of the Tenure Track System (TTS) faculty members holding administrative posts at varsities came to light.

The Higher Education Commission’s (HEC’s) rules clearly state that those faculty members hired on the TTS should not be allowed to hold or appointed to administrative posts. The rationale for this decision by the HEC holds some ground stating that the system was created to encourage research at universities. However, many universities in the country have appointed TTS faculty members – who receive higher salaries for research by the HEC – at administrative posts. The reasons are quite obvious. The politics of academia is allowing them to get away from this blatant disregard for rules. This is, no doubt, damaging the institutions of higher learning in the country. Now, the question arises that if this practice is against the rules and it is being practiced at universities, then what is the role of HEC in stopping it?

The answer is a little more complicated. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, education has become a provincial subject and with the formation of provincial HECs, the authority of the federal HEC remains challenged. With the ambiguity in the role and powers of the HEC, coupled with the politics of academia and influence over universities by the political class and bureaucracy, the situation and authority is more in doubt than ever before. The HEC has written to the universities to remind them of not giving administrative positions to TTS faculty members, but the universities remain unmoved. The chancellors, the governors of the province, and the vice chancellors also seem to not care about the rules. The ramification of this has been seen in the recent QS ranking and every other ranking system of the world, which shows the poor performance of our seats of higher learning.

It is true that universities are, and should be, autonomous but that does not mean they should be allowed to do whatever they want. Autonomous institutions also governed by rules and in this case should abide by the rules of the HEC. Along with teaching, universities are also tasked with producing quality research work that can be used for the betterment of society. Universities should not be allowed to escape this duty and action should be initiated against those who are not complying with the HEC rules. To date research is only being done for self promotion, which also remains a question on the system.

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