For a new face of Higher Education By Munir Ahmed

The appointment of well-known educationist, environmentalist, and development expert Dr Tariq Banuri as the new chairperson of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has been warmly welcomed by higher education activists, and representative staff bodies from different universities.
Having been a member of the activist group, I know how intense were the efforts of the learned members to depoliticise the HEC chairperson’s selection process, and to play the part of a genuinely concerned watchdog.
Sincere efforts of the activists always pay back to the society. Now, Dr Banuri’s appointment after an unfortunately quite bumpy tenure of Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, former HEC chairman, is being considered as impartial and thorough merit-based professional decision of the federal government.
Although it took a little longer than the usual to make the final decision for the HEC chairman slot, it is being termed a good omen for the future of higher education in Pakistan by all stakeholders. Education in general and the higher education, in particular, has been a big challenge for decades.
Unduly and excessively, it is the political interference and the prevalence of vested interests and prejudices that make the tenure of an HEC chairman a lousy one. The stakeholders of the higher education in Pakistan are hoping that Dr Banuri’s tenure will be free of all these issues.
Nevertheless, we shall expect from Dr Banuri some significant change in the practices and development approaches for improvements in higher education. Optimists, including myself, are banking on his creative and innovative soul, in hopes that he will fix the pace of the system. The most recent example of his hardworking genius is the rebirth of the Global Change Impact Study Centre (GCISC). The dead-horse emerged as a focal organisation for over a dozen leading organisations and international partners to successfully organise the first international Science-Policy Conference on Climate Change in the third week of December last year.
The stakeholders of higher education in Pakistan are pinning hope that Dr Banuri’s tenure will be free of all the political interferences and other issues
In his maiden official statement as HEC chairman, Dr Banuri extended his gratitude to the prime minister and the selection committee for reposing their confidence in him for the esteemed position of HEC chairperson. He expressed that the first challenge lying ahead of him is to live up to this confidence and trust. He also stressed the need for identifying the key issues facing the sector, setting targets for the next four years, and brainstorming on how the HEC procedural deficiencies can be addressed. HEC has to play a supportive role for higher education institutions, faculty and students at large, as it is a service organisation meant for facilitating all the stakeholders.
Dr Banuri also emphasised that HEC has to go beyond numbers towards the quality of higher education, constantly safeguarding the rights of academia. He said the HEC would not be a bottleneck on the growth of higher education. It is aproblem-solving entity that will empower universities and realise the HEC vision. Necessary trainings will be held for HEC employees regularly for their capacity building so that they may improve their potential and work smarter.
The last chairman, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, completed his term on April 14. It is said that he has left behind a mix of successes and failures. Funding for the HEC saw significant improvement in his tenure but the funding was not completely utilised. He took some steps to improve the quality of education in universities, which induced a positive reaction as well.
At the same time, a media report says that Dr Mukhtar’s tenure left much to be desired. The new chairman must attend to restoring the HEC’s role as a supportive and facilitative body. The 18-member commission has been ineffective and dysfunctional for the last two years.
A good working relationship with provincial governments and higher education commissions, bringing ad-hocism to an end in the commission, and ensuring quality teaching and research at universities should also be among the chairman’s top priorities.
Only two Pakistani universities are ranked among the top 500 in the world, and the quality of education has also become a matter of growing concern, with many educationists claiming that universities have been focused on the quantity of students instead of the quality of students.
Quite unfortunately, hundreds of PhD holders are jobless or underpaid. They don’t have right opportunities to utilise their education to unleash their potential and to serve the society. We have seen them sometimes protesting outside the HEC and press club to shake the dead bureaucratic system. No one knows how many hold genuine PhDs. It is alleged that most researchers are simply offering ‘tablework’. No genuine content is coming up from these researchers, while plagiarism is also a serious concern that needs to be addressed.
Education experts have said the quality of education at universities needs to be checked, as in many cases teachers are working on administrative posts and compromising on academic activities.
Being on administrative positions, they keep on grabbing all opportunities for international exposure and participation. The HEC shall ask the universities to submit the lists of those faculty members that have participated in international conferences, trainings and workshops. It would reveal the severity of the situation, exploitation and marginalisation of many deserving faculty members.
The over 150 unregistered educational institutions — whose details are available on the HEC website — are also a challenge for the new HEC chairman, as is grouping within the HEC employees. In-house grouping needs to be discouraged to wipe off malpractices from within the HEC, and to make it a more vibrant and professional body.
The writer is Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at He tweets @EmmayeSyed
Published in Daily Times, June 7th 2018.

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