In this year’s Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, only four Pakistani universities were in the top 1000. Last year Pakistan had eleven universities in this list. Given that Pakistan has one of the largest populations and a notable ‘youth bulge’, this is an appalling state of affairs. See the World’s best universities for 2016-2017
Some may be amazed that even one Pakistani university appears on the list. Others may be incensed that some of Pakistan’s more prestigious universities are not included on the list. Academics may note the errors in the methods used in the rankings. Rather than focus on the quality of teaching, the list is based on more quantifiable factors, such as funding and research. The research issue is relevant in Pakistan. In 2002, the government linked funding to research and this resulted in some local institutions producing ‘fake’ research with very poor peer reviews. However, there is more to the rankings than that. They show the sad state of tertiary education in this country.
Universities in Crisis
Recently, there has been a deluge of stories pointing out the crisis on campuses. Saad Aziz’s violent activities have shown the issue of student radicalisation. The recruitment of Naureen Leghari to the Islamic State Group, and a former university student being involved in an assassination attempt on and MPA are further examples. Music departments have been removed from university campuses because of student groups of religious political parties. There are stories of Al Queda militants finding sanctuary in university accommodation, and students being targeted on social media. Pakistan education system is in a critical situation.
Corruption and Other Issues of Concern
As well as radicalisation, corruption is another issue. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy has pointed out the cash incentive offered for research publications.
Mashal Khan’s lynching is another example of the politicisation of university campuses. As the investigation later showed it was more about campus politics than growing extremism on our university campuses. Competing party interests, criminality and corruption were the cause of Khan’s death. The politicised practice used in hiring staff, and increasing armed wings of political parties within the university were also factors here. It was criticising the administration, rather than religion that most likely cost his life.
Many believe we should be concentrating on universal access to primary schooling, and leave higher education until later, as most of the children are out of school in Pakistan. But this is too simplistic. This country cannot make advances in education without independent problem solvers and thinkers, who can create better policies for our public education system. It is necessary to properly diagonose that what is wrong with the educational system in Pakistan.
There has been a call from the HEC for universities to put a stop to campus radicalisation. It suggested better security, monitoring of public spaces by faculty, and counselling for those students who are vulnerable. The letter also addressed the importance of, and the need for, extracurricular activities to minimise extremism.
It seems that a security driven focus rather than an approach based on discussion will be used in the fight against radicalisation in our universities. This will neglect all the other issues prevalent in today’s universities. A recent proposal to allow law enforcement officers and security personnel access to student records is one example. As well as not being effective in the main goal, it would also have an impact on the academic environment. It seems the state is better able to monitor, than to discuss.
Moreover Pakistan needs a uniform system of education now. A great effort is required to acheive this goal.
Some believe that CPEC will solve the education culture in this country. Some aspects of this, such as centres and labs for the transfer of technology will be useful for Pakistan. Unfortunately the Chinese are not well known for encouraging the critical thinking that Pakistani’s society and state need. It is something Pakistan has to deal with itself.
There is an irony in Pakistani culture. There is a high regard for academics and scholars. Many popular personalities and politicians are delighted to have been awarded an honorary doctorate, even if it’s not exactly accurate. There seems to be no interest in making certain these titles have meaning or are earned. The lack of critical thinking and submission to authority that it allows mean these so-called experts are deferred to.
In order to close the gap we need better thinking and we will have to work hard to overcome the ongoing issues in education of Pakistan