Devolution of the subject of education under the 18th constitutional amendment has remained an oft-debated topic as many have questioned the wisdom behind this devolution. The recent Lahore High Court order brought this to limelight again as the court ruled that provinces cannot legislate on the appointment of vice chancellors to public sector universities since the Higher Education Commission Ordinance, 2002 is still in place and provincial statutes cannot replace it. Leaving aside the legal nuances that led to this judgment, the judgment would have a positive impact on the state of higher education in Pakistan, the fate of which had been opaque ever since the devolution. This is not an endorsement of the present performance of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) as public universities in Pakistan under the regulation of the HEC have not shown any admirable progress. However, the solution to this not further fragmentation of the higher education system in Pakistan as only a strong centralised body can have the capacity required to bring about a radical reformation of the education sector.
More broadly, the criticism of the devolution of the subject of education has mostly centred around the supposed provincialism that it would lead to in the absence of a unified ‘national’ curriculum to condition the students into becoming Pakistanis first. While there may be some merit to these arguments, nevertheless the more serious and immediate ramifications of devolution are the provincial capacity constraints to manage the subject of education. In lieu of well structured and adequately equipped provincial departments to create curriculums, publish or assign textbooks, and train teachers, the provinces can hardly be expected to deliver on providing quality education. The matter is made worse when rent seeking behaviour by government officials leads to the assigning of incompetent individuals as authors of textbooks. The way this jeopardises the entire education project is fairly self-evident.
Corruption and academic dishonesty plagues the system of higher education on an equal, if not more, serious level. Incompetence at the primary and secondary level is further complemented by unconscientious means that academics use to advance in their careers. Professors of public sector universities have failed to produce quality original research and the reason behind this is that most of their publications are nothing more than reassembled and rephrased papers that have already been published. When quantity trumps quality in order to go up the academic ladder, intellectual advancement often stagnates. And when the status of the body overseeing all of this is not clear, academics can indulge in this academic dishonesty with impunity. Granted all of this has happened under the eye of the HEC, but an overhaul of the system of higher education can only be achieved through the HEC. One way to achieve this is to introduce a criteria of gradation for published papers, and those papers that are published in renowned journals given greater weight than those published in unknown ones. Pakistan has lagged severely behind other countries on the issue of higher education, and it is about time that the government think of an effective strategy to correct the present state of academic decline.
Source: Daily Times
December 7, 2016