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Why higher education in Pakistan?

November: The expansion of higher education in Pakistan has become a hotly debated issue. It is argued that higher education adds to a nation's skilled labour force.

Talented managers provide innovative leadership; engineers and scientists are scientific innovators and develop new products; and teaching professionals prepare the young for future development.
Those with advanced degrees contribute to higher labour-force productivity, production and national income because research and development (R&D) activities in industry, as well as in universities, are undertaken largely by those with a university education.

Recent evidence from many countries points to high social rates of return from R&D by universities. Greater social cohesion and strengthened foundations for democracy that promote property rights and help enforce law and order - necessary conditions to create incentives for innovation - are added social benefits of higher education.

Development economists agree that an atmosphere that promotes innovation is necessary for sustained economic development. Indeed, the children of educated parents grow up with a greater awareness of the value of investment in education.

Lastly, expanding university education leads to lower per student costs as the fixed set-up costs involved in establishing infrastructure are divided over a larger body of students, in turn raising the social rates of return on investment in a university degree.

Considering the centrality of higher education in human and economic development, it is surprising that only since 2002 has post-secondary education in Pakistan received attention in public sector planning. The government doubled the share of post-secondary education in the education budget to 13.7 per cent by 2005-06, resulting in expanded public universities and colleges across the country and a more than twofold increase in student enrolment.

The HEC replaced the somnolent University Grants Commission, signalling increased public sector involvement in higher education which was too important to be left to the private sector, which could not adequately capture the associated substantial external economies. In a way, the change reflected an understanding of social dynamics and helped human capital formation.

Funds allocated to higher education have been used to increase the academic activities of public sector universities within the Medium-Term Development Framework 2005, which aimed at faculty development, access to higher education and promotion of excellence in learning and research. To achieve these core objectives the plan advocated a massive investment in human capital. Since then many objectives have been achieved, though challenges remain.

Thanks to the HEC's efforts most universities, though initially unable to adequately handle the larger allocations, now have state-of-the-art computer technology, and more monetary and non-monetary incentives are now available for university teachers to perform better. Highly qualified professors who were forced to retire have been brought back. Financial support has helped universities attract qualified foreign faculty on short-term and long-term contracts, giving students and local faculties more exposure to international academics. Further, visits by Nobel laureates have been arranged to broaden the learning experience of faculties and students. As a result many university students now aspire to join the teaching profession, where salaries are now competitive.

A recent study shows Pakistan undergoing a demographic transition due to its declining population growth, causing a change in the country's age structure. The percentage of the secondary and pre-secondary school-age population will continue to decline while that of the post-secondary school-age population (18-24 year olds) will rise until 2050. Pakistan can benefit from this demographic dividend only by planning ahead and continuing its emphasis on post-secondary education. Countries like South Korea have exploited their demographic dividend by investing heavily in higher education. It is now a question of our ability to meet the challenges of economic development and social change, especially in a globalised world.

Based on the current low student participation rate of 2.5 per cent (the percentage of the population aged 18-24 attending post-secondary institutions) and the projected population increase, approximately 450,000 new students will enter our post-secondary institutes in 2010. The government aims to double this rate (as per the statement of the president of Pakistan). However, given the constraints of the existing physical and human resources, investment must be made in capacity-creation to meet the future growth in both the supply of and the demand for higher education. We estimate that would mean at least doubling the present allocation toward current expenses in the higher education sector. Incidentally, a five per cent student participation rate is still too low by international standards. India's rate is 12 per cent and is expected to increase. South Korea's is 68 per cent.

New initiatives must be explored while keeping a balance between allocations to various academic disciplines. An engineering university student receives about 2.4 times more, and one enrolled in a medical university receives 1.3 times more, allocation than does a general university student. Engineers, doctors and other scientists are perceived to contribute more to economic growth than graduates in arts, humanities, and social sciences.

However, the preliminary findings of a study at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology show that the economic returns on general degrees are comparable to engineering and medical degrees. University research and teaching in science, engineering and medicine are necessary for industrial growth but the fields of social sciences, management science and humanities are important for social, economic and political development. Perhaps it is here that a change in the direction of policy is needed in the HEC's overall priorities.

The projected demand for higher education in Pakistan and the role that the HEC has played since its creation indicate that policies implemented in the past seven years or so should be continued, and where change becomes necessary it should be incremental rather than radical. This is how societies and institutions have developed in advanced countries over the last two centuries. This is how they will develop in Pakistan too.

It is a necessity for the advancement of our growing population of youth if Pakistan is to keep pace with the rapidly globalising world - in which, like in Alice in Wonderland, one must keep running just to stay in the same place. To outdo others is a bigger challenge and will require running even faster.

By Syed Ather Hussain Akbari & Syed Nawab Haider Naqvi
The writers are respectively professor at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, and director general, Federal Urdu University, Islamabad. (Dawn)

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HEC moves reinstatement of students union summary to education minister
Islamabad: Higher Education Commission has forwarded a summery regarding reinstatement of students union to Minister of Education, Mir Hazar Khan Bajrani.

The text of the summery revealed that reinstatement of students union is needed a transparent process, which must be different from the bitter past experiences, the authentic sources said.

It was also mentioned in the summery that in order to keep the environment peaceful in the campuses, it is necessary that intervention of political parties must be banned strictly. According to the criterion only those students having good academic record would be able to take part in the election process besides in the good book of the administration, the sources further revealed.

The sources said summery also introduced a check and balance formula among the stake holders-three parties-students, teachers and non-academic staff (Employees). It was further suggested in the summery that students' intervention in administrative decisions should also be restricted.

"If a disciplinary action would be taken against any students by the administration, students union could not be able to challenge it on the platform of the 'Students Union', the source maintained.

Earlier, HEC had established a committee to implement Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani's decision to reinstate the students union. According to the HEC officials claims, summery was prepared after complete consultation of all the stakeholders, as the said committee was consisted over teachers, students and parliamentarians.

"HEC was facing massive criticism from some MPs of the ruling coalition to complete its work as earlier as possible", the sources further informed. In this regard when contacted to the HEC, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, Member Operations and Planning Department, while confirming the news regarding reinstatement of Students Union summery , said that HEC did complete its work on the students' union proposal that how to regulate the students politics.

He further informed that summary was forwarded even before the appointment of Federal Minister for Education Mir Hazar Khan Bajrani.

To a quarry, he was of the view that now it was on the end of the Ministry of Education when 'Students Union' would be made functional, as his department did its work accordingly. He said that it was a wrong perception that HEC was becoming a hurdle in the way of reinstatement of the 'Students Union'. He said that HEC never opposed the idea of restore the 'Students Union' but yes there were some reservations in this regard but after complete consultation now the summery has been forwarded to the Education Ministry.The Nation

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IIU staff still not paid 20pc pay raise
Islamabad: The employees of the International Islamic University (IIU) are yet to get the 20 per cent pay raise announced in the federal budget of the current financial year.

The University Staff Welfare Association at a meeting on Friday protested against both the university administration and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for not paying them the pay increase even after four months.

"When we go to the university administration, they say due to unavailability of funds from the HEC, the pay raise could not be provided to the employees. Interestingly, they ask us to approach the HEC and get the funds released so that the increased salaries could be paid to the employees," Imtiaz Azeem, chairman USWA said.

He said the government has reinstated thousands of employees with full financial benefits and would pay them their arrears since 1993; however, it is not willing to give us our pay raise.

On the one hand the university administration says it does not have funds to pay the staff their salaries and on the other it is busy employing new staff on contractual basis, Mr Azeem said, adding they would go on an indefinite strike if the university did not raise their salaries as declared by the government. Dawn

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