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Air University third Convocation 2012

Degrees conferred on 559 students
Islamabad, July 16: The third convocation of the Air University was held at the Jinnah Convention Centre, Islamabad on Saturday. Bachelors and Masters degrees of various educational disciplines in engineering and administration programmes were conferred upon 595 students. The chief guest awarded 26 Gold and 19 silver medals to the position-holders.

Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force who is also Chairman Board of Governors of the Air University was the chief guest.

Addressing the ceremony, the chief guest said, "The extension of Air University's programmes from the disciplines of engineering to administrative sciences, basic and applied sciences as well as social sciences is a clear manifestation of its keenness to serve the nation through contributions in diverse fields of education. With its focus on discipline and ethics, Air University is providing an atmosphere that is conducive for learning. I am very happy to note that this congenial environment of the University is promoting quality education and effective citizenship".

He further said, "Universities are gate ways of authentic information, and its lateral flow to the industry is essential for the benefit of society at large. I am glad to note that Air University is actively involved in this vital pursuit".

Congratulating the graduating students, their parents and the Air University faculty, the chief guest said that it is their hard work that has made this day of rewards possible, and has led the University in making exponential progress and building up a solid reputation as an academic institution.

Earlier, Dr Ijaz Ahmad Malik, Vice Chancellor of the Air University, in his welcome address expressed that the Air University laid emphasis on quality enhancement in education, research and development, and character building of students, who actively participated in all the curricular and co-curricular activities. The news

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Foreign Faculty Programme shelved unceremoniously
Islamabad: In the year since devolution, one silent victim in the shuffle of government departments and ministries has been the Foreign Faculty Programme of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

The latest news is that the Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme (FFHP), one of the most popular and controversial programmes of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, will be shelved by December 2012. The programme's administration has already informed scholars who were recruited under the FFHP and are teaching in universities all over Pakistanthat their contract will not be extended because of a shortage of funds.

But even after nine years of the programme, no consensus has developed over its usefulness and the decision to end it has been met with an abnormal silence, as neither its proponents or opponents have risen up to take action on the decision.The Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme, was launched by the HEC in November 2003 to "provide qualified research academics and Ph.D. supervisors in higher education in Pakistan to overcome the shortage of qualified professors to teach higher level courses and supervise PhDs," explained Murtaza Noor, media coordinator of the HEC.

"The foreign faculty is thus expected to supervise world-class graduate level research and bring cutting-edge research and technology to higher education institutions. The hope was that in the long-term, this would improve the quality of graduate education in Pakistani universities and bring them up to international standards," he said.

The programme has certainly been dynamic and faced its share of criticism.

By 2012, 594 foreign professors have been hired under the FFHP. Of them 319 were hired for long periods (2 or 4 years), while the rest came under its shorter duration option for a semester or two. Thirteen foreign professors are currently working under the programme and 206 professors have returned to their parent organisations after completing their tenure under FFHP.

In total, 1,500 foreign professors have taught under the programme over the nine years of its duration.

For the HEC, the numbers are evidence of the contribution that the programme has made to higher education and its officials claims that the FFHP has proven instrumental in raising academic and research standards of higher education institutions.

As proof, HEC cites the Government College Universitys Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences (ASSMS). The school has a number of foreign faculty professors driving it and has produced 38 PhDs. It has a current enrolment of 127 and averages graduation of 20 PhDs a year. Most importantly, it has been recognised internationally for its high
standards and original research.

But the HEC also takes credit for the Nust Center of Virology and Immunology that has been set up by the efforts of a foreign faculty professor who only ended up getting mired in controversy over charges of financial mismanagement and plagiarism. Both charges were later sorted out, but such repeated instances show that the programme has had its share of ups and downs and not all, not even most, have been supportive of its operation.

Those who object to the programme raise some fundamental questions on issues of quality and the hiring criteria. Doctor Pervez Hoodbhoy, for example, has been a vocal critic of the programme and has pointed out laxities in HEC's hiring process and enormous wastage.

Many of the foreign faculty members turned out to be just overseas Pakistanis who were enjoying paid holidays in Pakistan through the programme. Many of the others came from Russia, China or East European countries and did not have a strong enough command on English to teach and inspire, even if they were good researchers.

