Shaikh Muhammad Ali*
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is an autonomous organization whose mission is “to facilitate institutions of higher learning to serve as an engine of socio-economic development of Pakistan”.
The HEC is not attached to the Ministry of Education. The Prime Minister is the Controlling Authority of the HEC.
The 18th Amendment through the 4th Schedule (Article 70(4) Federal Legislative Lists Part-I and Part-II) fully supports the current powers and functions of the HEC, and includes higher education and research as federal subjects.
HEC is a role model federal organization which empowers equal and full participation of all provinces and universities in higher education policy making for national development. In most federations around the world, higher education is a federal subject with provinces also having a say.
HEC through the Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF)
2011-2015 is creating the knowledge capital and technology required to enable Pakistan to join the ranks of the industrially advanced countries within the next decade.
For national integration and prosperity, it is essential that HEC must continue to perform its functions which it has successfully done so for the last 8 years.
Pakistan needs to develop its human resources at the highest tier of post graduate education to meet the increasing requirements of applied research and technology transfer in the country. In addition, an adequate mass of trained manpower is required for working in R&D organizations and universitiesfor adopting and assimilating imported technologies. The scale and speed of scientific discoveries, social development and technological advancement globally, lends urgency to the need for a brisk action in strengthening our capability in areas of critical importance such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, micro- electronics, renewable energy, exploration of minerals, agriculture, physical sciences, social sciences, etc.
Performance and achievements of the HEC in the perspective of Human Resource Development Programs
Programs initiated by Human Resource Development (HRD) Division of HEC are primarily designed to fill the gap of the trained people in various fields relevant to national priorities. Moreover, it also envisages building an environment of research which is vital for the country’s economy and social well-being. May it be the field of Medicine or Veterinary science, Agriculture or Development Economics, Engineering or Biotechnology, without the acquisition of new knowledge, a prognosis of the future cannot be made. Therefore, creation of an ambience of research in the context of national needs and in line with global trends is at the core of the vision of HRD Division.
In Pakistan, out of the 16,446 faculty members in HEIs, 21.80% have PhD degrees while others have got MPhil or MSc (16 years) or BSc (16 years) education. Apart from the level of education, training of faculty in pedagogical skills, research skills and other related skills is essential. However, HRD division is basically responsible for provision of scholarships for enhancement of qualification of the potential candidates to meet the requirements of highly qualified faculty for universities, research organizations and industry.
The major thrust of programs is directed towards increasing the PhD faculty base, as well as provision of enhanced facilities to existing PhD faculty through supporting programs of other Divisions of HEC to ensure a high retention rate and to provide an intellectually stimulating academic environment for them. Scholarship programs have been developed for the existing faculty as well as the candidates from R&D organizations and unemployed fresh graduates to attain PhD degrees from both within and from outside the country.
For overseeing the implementation of various scholarship programs, a special committee has been constituted called the National Scholarship Management Committee (NSMC) which is responsible for most of the scholarship programs. NSMC has representatives from provinces, Planning Commission, PAEC, Industry and Ministry of Education, apart from the HEC. In addition, some scholarships have their own Steering Committee / Management Committee to advise on issues related to a particular program.
Since 2003, 21 different overseas scholarship schemes have been launched for PhD study primarily in countries in continental Europe such as Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, and Netherlands. In addition, HEC scholars have been sent in significant numbers to China, New Zealand, Thailand and Korea. A small number of scholars have also been sent to UK, Australia and other high fee paying countries. In the case of USA, special Fulbright program jointly funded by USAID was launched to provide opportunities of faculty development in the US.
Under the various HEC overseas scholarship programs to date, 17,529 candidates were shortlisted out of which 3,888 scholars were sent abroad during 2003 – 11. Out of these 3,888 scholars 242 scholars were sent for Masters, 3,062 were sent for Master leading to PhD while 584 had been sent to pursue their Post Doctorate programs. So far, a total of 188 scholars have returned with a Master degree, 620 have returned with a PhD degree and 389 have returned with a Post Doctorate while 2,173 Master, PhD and Post Doc candidates are currently abroad and are returning on a monthly basis.
