Have our Univer­si­ties failed?

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Dr Farid A Malik

IN the United States of Amer­ica, there are sev­eral univer­sity towns. Univer­sity of Ari­zona is lo­cated in Tuc­son and Univer­sity Illinois at Ur­bana Cham­pagne. How­ever, Pak­istan has the unique dis­tinc­tion of be­ing a univer­sity coun­try. Ali­garh Univer­sity played a piv­otal role in the cre­ation of a new home­land for the Mus­lims of the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent. A few years back, I was do­ing re­search on univer­si­ties that have cre­ated ma­jor so­cial im­pacts and two of them stand out. Ali­garh for cre­at­ing Pak­istan and the Univer­sity of Chicago where the anti-Viet­nam move­ment was started which then spread to Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley and ul­ti­mately peace was achieved.

At the time of par­ti­tion, Pak­istan had very few seats for higher learn­ing. Univer­sity of Pun­jab be­ing the old­est while Govern­ment Col­lege La­hore and For­man Chris­tian Col­lege were its af­fil­i­ate col­leges. The found­ing fa­thers of Pak­istan stud­ied in univer­si­ties that were not lo­cated in the new coun­try. Have our in­sti­tu­tions failed to pro­duce the change lead­ers that can take the coun­try for­ward in­stead of back­wards as has been hap­pen­ing?

Only the prov­ince of Pun­jab has about forty pub­lic sec­tor univer­si­ties. The Vice Chan­cel­lors (VC) of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions are se­lected by a com­mit­tee which has re­mained un­changed for over two decades de­spite ma­jor se­lec­tion fail­ures. Doc­toral de­gree is a re­quire­ment for the po­si­tion of VCs yet the com­mit­tee till re­cently was com­posed of mem­bers with­out this level of education. The cur­rent VC of the Govern­ment Col­lege Univer­sity, was not even called for an in­ter­view by the com­mit­tee in the pre­vi­ous se­lec­tion process. His writ is still pend­ing in the La­hore High Court (LHC). Luck­ily he was called for an in­ter­view this time and se­lected for the po­si­tion. In ad­di­tion one PhD mem­ber has also been in­ducted in the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee but the Chair­man re­mains un­changed.

It is a per­fect ex­am­ple of an out­dated and in ap­pro­pri­ate com­mit­tee se­lect­ing VCs of their choice who then fail to de­liver. The chal­lenges of 21st cen­tury univer­si­ties are unique com­pared to the Ali­garh Move­ment. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's vi­sion was to em­power the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion of In­dia by bring­ing them in the main stream of education and so­ci­ety. This ef­fort then led to the cre­ation of a sep­a­rate home­land for the Mus­lims of the In­dian Sub­Con­ti­nent. Ini­tially the univer­si­ties were in­volved in teach­ing and re­search, where this trend con­tin­ued till mid-20th cen­tury. In the 21st cen­tury in ad­di­tion to cre­ation of knowl­edge a univer­sity is re­quired to gen­er­ate wealth through academia-in­dus­try link­ages. Most ad­vanced in­sti­tu­tions in the world em­bark on col­lab­o­ra­tive or spon­sored re­search to gen­er­ate rev­enue. In Europe most univer­si­ties have no tu­ition fee only in UK this fa­cil­i­ta­tion is not avail­able. In USA most state in­sti­tu­tions have low fee as com­pared to their pri­vate counter parts but stu­dent loans and grants are read­ily avail­able for stu­dents to com­plete their pro­grammes.

Sta­tus-quo can only be shat­tered through knowl­edge and free out of the box think­ing. In an aca­demic en­vi­ron­ment ex­ist­ing norms and prac­tices are chal­lenged. Young fer­tile minds are pushed to think and set their own course in life. There is al­ways an el­e­ment of re­bel­lion.

There is a fa­mous say­ing that, "if you are not rad­i­cal when young you don't have a heart and if you are not con­ser­va­tive when old, you don't have a mind". It is the bat­tle be­tween the heart and the mind that nour­ishes the growth process. In­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship also kicks in re­sult­ing in em­ploy­ment gen­er­a­tion and so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment but for all this to hap­pen there has to be a road map and game plan. Where is our game plan? Zul­fiqar Ali Bhut­too (ZAB) cre­ated the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion(UGC) what was hailed as ma­jor a step for­ward. Zia was not in­ter­ested in education and growth so it was stag­na­tion all around. Mushar­raf then con­verted UGC into an au­ton­o­mous Higher Education Com­mis­sion (HEC). A lot of re­sources were also pumped in. The present four year B.Sc. Hon­ours pro­gramme and mass pro­duc­tion of PhDs was the out­put of this ini­tia­tive. Af­ter the 18th con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment now provinces have es­tab­lished their own pro­vin­cial HECs, with the one in Pun­jab be­ing most ac­tive. HEC funded PhD schol­ars con­duct re­search in the coun­try and abroad to find so­lu­tions that are mostly ir­rel­e­vant to our needs. Once I met a scholar who had con­ducted re­search in im­prov­ing the qual­ity of wa­ter on the planet Mars. In ut­ter shock I asked him who had in­den­ti­fied the re­search area. Who is do­ing re­search to im­prove the qual­ity of our drink­ing wa­ter?

As it is be­lieved, that a jour­ney of thou­sand miles starts with the first step. Let us start this cru­sade by a to­tal re­vamp of the ex­ist­ing se­lec­tion com­mit­tee that has out­lived its util­ity. HEC Pun­jab should then be tasked to cre­ate a vi­sion for the univer­si­ties of the prov­ince and then bring in ap­pro­pri­ate lead­er­ship to lead the ed­u­ca­tional rev­o­lu­tion on the lines of Ali­garh Univer­sity and Univer­sity of Chicago that changed the world in the 20th cen­tury.

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