- By: Jawad Khan
With the establishment of the Higher Education Commission Pakistan, a myth was created that now higher education will progress in Pakistan and the days of ‘dark ages’ are over. The Musharaf regime brought Dr Atta Ur Rahman, with a ‘remarkable’ research paper record of publishing a paper every week for fifty years, to shoulder the project. A new pattern of higher education was introduced, and a plan was chalked out to develop higher education in Pakistan.
Over the years new universities were established without proper homework and any future vision. Initially, the problem of mushroom growth of HEIs was not visible, however with time particularly after the adoption of Vision 2025 new universities were established in almost every district for achieving political gains rather than academic growth and development, and within a couple of years the number reached to 177 universities and HEIs across the country. Under Vision, HEC intends to establish 300 universities in 170 districts of Pakistan including AJK and Gilgit Baltistan.
Neither the HEC nor the government of Pakistan paid proper attention to the financial needs of these institutions. The state didn’t design any comprehensive policy to solve the financial needs of these universities. The government channels funds through HEC Islamabad, which cuts them in half to eat the bigger piece of the pie, and consumes up to 50% as per reliable sources. HEC never reveals its own expenditure and tries to keep it under the carpet. However, it can be gauged from the budget allocated to five universities in Pakhtunkhwa which includes the University of Hazara, Abdul Wali Khan University, KKKUK, University of Malakand, and the University of Swabi. It suggests that HEC only gives below 40% of universities budget (PEPRI Report: 2021).
The financial issues are alarming. Not a single university has adopted DRAs notifications which were twice given in other departments to decrease the salary gap among different departments and institutions. The office barriers at HEC are enjoying a luxurious lifestyle with handsome salary packages and other facilities while on the other hand, universities are going bankrupt, and as per a recent Dawn report, 20 universities in Pakhtunkhwa are going bankrupt. The case of other provinces is no different. Universities in Baluchistan were not able to pay salaries a couple of months back. The situation in Azad Kashmir is also the same and faculty members of five universities are on strike for their pay.
The absence of a proper mechanism for the distribution of funds, centralization of authority, and resources controlled by HEC has compelled the HEIs to increase tuition fees, hostel fees, Transport, and other fees which have inversely affected the enrolment in universities. With this Higher education has become a rich guys’ business. Due to higher fees, the allocated seats remain vacant in most of the universities.
The university’s administration has also turned to financial managers rather than administrators of Academia. The focus of every Vice-Chancellor is to complete his tenure with no financial obligations and in most cases, the universities do not hire regular faculty and run their BS programs through visiting faculty members. It is lowering the standards of education.
HEC introduced TTS (Tenured Track System) and through a letter to HEIs and Universities in 2010, universities were asked to hire TTS faculty and discouraged BPS faculty appointments in universities. It was aimed to reduce the financial burden in terms of Pension liabilities. However, the current rise in TTS salaries increased the salary budget of universities many times. The salary of a single TTS professor is more than the salary of two BPS professors.
To gauge the performance of the faculty working as per TTS system a formula was designed. It focused more on the number of publications not the quality of research, and for that, HEC developed a Research Journals policy, and a space was created for fake research and making money. TTS teachers were compelled to publish their work in those journals which are recognized by HEC only. These journals charge a ‘publication fee’ from the researchers and faculty. Some editors I approached regarding the matter said that, previously HEC used to give financial support to research journals however it has reduced it to a nominal amount now and pushes us to charge researchers. The fee varies from 20,000 in Z and Y Category to 300,000+ in X category journal. As per Lok Sujaj’s report in some cases, the complete process of publication is phony and the reviewer in some cases doesn’t even know the name of these research journals where they are mentioned as ‘Reviewer’. This is happening right under the nose of HEC and as per sources HEC’s high-ranking officials are also involved in this black market because in the end, it is HEC that looks into the matter of registrations, categorization, and approval of these journals. The HEC’s officials established TTS system for making money and not academic development.
Without a clear service structure and promotion policy, as per the 10 Q Power and Functions HEC Act, the BPS (Basic Pay Scale) is also pushing to join the race for publications. The promotion of BPS faculty is a fresh appointment. The post is created every time created through F&PC and advertized. The candidates have to apply and compete. To strengthen one’s position, BPS faculty members try to publish more work irrespective of quality. They pay higher fees to X and W-category Journals. The process of ‘promotion/ appointment’ takes more than four years at express speed. As a result, thousands of BPS faculty have been working in the same position for more than fifteen years.
Along with that HEC Islamabad is trying harder to sustain its pre-18th amendment position by controlling the Syllabus, Finance, Planning, Curriculum, Policies, and standard of education, and even after devolution Higher education remained a federal subject in practice under the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training. They are doing experiments time and again and make decisions in a rush. For example, in the last two years, two schemes of studies (2020 and 2022) were adopted. Similarly, the TTS system of teaching and research has been amended over fifty times in two decades. Along with BPS system, TTS was introduced without groundwork and proper financial impact. Now HEC is planning to introduce a third system called the University Pay Scale (UPS).
There is no consistency in HEC’s policies which has worsened the standard of higher education in Pakistan. HEC leadership lacks vision and is more interested in their political affiliation than academic development. Now is the time ripe for establishing and strengthening provincial HECs for the development of higher education in Pakistan.