Similarly, a total of 2,132 scholars were selected for Indigenous Undergraduate programs, 2,262 were awarded local Graduate programs and 4,479 were granted Indigenous PhD scholarships. Out of these, so far a total of 824 scholars have completed their Undergraduate programs, 1,177 have completed their Master programs while 523 have completed their PhD from local universities.
As some of the on-going scholarship programs will approach completion very soon, HRD is now focusing on the appropriate utilization of the scholars who have successfully completed PhD locally, or have returned from overseas. For this purpose, a program for Interim Placement of Fresh PhDs (IPFP) has been launched, and will get the major thrust in the future.
The up to date statistics of HEC and Universities scholars studying abroad and in Pakistan for PhD degree against a total of 118 HRD programs being managed at HEC and universities is given in the following tables & graphs:
Domicile wise details of HEC / Universities Overseas Scholars
Placement of PhDs in universities:
Another successful program titled ‘Interim Placement of Fresh PhDs’ (IPFP) was launched by HEC in 2008. Through this program, HEC wants to allure those Pakistani nationals who have recently completed or are about to complete doctorate studies from reputed universities of the world. Most of such young scientists, engineers, social scientists and medical professionals are likely to get employed abroad where there is an established infra-structure for their professional development and career advancement. Being away from their home-country for a substantial period of time, these young professionals do not have any guidance on how to get suitable employment in Pakistan.
The program provides these young PhD professionals a platform through “Interim Placement of Fresh PhDs” to return home with confidence. This program has an added advantage for the universities and Degree Awarding Institutions (DAI) in getting back these Pakistani fresh PhDs from abroad which will immediately meet the short-fall of qualified faculty in the country.
The above mentioned program is designed to provide a Tenure Track System based Assistant Professor (AP) position for a maximum of one year period to fresh PhD’s from reputed foreign universities to pursue a teaching profession in Pakistani public sector universities / Degree Awarding Institutions. This program, on a preferential basis; will seek placements for those HEC scholars who upon return to Pakistan after obtaining the doctorate degree will be requiring immediate employment.
So far a total of 321 PhDs have been placed in various universities throughout Pakistan through this program. Out of these, 163 have graduated from abroad while 158 have graduated from within Pakistan.
Special Emphasis on Balochistan:
Higher Education Commission is currently administrating various Human Resource Development Programs. The detail of these programs availed by the students and faculty of Universities of Balochistan is as under:
HEC Scholarship programs:
HEC has awarded 234 scholarships to the students belonging to Balochistan under various HEC projects both at home and abroad for Undergraduate, Postgraduate, PhD and Post Doctorate programs.
Special scholarship program:
HEC is also implementing a scholarship program specifically for the students of Balochistan under the project ‘Provision of Higher Education Opportunities for Students of Balochistan and FATA’. Against an original target for provision of 540, an additional 205 scholarships were awarded. In total 745 scholarships were awarded to the students of Balochistan (for Undergraduate & Postgraduate program) during the intake of 2009-11. This year 455 scholarships will also be awarded in September- October 2011 to the students of Balochistan. Faculty Development programs (FDP) for the Universities of Balochistan:
The Faculty Development Program is currently operational at four Universities of Balochistan at a cost of Rs. 1954.60 million. The FDP will provide 302 scholarships to the Faculty of Universities of Balochistan. 164 foreign scholarships were awarded for MS, PhD and training programs under the FDP. Four scholars have successfully completed their MS/PhD and 48 scholars have also completed their foreign training. Currently 107 scholars are on board and remaining 180 slots will be advertised/ awarded in the next financial year.
Special Program for Disaster / Earthquake affected areas:
Following the October 2005 earthquake, the Republic of Cuba offered 1,000 scholarships for medical graduate studies in Cuba for Pakistanis. The Government of Pakistan accepted this offer in recognition of the cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship between Cuba and Pakistan and directed Higher Education Commission Islamabad to invite applications and make selection of students. The program ‘1,000
Cuban Scholarships for Studies in General Comprehensive Medicine’ [equivalent to MBBS] was approved by the ECNEC in its meeting held on 30th November, 2006. Currently, a total of 913 scholars are studying in Cuba who were sent in three different batches.
