Interview by: Shabbir Sarwar and Ali Arshad
Transcribed by: Haris Naeem
Photography by: Sajid Baloch
LUMS VC says universities are doing well, over regulations should be avoided
LUMS is ranked among the top 60 in Asia which is the highest ranking of any university in Pakistan
The Educationist: Please tell us about your early life and education?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: I was born in Wah Cantt, then moved to Lahore in 1965. After that started Pre-Engineering from Cadet College Hassan Abadal. I did OLRS in Electrical Engineering from University of Indiana, USA. Then I started academic career from University of New Mexico.
The Educationist: In which subject did you pass your PhD?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: My research dealt with the scattering of electromagnetic waves so it was within the domain of electrical engineering but it was at the boundary of electrical engineering, physics and mathematics. I basically worked on how does microwaves and other radiations bounce from structures that are of that type i.e periodic, easiest way to describe.
The Educationist: What was your first job?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: My first job was at the University of New Mexico as an assistant professor and I was affiliated with departments of electrical engineering and center for high technology materials and I started research in the application of my PhD work for the development of instrumentation that could be used in manufacturing of very small devices i.e chips that are used in computers.
The Educationist: What were the tasks that you accomplished in HEC during your tenure as Executive Director?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Well that task was to reform university education of Pakistan. It meant that you had to take higher education to every corner of the country, you had to improve the quality and for that you had to bring in more highly qualified faculty, because you’re increasing in size you have to give scholarships to the best and the brightest inside and outside of the country. To make sure that research was adopted and done in all the universities of Pakistan in all subjects. To work in the curriculum to make it better and to make it at a par with the world. To improve the facilities of all the universities, create new universities, support the existing universities. Quaid-e-Azam University, they didn’t have enough instrument, Agriculture University Faisalabad, University of Karachi, Balochistan and then brand new campuses were created like NUST. NUST was started like on a blank piece of paper, it used to exist in Rawalpindi at that time so this whole new campus was designed and built. Similarly, Comsats, which has now 40,000 students had zero so in each case the creating systems of quality assurance, creating systems of commercialization of technology, entrepreneurship, research systems, so, completely revolutionized and changed the university education in Pakistan.
The Educationist: What you had in your mind and you wanted to do but you couldn’t during your position as HEC Executive Director?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Well there was really nothing that we couldn’t do, we dreamt it, we had the support and we could implement it. The only thing was the speed! You know changing the quality of higher education is a lifelong matter, it’s not something that you have to make happen in 5 or 10 years. The programs were launched but the achievement of these programs had taken long long time. The size of the sector expanded actually much faster than what we could perhaps deal with but what could be done as you have so many young people in the country and they want an opportunity and then the people realized the benefits of higher education and then more and more came in. So, there is a huge pressure on the higher education so it was a success in that mode as much more people got interested in the programs but it was difficult for universities to enroll at that rate.
This is a misconception (that faculty and the students are from Elite class). Admission into LUMS is on merit alone. We don’t open up financial aid until people have been offered admission letters, so this is an independent decision. More than 30% of the students at LUMS are receiving some form of financial aid, our budget for financial aid is around 450 million
The Educationist: During your last few years there was a cut on funds and there were problems in the budget but in the earlier years you had the financial support from the government?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Yes, definitely, the democratic government that succeeded at that time of Pervez Musharraf was not supportive of higher education to the same degree and that did cause problems. Our projects were disturbed and it was much more difficult to keep expanding at the rate we had been looking. So that did present a set of challenges and caused problems too.
The Educationist: They also tried to make HEC part of the Education Ministry?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Yes, they had the desire to curve the autonomy of the institution because HEC was working to create actually autonomous and vibrant universities i.e the more vibrant they are, the more autonomy they exercise. That created tension because of the old styled thinking where everything is centrally controlled. Scholars have always been independent and a university is a mere community of scholars.
The Educationist: Now after 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan provincial higher education commissions have been established and we see power sharing tussle. How do you see PHECs role?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: University education is a subset of higher education, which also includes distant learning, ACCA, CA etc. The provinces need to concentrate on college education. The college education not on the general degree i.e BA, now you have things like you want to be a computer technician or in villages you need a proper veterinary specialists, not 5 years specialists doctors but you need two year specialists technicians too, the flower specialist, the beef specialist, so there’s a huge demand on the application degree, so we had introduced the concept of associate degree, and that is equal to HND of UK. Every country has done it..
