May 5, 2012

Higher education in India

By Dr Atta-ur-Rahman Over the next five years India will establish 200 new universities and 40 new high-level institutes. Nine additional IITs will also be established, bringing the total number of IITs to 16. This was stated by Indian human resource development minister Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha recently. A sum of Rs800 billion, the biggest-ever allocation, is being set aside in the 12th five-year-plan of India (2012-2017) to propel it into a strong knowledge-based economy. India has presently 17 percent of its youth between the ages of 17 of 23 enrolled in the higher education sector (as opposed to Pakistan’s 7.6 percent). It plans to increase this enrolment to 30 percent of the same age group by the year 2030 (Chetan Chauhan, The Hindustan Times, April 25). India decided to replace its University Grants Commission with a stronger federally funded organisation, National Commission of Higher Education and Research. This was approved by the Indian Cabinet in December 2011. The recent steps taken by India are the result of a detailed presentation made to the Indian prime minister in July 2006 by Prof C N R Rao about the threat posed by the remarkable transformation underway in higher education in Pakistan. In an article entitled “Pak threat to Indian science,” Neha Mehta wrote: “Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.” (The Hindustan Times on July 23, 2006.) This presentation to the Indian prime minister set in motion a whole set of reforms in the higher education sector in India with a sharp increase in the salary structures of academics and a manifold increase in the budget for higher education. India had been giving the highest priority to higher education, science and technology for decades. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had already laid the foundations of modern India in the 1950s and 1960s. The prime minister of India himself headed what he considered to be the most important ministry in India – science and technology. The progress made by the higher education sector in Pakistan in the last decade is reflected from the increase in enrolment from 276,000 students in 2003 to 803,000 in 2011, increase in number of universities and degree-awarding institutes from 59 in the year 2000 to 137 by 2011, and an increase in international research publications from only 636 in 2000 to 6,200 in 2011. The PhD output too underwent an explosive growth. During the 55-year period from 1947 to 2002, only 3,281 PhDs had been granted by all our universities (a shocking average of about 3-4 PhDs per university per year)! During the subsequent eight-year period from 2003 to 2010, this number was exceeded and 3,658 PhDs were granted. There was maximum emphasis on quality, as all PhD theses were evaluated by at least two top experts in technologically advanced countries before approval. The silent revolution that occurred in the higher education sector in Pakistan was lauded by neutral international experts and agencies and numerous reports published on it. In a book published by the Royal Society (London) entitled A New Golden Age the example of Pakistan was cited as the best model to be followed by other developing countries. Nature, the world’s leading science journal, published four editorials and several articles on the transformation that was occurring in Pakistan and advised the new government in 2008 not to go back to the “stone age” that existed prior to the reforms introduced after 2002 in higher education. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education announced it as “Pakistan’s golden period in higher education” and called for my reappointment after I had resigned in protest against the suspension of scholarships of HEC scholars sent abroad. I was conferred a high civil award by the Austrian government and the TWAS (Italy) Prize for institution building for leading these changes. After the remarkable progress achieved in Pakistan in the higher education during 2003-2008, we have been systematically trying to destroy the one sector that had raised a gleam of hope among the masses. First, the development budget of the higher education sector was slashed by about 50 percent in 2009. Then, the scholarships of the several thousand Pakistani students studying in foreign universities were withheld, forcing them to go literally begging for funds on the streets of countries where they had gone to brighten their future. This was followed by the status of the executive director of the HEC of a federal secretary being withdrawn, thereby preventing the HEC from holding Departmental Development Working Party (DDWP) meetings and approving projects for Pakistani universities. The projects to establish foreign engineering universities in major cities of Pakistan were closed down. This would have saved Rs50 billion annually and provided Pakistani students with the opportunity of getting quality education with foreign degrees without going abroad. The HEC had found that 51 of our “honourable” parliamentarians had forged degrees and those of another 250 parliamentarians were suspect. In any other country such persons would have had to go to jail for cheating and forgery. However the Election Commission, instead of declaring their elections null and void, became a party to the game, in clear defiance of the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Why the Supreme Court has chosen to look the other way in this matter of enormous national importance is beyond understanding. A group of these “honourable” parliamentarians with forged degrees plotted to shred the HEC into pieces, and under their pressure a government notification was issued on 30th November 2010 shredding the HEC into pieces. On my appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan this was overturned and the Supreme Court declared the move as unconstitutional. The greedy and evil designs continue. Another Bill moved in parliament recently is directed to take away the Rs44 billion budget of the HEC from the 17-member commission and give the funds to a secretary in the federal government to distribute. This will open the doors to corruption. At present the powers to allocate funds are vested with a 17-member commission that included four provincial secretaries, two federal secretaries, vice chancellors and eminent citizens. So, while India progresses in leaps and bounds to strengthen its higher education, science and technology sectors, Pakistan sinks deeper into a quagmire created by incompetent and crooked parliamentarians. Following the spectacular successes of the HEC in Pakistan, India is in the process of closing down its UGC, to establish the National Commission of Higher Education and Research on the pattern of the HEC. Pakistan is however systematically destroying its HEC. Clearly it is not India that is our enemy – we ourselves are!


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