Current Emphasis on Social Sciences:
Over the years HEC has noticed that the presence of scholars from the field of Social sciences have been very minimal. All out efforts are being made to increase this ratio in the different scholarship programs. Currently, a total of 402 scholars were awarded scholarships in this discipline while 105 have graduated and returned and 297 scholars are currently studying and completing their Master, PhD and Post Doctorate programs.
Similarly, 1,148 scholars were awarded scholarships in Indigenous programs in Social Sciences while 47 have completed their PhD locally in this discipline.
In conclusion, it may clearly be stated that education is indeed the key for the progress of nations and if Pakistan wants to join the comity of advanced nations then this is the right path which HEC is treading and we must continue to invest whole heartedly in such scholarship programs in the future to come.
Plan for dissolution of higher education:
1. The Higher Education Commission will cease to exist.
2. A new Commission for standards of higher education would be created under the Cabinet Division. Existing HEC functions of equivalence, attestation, recognition of degrees, opening of new universities would be transferred to this new Commission.
3. All HEC research functions would cease to exist. Ongoing 1,000 research projects on the most important issues of importance to Pakistan would STOP.
4. The Foreign scholarship program providing scholarships to nearly
5,000 scholars in 28 countries would be MOVED to the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination. There is even a suggestion to break up the scholarships and distribute existing scholars according to domicile!
5. Graduating PhD students from all over the world would have no entity to coordinate return and placement in local universities. Currently HEC tracks each foreign scholar individually, and runs a program providing one-year employment in any university of their choice, along with a start-up research grant.
6. Nearly 5,000 Indigenous Scholarship programs would be transferred to provinces in some manner yet to be determined. New desks in some ministries would perhaps be created to deal with financing and management of PhD scholarships
7. The Pakistan Education and Research Network providing high speed inter-connectivity between universities would stop.
8. The Digital Library Program would stop.
9. More than 1,000 scholars per year would be deprived ofthe opportunity to travel abroad to present research papers.
10. All programs for linking research activities among Pakistani universities would cease.
11. All programs for improving pedagogical skills of teachers in universities would cease. Nearly 5,000 teachers have already benefitted from this program.
12. Management of ALL universities in the Federal Area would be transferred to a new Division of ICT.
13. Funding of higher education by the Federal Government by HEC would cease and all Provincial Universities would be funded through the existing NFC Award. Federal Universities would presumably be funded through the allocation to the new Division in ICT.
14. US$ 300 Million World Bank Loan to Government of Pakistan would be withdrawn.
15. USAID Plan for US$250 Million for supporting higher education sector would go back to the drawing board.
Impact on Recognition of Degrees from Pakistan
• Following the dissolution of HEC, the core function of degree recognition, equivalence and attestation is to be shifted to a new Commission to be constituted under the Cabinet Division. The HEC is an autonomous body reporting directly to the Prime Minister and not any division. Two thirds of its members are appointed by the Prime Minister from a panel of three names of eminent academics. These members are appointed for a four- year term and may not be removed, save on proven charges of corruption, inefficiency, permanent disability. This structure is what gives the HEC autonomy and allows it to pursue its function with merit and rule of law as the only arbiters. This is what allowed the HEC to defy every pressure and not verify degrees of Parliamentarians that did not meet the strict standards of verification set by the Commission. Without autonomy, a new Commission will neither have local, nor international credibility.
• The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment had asked the Election Commission to get the degrees of the Parliamentarians verified by the HEC. The dissolution of the HEC and movement of its core function of degree recognition and maintenance of standards under the Cabinet Division will jeopardize the verification process.
