HEC and elitism- Shahid Saeed

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It was good to see Mr Salal Humair’s article (Jan 7) highlighting the role of LUMS SSE in the country’s science and technological education avenues. Engineering colleges require large endowments and the SSE doubly deserves government help in fulfilling its financial requirements.

Over the past decade, where the HEC claims that it shone brightly, it has failed to impress me at least. The war of words between HEC officials and academia through newspapers has become a common sight. HEC claims to have set up numerous new universities which have provided quality education to the common man. The question I want to pose is which of these dozen or so newly set up universities belong to the public sector (except for the Federal Urdu University and Virtual University)? Did the HEC help provide professional studies to the common man?

The answer sadly is no. The number of privately run universities has increased tenfold in the past decade, promising more financial burden on the common man. While Dr Atta ur Rehman, as chairman of the HEC, flew a Pakistani flag on his limousine, our higher education sector has transformed itself from publicly funded cheap education to privately run expensive education. Most of the universities today charge annual fees (of the order of hundreds of thousands) that an average man does not even earn in a year. How is he supposed to bear the expenses of his child’s education?

Professional education is expensive; while some universities may be extorting money, they need to provide quality education as well. Credit goes to the HEC for granting recognition to universities like Mohammad Ali Jinnah University (MAJU), which has its Islamabad campus on the mezzanine floor of a plaza in Blue Area. I wonder how one can complete a PhD in Electronics Engineering from there. There are numerous other examples of under-developed universities which have campuses inside shopping plazas and residential homes.

The reason for writing this piece remains the fact that education cheaply available to the general public has vanished. The public universities have shrunk the number of seats available to the general public by increasing the seats available for self supporting individuals. Gone are the days, when a poor bright student from Rajanpur could hope of completing his technical education in Lahore at a dime’s cost. A vast number of private universities also offer financial aid and scholarships but they can never be enough to support the huge number of students from poor backgrounds. The number of research papers published by Pakistani authors is not a claim to the HEC’s success, the number of students from poor backgrounds who benefited from its policies should be the staple of its success.

People in the engineering industry might know of Dr Shahid Bokhari’s resignation over the HEC’s policy of foreign faculty hiring, whereby a professor from overseas was hired at nine times the salary of a government professor. Bravo, HEC! An eminent scholar and IEEE-cited researcher left after 25 years of service to the nation.

Slowly, but surely, we have embraced elitism in our society. Secondary and higher secondary education is decaying at the cost of Beaconhouses, City Schools and Froebels. Higher education today serves the financially well off. I hope we someday hear the cry of the poor man and come to his help as well.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: shahid28@ee.ceme. edu.pk

Source: the News, 15/1/2009

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