PHECs establishment has increased our workload: HEC chairman
Says only 10,000 are PhDs out of 40,000 faculty members in 101 public and 73 private universities
Interview By: Shabbir Sarwar and Ali Arshad
Transcribed By: Ali Yaldram
photos by: Pervez mustafa
Two big issues of higher education of Pakistan are governance and quality, as money is not an issue. Out of 40,000 faculty members in 174 public and private universities, we have only 10,000 PhDs, this is the gap we need to fill, it is a huge gap. The establishment of provincial higher education commissions has increased the workload of HEC further as there is lack of policy on this issue. Vice chancellors have the biggest responsibility in higher education and they have to play their role to the fullest, not just for the optimum functionality of their institution but for the country. These views were expressed by HEC chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed during an exclusive interview with The Educationist. Discussion with him on higher education as follows:
The Educationist: This interview comprises three parts, first your personal life, second HEC and thirdly issues of higher education.
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: It is better to ignore personal life part (of interview) . However, I want to mention that I have taught all my life and went to States for my PhD in science and was able to achieve a degree in business as well. I came back, worked as a teacher in different private & government universities.I joined HEC in January 2005 as a member of Operations and Planning till 2010. Then i moved to ISESCO, a sub organisation of OIC where I got selected as Department Director of ISESCO and it was a prestigious opportunity for me. I joined them and the Government of Pakistan deputed me with a diplomatic status.
Later, there were some problems in HEC so the government asked me to come back and I came back in 2013 February as Executive Director and then in April 2014 I started working as the chairperson of HEC.
The Educationist:Sir what about Pak-US knowledge corridor and the aim to produce 10,000 PhDs and how is HEC working on it?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: Since its inception, the HEC focussed on investing in human development. The basic limitation reamiained lack of qualified faculty and even today out of 40,000 faculty members, we have only 10,000 PhDs whereas according to the world standards, in order to teach you have to be a PhD at least. This is the gap we need to fill in, and it is a huge gap.Keeping this in view last time a high-powered commission visiting from the States had a dialogue with the Minister of Planning and Development. The minister gave this idea of creating a knowledge corridor with rest of the world and the US. We are requesting the US government and their universities to consider our students as an instate student and charging the same tuition fee that will be manageable for the HEC and government of Pakistan. The target is to send 10,000 students in the next 10 years, 1000 students per year. This project is still in thinking and thought process but we are receiving good feedback on it within United States, from their government officials and universities, thus we are hopeful that we would be able to complete this project in near future.
The Educationist: What about the scholars, which you have already sent abroad? Sometimes they complain about late submission of their fees and procedural delays.
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: As I said earlier our main aim is to invest on human resource development, whatever we have received under PSDP award 40 to 45% is already invested on this sector. More than 9,000 students are enrolled abroad in undergraduate, postgraduate, PhD and master’s programs and more than 9,600 scholarships have been granted under this program.Roughly 28,000 plus students are supported in-house in different programs like MPhil and PhD. This is a huge investment. Now students coming back are joining the sector, and the number is increasing, research publications are increasing and indigenous PhD program is strengthening. Similarly, we want to expand higher education but due to lack of faculty we cannot do that.
The Educationist: When PhD students after doing their doctorate return Pakistan, they face problems in recruitment. On recommendation of HEC, they are recruited only for a short period. They have higher expectations and due to that many of them finally leave Pakistan causing braindrain. What is your take on this issue?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: There are not ‘many’ people who are doing so. Not more than 7 to 9%. HEC has created a very good system about the students who have done their PhDs from Pakistan or abroad. HEC gives them a package from the first day of Rs 1,39,000 per month. This is just to make start earning through the university hiring procedure. If they are eligible they can join there on regular basis otherwise they can join somewhere else.The issue is that the PhD scholars when they return, they wish to stay in big cities like Lahore, Islamabad and Pindi, but they don’t want to go to small cities where we desperately need PhDs. This might be creating a problem for them. My advice to fresh PhDs is to serve the nation and serving those areas where there is shortage of faculty. I hope the way things are shaping, it is going to be very good in the near future Insha’Allah. Universities should have quality PhD scholars and emphasis on quality is a must.
HEC’s 40 to 45% budget is invested on human resources. More than 9,000 students in different programs are enrolled abroad… More than 9,600 scholarships have been granted under psdp program. Roughly 28,000 plus students are supported in house
The Educationist: Under the medium term development framework, HEC has recently announced that 10 universities and 10 research centers are going to be converted into 10 research universities. Please tell us about this.
