Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan: Political and Economic Instability

By Hayward, Fred M. | International Educator, May/June 2009 | Go to article overview
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Higher Education Transformation in Pakistan: Political and Economic Instability


Hayward, Fred M., International Educator


THE NEWS about Pakistan over the last few years has been dominated by reports of political turmoil, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, economic decline, and the Afghan War. What has been missed is the phenomenal transformation in higher education over the last six years, which represents a critical development for Pakistan and a potential engine for growth and national recovery.

Higher education in Pakistan has suffered from decades of neglect. It was among the world's laggards with only 2.6 percent of university-age students attending higher education in 2001. A mere 23 percent of university faculty had Ph.D.s, little research took place, teaching was not emphasized, the infrastructure had deteriorated, and not a single university ranked in the top 500.

The crisis in higher education was acknowledged as early as 1947, followed by more than a dozen commissions and policy documents. In 1998 some small steps were finally taken to improve access by increasing the number of higher education institutions from 18 to 78 and encouraging private higher education. Despite agreement about the magnitude and seriousness of the problems, there was no consensus about what should be done or who should drive the changes-government or universities.

The Higher Education Commission

In 2000 President Pervez Musharraf asked the Ministry of Education to develop a plan for higher education. That was followed by a task force, a steering committee, and several other efforts. The system was described to be in a virtual state of collapse, lacking the capacity for change. These deliberations resulted in a recommendation create the Higher Education which was established in September as an autonomous and largely independent body. From the outset, commission began a major reform producing the Medium Term Framework: 2005-10 that focused on faculty development, increased access, improvement, and relevance.

Since 2002 a number of extraordinary changes have taken place. Over the last six years almost 4,000 scholars have participated in Ph.D. programs in Pakistan. More than 600 students have studied in foreign Ph.D. programs. The Higher Education Commission instituted major upgrades for laboratories and information and communications technology, rehabilitation of facilities, expansion of research support, and development of one of the best digital libraries in the region. A quality assurance and accreditation process was also established.

The commissions goal for access was a 10 percent increase in enrollments per year. In fact, enrollments have grown 89 percent since In an effort to ensure faculty accountand reward those who demonstrate in teaching and research, a tenuresystem was introduced with salaries two three times higher than existing civil-serlevels for those who qualify.

The commission controls government funding for public higher education some private education projects. Its have been remarkable as the and development budgets in340 percent in real terms from to 2005-06. Nonetheless, these basically restored university lost over the years. Much of the growth was needed to cover the of increased enrollment, with exper student increasing only 41 during that period. After 2005-06 budget continued to increase the next by a little more than 30 percent but low by international standards. proportion of the age group attending university remains well under world standards, at 3.9 percent.

The change process was not without crit- ics. Indeed, at the outset, many of the major institutions refused to cooperate. They ar- gued that the commission was trampling on their autonomy, infringing on faculty authority, usurping powers delegated to the regions, and instituting changes without consultation. Indeed, the commission saw its change process as being top down by necessity, arguing that was the only viable alternative after decades of institutional fail- ures. In addition to its academic critics, the commissions successes in obtaining funding resulted in criticism from several other min- istries that did not fare as well and in jealousy about its achievements and autonomy.

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