Instead you are trying to over regulate a sector (university education) which is doing quite well. We have a problem right now, there is a lack of understanding, actually universities are the prestige of a country but we are lowering the prestige of the Vice Chancellor of the institution and want to control these bodies. That’s not a way to have growth and development in a country and we have to sort out these matters in a proper way. The HEC should be allowed to do its work and the provincial commission should focus on colleges as there is so much work to be done.
The Educationist: In his first speech Dr. Nizam said, he would focus on the colleges but in the early attempts the focus seemed to be diverted?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: The focus was quite diverted so I would very much like to see that the focus is kept on the colleges. They need our help and support. There are thousands of colleges in Punjab which have poor infrastructure and IT facility, they don’t have laboratories, they don’t have support for higher learning, they have poor curriculum, they are not tied to the realities of where they stand. Now a college operating in Sakardu should do differently than the one operating in Rajanpur or the one operating in the city of Lahore. Everyone has their needs and the college is supposed to respond to their regional and local needs, that’s what needs to be developed.
The Educationist: You have joined LUMS on first July 2013, so what changes did you bring in with your tons of experiences in HEC?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Well, my focus at LUMS has been to work to realize on its existing mission of becoming a world class research university. LUMS started out life as a business school evolved and added programs and, then gained international recognition for its undergraduate program then added other disciplines. Keeping that tradition, making sure there’s no compromise in the quality of undergraduate education. We would like to build upon university functions of higher and postgraduate work which had been initiated, and my work has been in enhancing that, putting the structures together to support that assist and lead the university to world class level. We initiated new ideas such as LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship, which has been working to promote the culture of producing young entrepreneurs other than graduates and working with the local entrepreneurs to teach them the skills required to succeed as a businessman. So, that program has proved very successful. We have launched the Masters program in all the scientific and engineering disciplines that LUMS teaches, strengthened the PhD programs, recruited high quality international faculty and basically put the systems and structures together to start climbing the mountain of the international quality education you want to provide at LUMS.
The Educationist: What would you say about the political environment of the universities? How can we overcome this and remove this particular elements from educational institutes?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Well, if we teach politics at LUMS and teach different systems of thinking of philosophy of governing and meaning of democracy so these initiatives should be promoted. But, unfortunately, the word politics used in the public sector universities really mean that you want to destroy and work against merit. If you’re working within the domain of merit, then there’s no concept of anything bad going on, then you have the platform and anybody can express their views and you have a debate with respect for the diversity with tolerance for the different views and a recognition that in a debate, merit is determined by the quality of your argument. When the idea comes in that I would use my position to force my point of views that’s really a destruction of merit, that’s the real problem.
(On nomination for Sitara-e-Imtiaz) I feel very good that the country had recognized the work that was done primarily at HEC. I had the privilege to work with the fantastic colleagues,
Dr. Attaur Rehman, Dr. Raza, Dr. Qureshi, Dr. Mukhtar, who is now chairman, and project directors, IT specialists. This is the recognition to the entire team’s work
The Educationist: What’s your take on the student unions?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Basically, the structure or the concept itself is nothing, as I mentioned earlier, there’s no inherit law to this. For instance, in Sweden it’s mandatory for a student to belong to a student union, but there is never a question of getting anything done by force against the principles of merit. If you stay that way, you can have all ideas, student groups, whatever you want. I mean, you stand up in elections, you win or lose on the strength of your argument. No issues regarding that but if it is going to be manipulative from outside which is what happens like they provide arms and money, and the support which is against the traditions of the university and that’s where the problem occurs and as we can’t counter that, so therefore, we don’t have unions.
The Educationist: What’s your stance on the development of social sciences other than the business education in LUMS?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Once it was launched and we started the four year undergraduate program, it is generally recognized to be the finest in the country. And it provides inherent and integral support to all the other schools to run their programs. School of sciences proved to be quite handy as it initiated the idea of mixing sciences and engineering, and actually breaking the barriers of knowledge that we create for ourselves. Then 5 year Honors integrated Law program is relatively a new program but is establishing its name. So, LUMS stands for excellence, whatever we do, whatever level we have, it is about the best you could possibly be.