• The new Commission working under the Cabinet Division would also have the power to recognize new universities being formed all over the country that are substandard and do not meet the existing Cabinet Criteria for a university. Already, many such cases have been blocked by the HEC and not granted recognition since they do not have faculty, libraries, internet connectivity and are housed in few room structures. By granting recognition to such entities, the degrees of all Pakistani Universities will become suspect.
• The HEC attests more than 200,000 educational documents each year. Every Pakistani going for work abroad must have their degrees attested by the HEC which is recognized by the entire world to be a fair and impartial body whose attestation is accepted at face value. The HEC is a Board Member of the Asia Pacific Quality Network and is a member of the Network of Quality Assurance Agencies of the World. This membership has to be earned and is not transferrable. The World has faith in the degrees of Pakistani universities because of HEC. By creating a new Commission, all degrees issued by Pakistani Institutions will not be accepted at face value despite any stamp that any new Commission may issue. The world is carefully following the fake degree scandal of Pakistani Parliamentarians and can see what the dissolution of HEC entails.
A Revolution in Higher Education in Pakistan:
• The establishment of the HEC in 2002 has heralded a revolution in higher education in Pakistan, especially in the fields of Engineering, Science and Technology. The HEC has accomplished more in eight years since its establishment than was achieved in the first 55 years of Pakistan’s existence. It is essential that this growth should continue for the next decade at least if Pakistan is to become an industrially advanced country.
• More PhDs have graduated from Pakistani universities in the past 9 years than in the first 55 years of Pakistan’s existence.
• Two Pakistani Universities are now ranked among the TOP 300 Science and Technology Institutions of the World.
• In 2002 Pakistan produced less than half the publications that Saudi Arabia did. Today Pakistan produces 30% more publications than Saudi Arabia which invests 100 times more funds in higher education than Pakistan.
• Pakistan has invested more than Rs. 97 Billion for the development of the universities since the formation of HEC; a twelvefold increase over the Rs. 7.5 Billion spent in the 1978- 2002 period of the University Grants Commission.
• Engineering, Information Technology, Basic Sciences and Agriculture have received the greatest investment by the HEC. Project worth more than Rs. 35 Billion have been approved for support of Engineering Universities, more than a 1,000 Foreign PhD scholarships have been awarded in Engineering along with more than 500 indigenous PhD scholarships.
• The Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN) is one of the most sophisticated computer networks in the world linking all universities through a 10GB backbone and 1GB connectivity to universities. It is now expanding to link colleges as well. Video-conferencing Equipment is operational in 74 Institutions and expanding rapidly. The Digital Library provides access to 75% of the World’s literature (23,000 ejournals and 45,000 ebooks). Pakistan today is a regional leader in ICTs which other countries are following.
• In terms of Technology Readiness, HEC has provided state of the art high-tech equipment (e.g. Accelerators, SEMs, Vapour Deposition Units, Powder Metallurgy Labs, etc.) to HEIs, and Equipment Sharing Programs Grants for research, for travel conferences, for holding of conferences, seminars, workshops, etc. Research partnerships are now in place between universities in Pakistan and other leading universities of the world.
• HEC is focusing on development of critical technologies including biotechnology and genetics, immunology, robotics and automation, nanotechnologies, superconductivity, computer vision, photo-optics and lasers, electromagnetics and microwaves and nuclear fusion for energy, etc. which are important for the strategic growth of Pakistan.
• Pak universities have produced more PhDs in the last 8 years (3280) since the establishment of HEC than in the first 55 years (3000). Today we produce 10 times more PhDs in Engineering and Technology than ever in the past (140 in last 8 years, versus 14 in first 55 years). The universities are now enabled to produce more PhDs in the next 3 years than in the last 8 years.
• Research output has grown six-folds since 2002 (from 815 in 2002 to 5068 in 2010): 80% of these research publications are coming from HEIs. Output has more than doubled just in the last 3 years and is expected to double again in the next 3 years.
• Nearly 5,000 scholars from Pakistan have been facilitated to present their research work in leading conferences of the world.
• Researchers from Pakistan have linkages with their counterparts in every leading university of the world in the US, UK, China, Germany, France, Australia, Korea, etc.
