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Highs & lows of higher education during 2008

The promise of the education sector
Karachi, Jan 03: Having witnessed the highs and lows of higher education during 2008, educationists remain confident of a prosperous 2009. The hope for a thriving year is premised upon the addition of several new departments, institutes and centralised laboratories in the public sector universities in 2008, especially in the University of Karachi (KU) and NED University of Engineering & Technology. Numerous conferences, seminars, workshops and symposium, both national and international, were also held during the past year, and helped ushering in optimism and increased confidence amongst teachers and students in the higher education sector.

The KU Pro Vice Chancellor, Dr Akhlaq Ahmed, regarded the past year as fruitful for the KU, as the Department of Mass Communication moved into its new building and Food & Science Technology is to follow the suit. "About 3,500 students and teachers from various universities were sent abroad for higher education. They have yet to return to their respective institutions. Hopefully their return will usher the universities to the era of higher educational standards accompanied by good discipline," claimed Ahmed.

"The KU currently has 150 to 200 PhDs. We need more and hopefully the 200 lecturers, who were inducted in the university, will be groomed to assume the mantle as university teachers. We have begun the grooming. Two workshops were held in 2008 and we intend to increase the number in coming years," he said.

The VC of Federal Urdu University for Arts, Science and Technology (FUUAST), Dr M. Qaiser, said that the institution was concentrating on improving the standard of education at the institute and getting used to operating as a university rather than a college.

Despite the optimism, there remain a number of critical issues regarding the sector. For starters, the Ministry of Education increased the percentage of education budget to 2.5 per cent from the meagre two per cent. "We need at least four per cent of the GNP to pull out the messy educational system to minimum acceptable standards," says Ahmed. "We need more if we want to be at par with other nations," he asserted.

Critically, the higher education sector in the country has also been threatened by new policies of the present government. Nearly 59 public sector universities are suffering from monetary crisis after the refusal of the federal finance ministry to release the Higher Education Commission's fourth quarterly installment of development and recurring grant worth over Rs8 billion for 2007-08. According to an HEC official, the government's step to withhold the HEC grant has created hurdles for public universities to carry on their projects.

"Grants and funds have however been provided to all higher learning institutions of the country for various projects as well as the payment of salaries to employees. The fourth quarterly installment was due in April, but not a single penny had been released on account of the grant so far. This will aggravate the situation at the public-sector universities. In the regard, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has also been approached, requesting him to intervene and get the grant released," a senior HEC official from Islamabad confided, who requested anonymity.

The withholding of HEC grants has affected major public-sector universities to a great extent. The KU is waiting for Rs220 million, the FUUAST is also to get its share of Rs70 million from HEC. Thus, the decision of the government to deprive the higher education sector from its required grants is being highly criticised in education circles of the country. Former HEC Chairman, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, lamented the intrusion of politics into the educational sector which is eradicating good work done by selfless people.

Furthermore, the financial crunch of the HEC has created enormous difficulties for students who had received HEC scholarships to study abroad. The continuous fall of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar is also contributing to the hardships being inflicted on the students.

Another issue that needs to be redressed in 2009 is plagiarism at higher learning institutions, including KU and University of Punjab (PU). Such cases were ignored by the universities and plagiarists continue to occupy the chair of their departments in universities, unashamed and unrepentant.

There also remains a need to increase the overall standard of education. While the lack of commitment from many teachers in universities added to the decline of educational standards and culture of apathy and disinterest among the students, Dr Akhlaq Ahmed also urged the government to divert its attention towards the primary and secondary education sector. "Students from schools hardly achieve the required standard of education. The same students reach colleges and universities, attain their Masters degrees but their standard is abjectly poor. How can we expect to enhance the educational standards if we continue to get such students?" he questioned.

Regardless, KU Vice Chancellor, Prof. Pirzada Qasim, is hopeful that the institute will manage to overcome the prevalent financial crunch in the industry, and believed that increased research patterns will form the basis of lifting the sector out of its slum. The new year will hopefully herald the dawn of a new beginning.


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SPLA slams hiring of retired officer as HEB chairman
Karachi: Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association (SPLA) expressed their concern over the appointment of Dr Fazal Haq Khursheed as Hyderabad Education Board Chairman in grade 20, a press release said on Friday.

In a joint statement, the central leadership of SPLA claimed that Dr Khursheed retired as a grade 19 officer in 2001 as Associate Professor. Criticising Sindh Government for overlooking existing employees, they questioned why retired people are hired for important positions in educational boards and universities.

They also criticised the dual policy of government, saying that on one hand, the government is claiming to replace On Pay Scale (OPS), low grade officers by senior officers but on the other, they are bestowing low grade officers by appointing them on important posts.

They also said that hundreds of officers are awaiting promotions for years while a retired officer of grade 19 has been promoted and appointed at grade 20 which is injustice to others. The central leadership also appealed Governor Sindh, Chief Minister Sindh, Chief Secretary Sindh and Sindh Education Minister to remove retired officers from educational boards and universities and help deserving officers get their right by appointing them at these posts.

Latest books for libraries in Lyari
Karachi: Lyari Town Nazim Mahmood Hashim asked officials to issue latest books to all the reading rooms and libraries in the area.

While visiting the old Mulla Fazil Hall Library along with other town officials on Friday, the Nazim said the textbooks will also be issued to these libraries so that the poor children who cannot afford to buy books can visit libraries and avail the facilities. He lauded the significant role of the libraries and said they have also played a key role in promoting reading habit among the book-loving folk and the town administration will like to promote this healthy culture. The News


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