The Educationist: Students and faculty of LUMS are considered to be the elite class of the society, but on the other hand most of the people of Pakistan belong to middle and lower middle class. So how do you link both of these classes?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Well, this is a misconception. The faculty and the students are from Pakistan. Admission into LUMS is on merit alone. We don’t open up the forums for the financial aid until people have been offered admission letters, so this is an independent decision. Then, based on the need of the student, financial aid is provided. More than 30% of the students at LUMS are receiving some form of financial aid. Our annual budget for financial aid is around 450 million PKR. So, not only this, we run the national outreach program, where we are going to almost every corner of the country and helping people to come to LUMS. Almost a thousand of students are going through or have undergone with the program and they receive 100% funding, that means that they are even paid for the travel, food, clothes and almost everything. So, we have made a commitment that we are after excellence and merit would be the key factor that would be under consideration. We have values and merit as the first core value. And our faculty belongs to all over the country and they are here on the strength of their qualification and knowledge.
The Educationist: What about the financial allocations for the faculty development and the research grants?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: We only hire assistant professors with PhD. There are a few hirings that are done on very competitive practical knowledge. We don’t have a program to support them for PhD or study. Every faculty member who gets their paper to the international conference of repute, we provide them travel grant. We also provide every incoming faculty member a startup grant to help them get started in their research. We run three research proposal cycles per year, where our faculty can apply for funding, supported by LUMS. So, there’s a lot of focus on research and support is provided to faculty to help them get established.
The Educationist: Recently you’ve been nominated for Sitara-e-Imtiaz, so how do you feel about it?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Well, I feel very good that the country had recognized the work that was done primarily at the HEC. It was a true privilege and honour to have that position to work with the entire country and to actually change the higher education in Pakistan. I had a privilege to work with the fantastic colleagues, Dr. Atta ur Rehman and the advisers and the mentors of the commission Dr. Raza, Dr. Qureshi, Dr. Mukhtar, who is now the chairman, and many others like the project directors, IT specialists. It was a real teamwork that created this thing, so, this is the recognition to the entire work.
The Educationist: LUMS is being given regular grants from HEC or you have to compete for the projects?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: LUMS doesn’t receive any regular grants from the government. Our faculty is eligible to compete for the research projects, so they have to win them on merit.
The Educationist: How many PHD’s are being produced by LUMS annually?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: On average, the number is too small because our PhD programs have been kicked started into gear a few years ago and its like 5 to 6 on average annually. In the upcoming days, the numbers will be changing and increasing.
The Educationist: Are you satisfied with the HEC ranking? HEC also mentioned on their website that LUMS had refused to establish QEC?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: (With a big smile) I’m the author of QEC. So, when I came to LUMS I worked to reverse that and now, LUMS has established a QEC in the calendar year 2015. In terms of ranking, much of the criteria used was developed when I was there. I think it’s a fair criteria but you have to look that in a very specialized manner. This ranking is more geared towards the international ranking which is driven primarily with the research performance. But when you’re getting admitted to the undergraduate program what matters more to you is the quality of student experience. One thing that we could not establish and would remain a weakness is the Pears service. So, for example, in the QF ranking, in terms of employer reputation, LUMS is ranked among the top 60 in Asia which is the highest ranking of any university in Pakistan. It means that our product is recognized by the industry, regarded to a very high level which is a fair perception. So, you should understand the ranking in the perspective of criteria and the purpose it is used for.
The Educationist: In the next few years of your tenure at LUMS what do you intend to introduce?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: I would want to see extensive research indulged to the undergraduate programs too, and would focus on enhancing student exposure, lower faculty to student ratio, installing greater number of centers for research, and to play a great role in uplifting the development of the region.
The Educationist: What’s the current teacher to student ratio?
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: It is 19, which is good but the world class is 10. Cambridge and Oxford University would be having 7.
The Educationist: Thank you for your time.
Dr. Sohail Naqvi: Thank you The Educationist.