"A foreign faculty member was appointed in a university at Peshawareven though the university did not even have a department related to his field of specialization. The professor says that he will pass time and leave," narrated Mr Hoodbhoy as an example of HEC's flawed selection process.

A lot of scandals that have arisen regarding foreign faculty have also been result of sheer jealousy by local faculty members.

An officer of HEC said: "Local faculty members object that they are no less competent than Foreign Faculty Members (FFM) but still get lower salaries," and added, "Two foreign faculty professors Dr Nizam and Dr Mukhtar have been promoted to become Vice Chancellors of Universities, so local faculty members also feel that their opportunity to be promoted has been denied."

Such controversies surrounding the programme have affected its image and put in question the research and PhDs of hundreds of students who worked under the supervision of foreign faculty professors as well as the local professors who seem resistant of outside efforts to bring up education standards and possibly expose their own incompetence.

This is especially important considering the fact that students approve the programme when asked about it.

Professor Iftikhar Ahmad, a student of PhD confirmed that at least foreign faculty professors seem more dedicated than their local peers:

"Foreign faculty professors give more attention to the students as compared to the more locally experienced professors. Those who come from abroad have much more mental grooming and they never feel jealous of their students," he said.

But the fact remains that as the programme's end has been announced, there is hardly any hue or cry about the closure. Perhaps one reason is that there has been no evaluation of the programme or third party findings about the impact of the programme, and its success or failure remains a subjective opinion.

Expert critique has been that the FFHP is good in principle and it is just the implementation that has been the problem.

But given that the programme has been shelved, without debate, like it was implemented for nine years, without much debate, its closure remains an ambiguous and muted controversy as another opportunity to improve higher education standards is lost.

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Urdu varsity still without own building
Islamabad: Even 10 years after the establishment of the Federal Urdu University, successive governments have failed to allocate funds for the construction of its building.

Set up in 2002, the university with an enrolment of about 3,700 students is running in a rented building owned by Iesco, which now has issued a notice to the institution to vacate it after expiry of the 10-year period.

According to sources, as the number of students is increasing, there is no open space on the premises forcing them to spend most of the time sitting on the stairs, at the entrance and in front of offices.

A professor of the university said the minimum requirement of land for the campus was 80 kanals which the management had purchased in Chak Shahzad. The PC-1, worth Rs830 million, was also prepared for construction of the building with the capacity to accommodate 4,000 students.

"The Higher Education Commission (HEC) paid Rs8 million for construction of the boundary wall but grant for the building could not be released," he said.

According to the PC-1, the building should have been constructed in three years, he said.

Mohammad Faisal, a student of the university, said the HEC had put the university at No 5 in its ranking which showed that the students were performing well and could do much better if all the facilities were provided to them.

"Because of the congested environment, the students are suffering. There should be proper sitting area, grounds, canteens and other facilities," he said.

Nawaz Jillani, the public relations officer of the university, said that in 2007 the Pakistan Engineering Council had refused to give accreditation to the university due to which the students launched protests. At that time, the HEC allocated Rs80 million to the university for purchase of equipment but now we have no funds for construction of the building.

He confirmed that Iesco had sent notices to the university to vacate the building but the management had no other alternative.

"We are trying to find a solution to the issue or enter into another agreement with Iesco to remain in the building," he said.

A faculty member requesting not to be named said the name of the university had become a problem. He claimed that some elements in Karachi did not want the Urdu University to flourish in Islamabad. He added: "We had a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the chairman of the university, and raised the issue of funds with him. The president agreed to provide the required amount but later a message was conveyed to us that we have to convince the governor of Sindh for construction of the building. The Sindh governor has noting to do with the Islamabad campus," he said.

Professor Dr Zahid Saleem, a member of the university management, said that despite repeated efforts funds could not be allocated for the campus.

"We know that both the students and faculty members are facing problems, so we might go for a public-private partnership to construct the building. But the first priority is to get funds from the government," he said.

Adviser to HEC Riaz Qureshi said they were not getting funds for development projects due to which a number of projects, including that of the Urdu University, were pending. Dawn

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