Monday, March 18, 2013

5 Myths of Higher Education in Pakistan

Presentation originally made at CIO Conference, March 2009 at Sheraton, Karachi.
The links and write-up below is an extended rehash of those thoughts:
    1. Myth: Our backwardness is because we are behind in Science and Technology 
    2. Myth: There is mushrooming of Higher Education Institutions in Pakistan 
    3. Myth: Impact Factor research measures real impact
    4. Public universities cost lower than private universities 
    5. Bigger infrastructure (land, building, equipment) means better education 

Myth #4: Public universities cost lower than private universities

The average cost per student per year of a public university is much more than that of a private university. Here is a typical analysis done in 2005-06.

Public sector universities (2005-06)
  • HEC funding per student (2005-6) ~ Rs 75 k 
  • Additional fees paid per year per student
    • Typical fee: ~ 25 k (For universities like KU) 
    • Exorbitantly: ~ 150 k (IBA, NUST) 
  • Total Average cost per year = 100k – 225k 
  • Land acquisition and capital investment through PC-1s and other funds would be extra and would amount to hundred of millions of rupees of funding per year to each public sector university.
Private Sector HEIs in 2005-06 in Karachi were typically costing a student less than Rs. 100 k. Mind you these universities took not a single penny from the tax money collected from the poor!

In 2012, the average cost per student per year had climbed up for many public sector universities to over Rs. 200k. Whereas, many private sector universities in Karachi had fees around half. Remember, this would include operational costs as well as capital costs. Whereas the Rs.200k per student per year operational
costs of public sector universities does not include capital and development costs, which is an additional tab to be picked up by the poor taxpayers.

Myth #5 : Bigger Infrastructure Means Better Education

We were told that only high quality universities should be allowed to come up. Primary criteria for high quality was the size of the campus, covered area and other brick and mortar facilities. The conventional wisdom started suggesting in the public sector that universities starting in rented bungalows somehow will not be able to provide quality education. This argument was sold in spite of knowing about the history of many of our big universities now.

We all know how Aligarh University came up as MAO College in 1875. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan collected donations through the dancing girls that was much criticized at that time. Later in 1920s, the college became Aligarh Muslim University and eventually led the establishment of Pakistan.

We are told how Karachi University started its operations after the partition from the house of its first VC. A "taat" rag (from a sack) was used as a divider to separate the household from the office of the university. The university started with departments having no more than a couple of teachers.

More recently LUMS started in 1980s in a couple of rented bunglows and now boasts one of the more impressive campuses in the private sector spanning over hundred acres. There are so many examples in the private sector going through such transformations who had started their existence from humble beginnings.

A university is determined not by its buildings and infrastructure but by the commitment of its teachers and efficient and equitable processes.

This myth equates better quality with a ranking criteria that is biased towards the funding priorities of the donor commission. Actually the donor agencies would like to feel good about the funding that they are making and would like to justify their existence. There is a conflict of interest somewhere in such rankings.
They are purported to be quality ranking, but are actually "quantity" rankings because they are just counting the following:

– Bigger buildings (brick and mortar)
– More equipment
– More budget
– More faculty
– More numbers

The myth is perpetuated by measuring the input and not the output. Because the figures of the output are quite disturbing.

Hence, we see that neither the output nor the process being emphasized by the HEC Criteria for ranking. We would not find any of the following elements in the published ranking criteria:
– Processes
– Systems
– Culture
– Quality of graduates

For example, we still see many big universities inserting news items in the newspapers that they have announced the results! The fact that it becomes a news that the university has announced its results indicates that their processes are still in their infancy. For them announcing of admissions is also a news. Admissions and results announcements are not news, they are part of a process that should be automatic, predictable and scheduled events.

Our policy makers in Islamabad scramble for a foreign yatra whenever they get funds. Coming back from such trips they bring presents like GATT, WTO, Washington Accord or QS rankings to justify these visits. There may be some good ideas in there but the whole package should have been processed and thoroughly internalized through courage, time, effort and research to develop our own nationally relevant versions of such criteria. We talk about ISI research publications, but follow no such methodology in implementing such imported ideas. None of these systems before their promotion, implementation and adoption are passed through an impact factor ISI research that establishes their relevance to our context. We do not conduct any pilot studies, or study of the reliability and validity of the standards and criteria. We have seen how through WTO we were forced to let go of all the subsidies to our local market but when the time came for European nations and USA to let go of their subsidies, they dragged their feet and never did away with their own local subsidies. The result was that our whole economy got rocked in the process. However, when eventually those countries realized that they may have to do away with their nationally relevant subsidies they actually stifled the whole initiative and moved towards bilateral and multilateral agreements, jumping out of the WTO bandwagon that was designed to stifle the economies of the blind followers of the third world countries.

I suspect there is a clique of our intelligentia in Islambad that sits down, brainstorm and come up with a copy of some international system that will involve lots of money being spent, contracts being given, hardware being acquired and boxes being bought with only a cursory mention of the output generated through these investments.

What is required is that our policy makers make indigenous efforts for such quality initiatives:
  • Apni dunya aap paida kar agar zindoan may hay

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