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: Logically universities are meant to do three things, imparting knowledge, creating knowledge and integrating it with the society. Research had never been in the mainstream in universities. Generally universities were just imparting knowledge, when we came, our focus was that universities should do research work. Now quality research work is being carried out inPakistan but still we are unable to see good research work which has an effect on the society. Good universities are those who have higher research pedestal, high research rate and they have mostly post-graduate students rather than undergraduate students. We are trying to pick out good universities in Pakistan with good track record and provide them with extra resources, and ask them to carry out research which could have a good effect on the society and solve problems. We will systematically pick out universities and institutes from the region at first plus those institutions which have the appetite.
The Educationist: The establishment of QECs even though is a good initiative but they are not working to their optimum and in fact people are complaining about their performance. Any comments?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: I agree with you but I would like to say that the two biggest issues of HEC Pakistan are: 1. Governance and 2. Quality. Money is not an issue, these two are the biggest issues. As far as QECs are concerned, we are the first one to start this program in this region, People want to copy us. As an initiative, HEC took to set up Quality Enhancement Cells in the universities. I agree they are not working to their optimum, but things evolve with time, things happen gradually. Nothing can happen overnight. We are in the evolution process. We are talking to universities, VCs and things are becoming better.
The Educationist: What about formation of provincial higher education commissions?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: As a professional, I do not have any problem within it, if government thinks this way. The main thing is productivity and complementarity should be there. A proper well-designed local framework within regions, provinces and districts has to be formulated in order to carry out such a thing. The basic issue is that without following codal formalities, provinces have started doing it on their own, which is very much dangerous for the harmony and integration of Pakistan. My academic concern is just one that 18th Amendment is part of the Constitution and it is the law and has to be followed. But the problem is everyone is interpreting it as per their perception but objectivity should be there. Government helped us, we worked collectively and achieved. Now NUST is among top 100 newly-set up universities in the world. We have to work on this model to maintain the continuity, without homework there would be problems only. There would be no direction as 8 different HECs, 8 different chairpersons will create disharmony and will prove dangerous for our international mobility. The Washington According Engineering Profession, an institute who recognizes engineering degrees decided that Pakistani engineering degrees would be recognized all over the globe. It took us 7 years to make them believe that Pakistani universities are good enough to produce quality engineers. Now, any engineer holding a degree from Pakistan’s HEC/Pakistan Engineering Council recognized institutes will be allowed to work anywhere in the world without passing any exam.If there would be 8 different higher education commissions and 8 different engineering councils how it would be possible for them to accept degrees from all. It will be very difficult to convince them and to present every council’s standards in front of them. The system needs a well-thought process before implementation. I am not against anything but discussions need to be done on this policy, its formation and implementation.
The Educationist: Is your workload, increased or decreased by the establishment of provincial higher education commissions?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: It has increased certainly, the basic reason behind it is confusion. When there is no clarity, things become a bit messy and this results in confusion which has ultimately increased our workload. It is the government who has to take the initiative and come up with policies which have to be in accordance with both federal and provincial governments. This is a logical legal way of working and we have been emphasizing on it. This system should work and it is needed for the growth of Pakistan. This sector is very significant for the development of Pakistan.
Shortlisted unversities have been given a time period of three months to declare their standards and clear any ambiguities. Otherwise they will be shut down
The Educationist: Dr Nizam told The Educationist that:“You are his elder brother, we should work together on this devolution and it is good. But there is a perception in Lahore that your goodself has resolved not to go in any function where he (DrNizam) would come.” Is it true?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: Not at all, all academicians are honourable and highly respected in my view. Under law our doors are open for all. We are public servants and are here to facilitate all academic institutions for the betterment of this country, irrespective of whoever he is.
The Educationist: Is there any chance in near future of any collaboration with the provincial higher education commissions?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: For us it is not an issue that who is under whom. The basic problem is to highlight the work to be done and how to make it workable. Until this is not going to be clear, things are not going to work properly. This is my due request. All of this should be in national interest, not personal interest. People are not important, institutions and sectors are important.
The Educationist: HEC has set a certain criterion to launch PhD and MPhil programs that there should be a certain number of PhDs in the institution concerned, but several universities are not following this criteria.