• For technology transfer to Industry, HEC is working on development of high-tech incubators. Those in the pipeline at the universities include at UA Faisalabad, UET Peshawar, UET Lahore, NED, and NUST.
• Three new centers of excellence, in Energy, Food Security, and Water Resources, are under development in three leading universities assisted by USAID.
• HEC has taken higher education to the masses through the establishment of world-class academic facilities in 2nd and 3rd tier cities in the heartland of Punjab, Sindh and KPK.
• The biggest investment (by share) has been in the KPK Province with new universities being set up in Bannu, Kohat, Malakand, Swat, and Mardan. The Kohat University of Science and Technology today publishes more papers in the world’s leading journals, than many other universities in Pakistan.
• In Balochistan, 4 new universities have been developed and made operational, as compared to the 2 that existed in 2002. Projects for an additional 2 have been approved for establishment in Loralai and Turbat. 57 PhD Scholars from the University of Balochistan are currently studying in AIT Bangkok due to the linkage established by HEC.
• In Sindh, 3 new universities and 4 campuses in underdeveloped areas are in various stages of development.
• The IT sector has seen a complete transformation in the education system with the standardization of the 4-year undergraduate program and the establishment of the Accreditation Council ensuring adherence to international standards. This forms the backbone of the IT export revolution occurring in Pakistan.
• The entire Bachelor (4-year), Master and PhD (3-tier) programs have been revised to conform to world standards.NARIC, the UK agency for equating foreign education documents, has stated:“We are of the opinion that this previous system of education (Pre-HEC) was not only shorter than the current system in Pakistan, but it did not emphasise subject specialisation and independent research as much” A PhD from Univ. of Karachi granted in 2007 was therefore recognized equivalent to MPhil. However, NARIC writes,” “Within the revised (Post-HEC) Pakistani higher education system….we recognise all research degrees (MPhil and PhD) to UK standard”
• According to Science Watch, January 2011 issue, (a prestigious magazine published out of UK) research growth from Pakistan has ranked 1st in 2 areas: Microbiology; and Plant and Animal Sciences. But that is not enough. Major research in priority areas and in Engineering and Technology is required, which is slowly beginning to take over.
• Already, according to QS World Universities Rankings 2010, 2 Universities: NUST (274), and UET (281) are now in top 300 Technology Universities of the World, while MUET is in top 400. We need to continue to focus on adding quality in research and education to our other universities as well.
• HEC has international credibility with the World Bank which approved a US$100 Million Higher Education Support program in 2008. A new US$300 Million Tertiary Education Support Program has been approved on March 24th, 2011 contingent upon the HEC remaining as is.
• USAID was finalizing a US$250 Million support to the HEC focusing on the establishment of Centers of Excellence in Water, Energy and Agriculture before the decision of devolution.
Pakistan’s scientists, engineers and technologists are its single biggest strategic asset. Till five years ago, they were concentrated in a few strategic organizations; however, the revolution in higher education brought about by HEC has ensured that every engineering and science and technology university has started to blossom into a center of research and innovation. With thousands of PhD students abroad at the world’s leading universities, the next few years will herald an unprecedented revolution in Science and Technology in Pakistan.
There already has been a ten-fold increase in PhD production in the Engineering fields. With 1,500 more PhDs in engineering alone set to join the ranks in the next three year, an irreversible transformation in the Engineering Sector, will occur in Pakistan.
HEC has integrated Pakistan and broken the elitist myth of availability of talent only in big cities. Pakistani scholars from small villages and remote towns have taken the world by storm. This is especially true in our neighboring country which is now trying to create an HEC- like organization, and has announced a five-fold increase in the higher education budget with tens of new IITs to be set up.
The next 5 year strategy of HEC calls for Universities Building Pakistan. It is important that this vision become a reality.
In conclusion, HEC is the Role Model Federal Organization which empowers equal and full participation of all universities and provinces to facilitate higher education for the socio-economic development of Pakistan.
1. HEC and the 18th Amendment