Impact of knowledge needed for indigenous solutions to Pakistan’s problems

Islamabad: There is a need for creating impact of knowledge in terms of indigenous solutions to Pakistan’s problems and development issues. This was expressed by Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed during his first public speech as the Chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

He was delivering a Special Lecture on ‘The State of Higher Education in Pakistan’, at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here today.  Dr. Ahmed highlighted that higher education institutions are increasingly getting clustered in bigger cities, while there is an equal need for quality education in smaller cities of the country. He said that since the formation of the HEC in 2002, the state of higher education in Pakistan has improved significantly in terms of research output and quality. It is now time to think of ways in which higher education can have real impact for the welfare of the society at large. He stressed the need for a value-based education system.

On the issue of fake degrees, he said that making the information about validity of degrees (of certain individuals) public has damaged the reputation of the HEC. In the context of the 18th amendment, he said that there should be a centrally-set minimum standard of education. However, a consultative process is being pursued with provincial governments with regards to higher education policy. He also said that budgetary allocation for higher education should be increased progressively and not in an abrupt manner.

Dr. Abid Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI, highlighted that it is important that real world problems and issues of development be covered in the curriculum taught at universities. He added that in Bangladesh and India, universities are proactive in linking research with policy, while in Pakistan, think-tanks are playing a more active role in the policy domain compared to universities. He suggested that the HEC can issue a standard template for maintaining a district data profile, while universities can follow the template in collecting data. This would help in minimizing the oft-quoted discrepancy of data available for both academic and policy research. He also brought forth the problem of communication skills faced by a number of talented students in the country. ‘Immersion’ courses were recommended in this context, whereby students coming from better economic backgrounds should be sent on the field, while those coming from underprivileged backgrounds can be sent to various institutions for better exposure.

Dr. Muhammad Qaiser, VC, University of Karachi observed that there needs to be more funding for higher education and the budgetary share of higher education needs to be scaled up to at least 4%. He added that there should be greater balance between basic research and applied research to find solutions to real-world problems.

Dr. Asad Zaman, VC of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) observed that liberal arts and culture are becoming neglected in higher education in Pakistan. This is unfortunate, since we have a strong poetic heritage which can be very important in inspiring students to serve the nation and create impact of the knowledge acquired. He also highlighted that creative and critical thinking habits are often ignored in our teaching.

Dr. Eatzaz Ahmed, VC, Quaid-i-Azam University, highlighted the need for better quality of education at the college and high-school level. He added that there is a need for qualitative measures for gauging the impact of knowledge. He also opined on the basis of promotion in higher education and recommended that there is a possibility of promotion through a weightage-based system whereby all four elements of education are considered. These include teaching, research, administration and community service.

Dr. Masoom Yasinzai, Rector International Islamic University Islamabad, observed that investments in higher education over the last one decade have changed the landscape of the country. Pakistan now has a share of 0.25% in global academic literature. He stressed that basic research should be pursued, while maintaining adequate balance for applied research. It is also important to enhance the quality of higher education so as to prevent brain drain from the country.

Dr. Ali Asghar Chishti, VC Allama Iqbal Open University, also emphasized on the need for quality education and said that there is a need for adequate training and workshops for teachers as well. Dr. Samina Qadir, VC, Fatima Jinnah Women University corroborated the need for capacity building of teachers. She also said that there is a need to think more seriously about college education and incentives for college faculty to contribute to research. Education should also be gender responsive, she added.

The Chairman HEC and VCs were also presented with shields in honorarium at the end of the lecture and discussion.

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