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: You asked me earlier that whether by the introduction of provincial higher education commissions our workload has increased or not. It has increased due to such issues. There are some confusions but now prime minister himself took interest and directed us to strongly stick to our mandate, which is not to compromise on quality. We have taken strict measures and all the universities which we have shortlisted are given a time period of three months to declare their standards and clear any ambiguities. Otherwise they will be shut down. Committees all over the country have been made and very soon they will start visiting universities. They will check their documents, quality, basic requirements etc. There is going to be no compromise on quality of education. I know that there is a propaganda against HEC going on that we want to shut down campuses. No, we want to make more campuses, promote higher education further and we would love private sector to work with us but we simply cannot compromise on quality.
Very clear instructions have been given by the government regarding this issue and observable actions will be taken very soon. We will upload all our proceedings on our website for everyone.
The Educationist: Selection of vice chancellors is a very important concern. HEC does not have any say or role in this regard. Political influence is observed usually on the appointment of vice chancellors. What would you like to say about it?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: I do not agree, it is not important that HEC should be present everywhere. We say for the appointment of vice chancellors there should be a search committee formed on merit. A vice chancellor has to be a professor, teacher, academician and a good manager. The search committee has to look into all these factors before the appointment of an individual on the seat of vice chancellor.
The Educationist: Questions are being raised on the formation of search committees. Recently Dr Umar Saif has been made member of PHEC, although ITU is a technical university, Now HEC has given his university the rank of general university. Questions are being asked on this matter in Lahore.
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: What should I comment on this? These are non issues, we need to look on serious matters. Issues such as objectivity or quality. I don’t mind Mr Umar being appointed as a vice chancellor. He is a talented young man, if someone is doing good at a young age, he should be admired. We have to look at how to take from the right man at the right job that is what should matter.
The Educationist: Provincial higher education commissions and Higher Education commission, how can they work together in synchrony?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: I say all should understand their work, government should design a uniform model for all in order to maintain harmony and avoid any sort of confusion. Government has invested 500 billion rupees in this sector in the last 12 years to make a setup. There should have been questions regarding how to make such a setup effectively functional? Being counter productive would unfortunately only harm Pakistan.
The Educationist: What measures HEC taking in the next two years for the betterment of higher education in Pakistan?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: We started several projects from the year 2002. Our basic principle was based on four elements; excess, equity, relevance and quality. Based on this principle our excess rate went up to 8.3% but quality was a concern. Recently MPhil graduates have been questioned regarding their work output and quality. Probably many universities started concentrating on numbers rather than quality. We are trying to increase the excess rate by bringing universities to the door steps but having good quality. We are asking universities to work on research principles and carry more and more research to help industrial sector, local bodies and community as a whole. We are encouraging universities to carry out research to promote entrepreneurship in Pakistan. For a populated country like ours we can not provide jobs to all therefore the importance of entrepreneurship needs to be highlighted. Technological projects with China, Turkey and Korea are in the pipe line. Skill development universities are being set up in Faisalabad and KPK. Projects of smart universities and smart classrooms are also in the offing. We are also trying to emphasize universities to work on character-building, personality formation, grooming and awareness regarding social problems. We are working to flourish the future of Pakistan and if it will keep on going like this, I am sure things are going to be very good in the future.
The Educationist: Political attitudes of the students in institutions is a growing problem, what suggestion would you like to give to universities?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: Non-academic activities should be organized but under no political influence. We have guided universities to formulate societies on several different subjects for the betterment of students and to make them learn that how to work in a team. How to work together. For making better human beings for the society such activities are need of the hour.
The Educationist: What message will you give to the vice chancellors?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: They have the biggest responsibility in higher education institutions. They have to play their role to the fullest, they have to lead like a leader, they have to make sure that system works together and in synch. Not just for the optimum functionality of their institution but for the country.
The Educationist: Any message to the chairpersons of the Provincial higher education commissions?
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: Salaam to them. They are respected enough, honorable and they should also work hard to take higher education in Pakistan to the next level.
The Educationist: We conducted an interview of Mr Sohail Naqvi, who said wonderful words about you, any message you would like to give him?
DR MUKHTAR AHMED: Mr Sohail Naqvi is a wonderful person, a great educationist and academician. He is working very well and I hope he will keep on working like that.
The Educationist: Thank you so much for your precious time, it was an honour for us to have such an informative talk with you.
DR.MUKHTAR AHMED: You are most welcome and our doors are always open for you. Thank you so much.