Analysis: Pakistani Colleges collapse
June 2008: The real challenge for the Pakistani college is transforming itself into a
dynamic, vibrant and innovative place of high quality learning. This will
require great material and faculty resources, autonomy and conversion to a
four-year undergraduate programme.
Colleges at the district level have
traditionally played a critical role in our education system, particularly in
preparing young graduates for professional degrees - mainly in medicine and
engineering. The brightest of high school graduates still enrol in natural
sciences at these colleges with the hope that they would be admitted to the most
competitive medical and engineering universities of the country.
years are formative for any student. The college is a place of dreams, hope and
self-discovery; it is at this stage that young individuals form ideas about who
they are and what they would make of their lives.
The young student
enters a new, larger social world at college after leaving the disciplined,
narrow and familiar environment of a rural or town high school. The college,
compared to the high school, provides greater freedom, social space and
opportunities to meet people from different areas, regions and social
For most students, entering college is the first time that
they experience diversity in their cultural orientations, values, thoughts and
ideas. But this diversity is not universal, as more colleges have opened at
local levels than was the case when my generation went to
Entering college is also a time of great personal transition for
a young person from the smaller world of the village, town or city sector to a
larger intellectual and social world.
I am not highlighting the
importance of college education with reference to Pakistan alone. The
foundational role of college education is universally acknowledged, and for that
reason attracts greater attention of the state and society.
One of the
most tragic aspects of our educational system is that we have continuously
neglected college education. Conditions in colleges are worse than any other
tier of the system. The internal structures of governance, academic discipline
and accountability present a sorry state of affairs. The intrusive presence of
religious, ethnic and even mainstream political parties has further diminished
the capacity of the college to reform itself. Curricula remain
The Pakistani college is no longer comparable to the standards,
innovation, creativity and high quality of instruction of similar institutions
of fast growing developing countries, let alone the modern world.
are the major issues in college education? Who is really responsible for the
collapse of the college? What can be done to lift college education to an
The design of the college is absolutely outmoded
and archaic. Advanced industrial countries concentrate on undergraduate
education offered by colleges and universities. Colleges in Canada and the
United States offer four-year undergraduate programmes, which are rigorous,
diverse in disciplines and of great quality. British and Australian universities
have equally outstanding undergraduate programmes. Even most developing
countries have greatly reformed their college education by restructuring
curricula, introducing diversity in disciplines and raising the quality of
Compared to what one learns at modern colleges in the West,
our colleges hardly offer much except for the outmoded curriculum and the old
obsolete ways of delivering it. In the western world, each college awards its
own degree; very few of them are affiliated with a major university. They are
mostly stand-alone institutions.
In our case, since the colonial times,
the college has been delivering a curriculum designed by a Board of Secondary
Education at FA and FSc level, and by a university at the BA level or higher
Why? Colleges don't have any capacity to offer a degree on their
own. Over the past ten years, some colleges, mostly in the Punjab, have been
granted degree-awarding status. But even in their case, it is the same
curriculum that they inherited from former universities.
challenge for the Pakistani college is transforming itself into a dynamic,
vibrant and innovative place of high quality learning. This will require great
material and faculty resources, autonomy and conversion to a four-year
undergraduate programme. At least one college in each district must be developed
into a four-year undergraduate institution. It is a daunting task but there is
no escape if we want to provide quality education to the poorer sections of the
society and make them competitive in the job market.
The idea of an
autonomous college with a charter of its own looks very radical in the objective
conditions of Pakistan today, but nothing short of a revolution in college
education will bring about any major change in the society. Reforming college
education is an urgent task for giving the poor a level playing field for
economic and social mobility. Further delay in college reform will push
graduates of government run colleges out of the job market; they are already at
the margins because the private job market gives greater value to graduates of
private colleges and universities.
While it is pertinent to be critical
of the state for its neglect of the colleges, the two internal stakeholders of
the college system - faculty and students - cannot escape responsibility for
poor standards. No college or university can perform without good governance
practices, robust processes and academic accountability of instructors. The
system of governance in Pakistani colleges is so weak and poor that it cannot
hold accountable teachers that remain absent from classes, engage in businesses
or force students to pay for extra tuition. The office of college principal,
once high in social and academic standing, has declined in its prestige.
Principals have no vision, leadership quality or courage to question absentee
faculty or the 'tuition mafia' at colleges. They are just members of the pack,
and survive by capitulation to politically connected faculty members at the
The student body at the college level has also lost out to
political activists who organise around ethnicity, religion or a political
party. Leaders of these student groups function as violent gang members; they
are armed and often use violence to intimidate students to remain silent.
The Pakistani college is a grave mess; a nightmare for any reformer. But
that should awaken us to the need for bold and courageous initiatives to reform
college education instead of turning a blind eye to this bitter
Rasul Bakhsh Rais
Dr Rasul Baksh Rais is author of Recovering the Frontier
State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington
Books 2008) and a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of
Management Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com. This article is
part of a series examining the education system of Pakistan - Daily Times
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