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The idea of a University – II

Looking at the Pakistani universities, one realises that none of these university models (quoted in the previous column) is emulated here.

In order to put things into perspective, it is pertinent to mention that these three models are Newman’s Model, Humboldtian Model and Robbins Oxbridge Model with their own traits and specificities. These models are essentially European with a modernist-rationalist trajectory. Having said that, the people to whom the task of running the universities isassigned could have taken some steps to re-structure our universities on the lines of Humboldtian Model, a remodelling that was successfully done in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Generally speaking, universities in Europe passed through a process that was indigenous and embedded in the peculiarities of European history and tradition. All well-known institutions of higher learning were evolved from monasteries and Church schools, developing subsequently into institutions of qualitatively divergent character. With the age of reason having set in, universities in Europe were drawn away from imparting knowledge of the Christian texts and epistemology. Gradually the process of secular/scientific reasoning dominated universities but,in most cases, continuity of tradition was ensured.

In the case of Pakistan,universities are typically post-colonial in their structure and functioning. Conceived and created by British rulers, eager to shed the white man’s burden through a self-professed mission of civilizing the native, several universities were opened up in the subcontinent.In the area that later became Pakistan, there were two universities namely University of the Punjab (established in 1881-82) and University of Dhakka (established in 1921). In the year of Pakistan’s creation(1947), University of Sindh was founded.

Later on, similar institutions were established in Karachi and Peshawar. But the point worth pondering is that despite independence, we remained tied to the structures created by the British. These structures served, as in the words of Bernard Cohn, the technologies of control meant for ‘disciplining of the colonial subjects’.To state it in general terms, indigenous education, under the colonial rule, was radically overhauled with the aim to re-invent the people of the subcontinent into pliable and acquiescent subjects.

The most important objective that universities should set for themselves is to somehow break the ramshackle of isolation. They must act as an instrument for integrating Pakistan into a comity of nations as a well-respected and responsible state.

Our colonial masters were successful in their project of ‘re-inventing the natives’. It is most important to stress that the colonial education model stressed instruction over research, to ensure that independent thinking individuals could be moulded to the colonial requirement of pliable subjects. Lord Macaulay’s objective, “to form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”,ironically saw its eventual realisation in the independent, post-colonial Pakistan.It was in the post-Partition Pakistan that the project of preferring instruction over research was religiously implemented to create docile citizens steeped in ideology.

All I am trying to argue here brings into focus the importance of the process from which the twosets of universities emanated. European universities were the outcome of a historical process spanning over several centuries whereas such institutions in the subcontinent were the culmination of arbitrary decision(s) of the ‘differentiated’ ruler.

Universities in Europe very closely embraced ‘institutional autonomy’ even in the most trying and unstable situations. Similarly ‘academic freedom’, as we have seen in the last column, was another norm which in fact was consecrated by the university teachers and administrators. In the subcontinent, universities were controlled by colonial bureaucrats because the university administration itself used to be a part of bureaucracy. Education service had a separate cadre and officers were carefully selected through competitive examination.

All said and done, universities were run and controlled through administrative means and methods. Teachers had a very limited role in the overall running of the institution(s).

This still holds true for universities in the post-independence era. Even nowthe relationship between university administration and faculty is marred with mutual distrust and enmity. Administrative control has eroded institutional autonomy which is considered the life-line of the university set-up in the West.

With the promulgation of the 18thAmendment, things have gone from bad to worse. The Higher Education Department has assumed control of the universities and one section officer is virtually entitled to wrap the university Vice Chancellors around his fingers. Between the Higher Education Departmenthoused at the Civil Secretariat and the Higher Education Commission headquarters in Islamabad, administrative and academic autonomy, supposedly a sine qua nonfor any university,have been eroded.

It would be better if the hierarchical chain running the universities is constituted of the Vice Chancellor, the syndicate and the Chancellor (the Governor). Simultaneously, the provincial Higher Education Commissionsneed to be reinvigorated as a regulatory institution by investing in them full trust and authority. Seasoned academics should be entrusted with the task of looking after the provincial HECs.Their role should be well-defined as well as their relationship with the universities.

The interests of the universities will be well-served if the chief ministers and their respective secretariats leave them unto themselves. Their involvement encumbers the procedures, and the ready access of the university administration with the Chancellor is unnecessarily impeded.

Regarding the inner structure of the universities, institutionalised norms and practices need to be encouraged. Particularly, the universities which were colleges prior to 2002 are still being run on the previous pattern of colleges. The administration of these institutions has not matured in sync with the exalted status of a university. Their transition from college to university has yet to take full effect.

Coming to the academic side, universities must ensure balance between teaching and research as prescribed in the Humboldtian model. Research that is carried out at universities becomes meaningful only when it addresses the issues concerning the society and the people. The research component of higher education has to be geared to produce new knowledge with the aim to ameliorate the lot of the people. Hence, all universities must be provided with enough resources so that they can have sufficient funds dedicated to research purposes.

But the most important objective that universities should set for themselves is to somehow break the ramshackle of isolation. They must act as an instrument for integrating Pakistan into a comity of nations as a well-respected and responsible state. Only academics can do it and no one else can. Given that academic freedom is the bedrock of a university, can such freedom be possible in a society where a public intellectual needs government permission to publicise his free opinion?

Kamran,Tahir. The idea of a University – II. The News on Sunday, January 8, 2017.

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