Higher Education Commission (HEC) golden period
The golden period
|Nov 24: For weeks now, I have followed the strange and mean campaigns of some Pakistani
scientists and politicians against the efforts of the Higher Education
Commission (HEC) and its former Chairman Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rahman.
are based on such meanness, malice or incompetence that as a friend of Pakistan
and being involved for almost 35 years in the higher education of this country
and having had the privilege of being one of the very few foreign scientists
honoured by the Government of Pakistan with Civil Awards, I feel obliged to
break my silence.
In 1974, when I was sent to Pakistan on an
identification trip by the German Government to look for a cooperation partner,
I visited about 15 heads of research institutions throughout Pakistan, and,
strongly disappointed, I found a vast scientific desert in the country:
sophisticated instruments, donations from abroad, out of order, empty libraries,
laboratories lacking chemicals and frustrated professors.
But there was
one exception, the so-called Postgraduate Institute of Chemistry, Karachi
University, founded by Prof Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and developed later by Dr
Atta, and I could only confirm the impressions of the journalist, late Azim
Kidwai, who wrote in Dawn: "One has to visit to believe it. There is at least
one scientific institution in Pakistan that is comparable to any of that breed
in the most-advanced countries; not only the way it is equipped and maintained,
but also the way, people work in it. There appears no element of lousiness.
Dedication, hard work, excellence pour into test tubes."
experiences made the selection of my cooperation partner easy. Based on my
700-page expert report, finally five million DM were granted by the German
government for the Karachi-Tuebingen Project. The overwhelming success of the
HEJ Research Institute in Karachi, Dr Atta's intellectual capacity, dedication
and enthusiasm about science and his keenness to eliminate lousiness and
ineptitude were the reasons for Prof Atta's merit-based nomination as minister
of Science and Technology and later on as federal minister and chairman of the
And a miracle happened. The scenario of education, science and
technology in Pakistan changed dramatically after Prof Atta's nomination as
never before in the history of Pakistan. The chairperson of the Senate Standing
Committee on Education recently announced it as "Pakistan's golden period in
Due to Dr Atta's efforts in a short period of two
years, between 2000 to 2002, Pakistan made spectacular progress in Information
Technology and became the first in the entire region to have its own education
satellite - Paksat 1 - in space.
In a short period of five years,
university enrolment almost tripled and efforts to promote research have
resulted in a 400 per cent increase in international publications and a 600 per
cent increase in foreign citations of the work of Pakistani authors. During
1947-2003, not a single university in Pakistan could be ranked among the top 600
of the world, but today three Pakistani universities belong to this prestigious
group, with the National University of Science and Technology at No 376 (Times,
Higher Education, UK rankings).
I remember visiting a number of libraries
in universities in Pakistan in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and one did not find
even half a dozen of the latest journals there. Today, under the HEC digital
library initiative, every public sector university has free access to over
25,000 of the latest international journals, 45,000 text books and research
monographs from 220 international publishers.
It is not an ordinary
thinking to bring the world's top universities within the boundaries of
Pakistan. I hope the visionary initiative of Dr Atta to establish foreign
technical universities in partnership with Germany, France, Italy, Sweden,
Austria, and China, will be enthusiastically implemented by the new government
and not shelved.
One of Dr Atta's most important achievements is the
excitement that he has been able to create in Pakistan's brightest youth to opt
for careers in education and research. Almost three thousand students have been
sent abroad for PhD to top universities in the world through the HEC scholarship
scheme. Dr Hoodbhoy is completely wrong when he criticises the selection process
for foreign scholarships and claims that the students sent abroad were
Almost half a dozen HEC PhD students worked under my guidance at
our university in Tuebingen. And so far none of them failed or left our
university without publishing work in journals of high repute. The HEC selection
process was completely transparent and merit-based with the final selection
being made by teams of eminent foreign professors who specially came to Pakistan
and personally had face to face interviews with potential candidates.
Atta's (enforced?) resignation as HEC chief was a shock for the scientific
community inside and outside Pakistan. Are the conclusions of the reports on the
evaluation of HEC by foreign analysts, funeral sermons for the end of Pakistan's
'Golden period in higher education?'
"We are impressed with the breadth,
scope, and depth of the reforms implemented by the HEC since 2002. No other
developing country we know has made such spectacular progress." (USAID
"I have worked in many countries in South America, the Middle
East, North Africa, and in Russia and India, over the last six years. None in my
view, with the exception of India, has the potential of Pakistan for the UK
university sector, largely because of the dynamic, strategic leadership of the
Chairman of HEC." (British Council report).
Day by day more and more
major concerns of university students are accumulating on the Internet, and I
would like to mention here only a few of them:
• "I am really feeling bad
that they cannot replace anyone who has capabilities like him. I am really
worried about the future of HEC and HEC scholars outside the country."
"The nation cannot afford the loss of Dr Atta as Chairman HEC. At present, there
is none equal to Dr Atta who can work for the betterment of higher education in
• "The education sector will feel like an orphan in the
absence of Dr Atta."
As I understood from the recent visit of our Foreign
Minister Walter Steinmeier, Pakistan is at present suffering from a financial
crisis. One of the criticisms against Dr Atta is that too much money has been
spent on higher education at the cost of lower education. In the last financial
year Rs248 billion were spent on nationwide education, of which only Rs28
billion (11 per cent of the total national education budget) went to higher
education, while Rs220 billion were spent on lower level education, and
according to the international norms, at least 25-30 per cent of the national
budget should be spent on higher education. However, reducing the budget for the
education sector would be the worst decision that could be made in Pakistan's
parliament: Education is the most effective remedy against terrorism; education
is the fundamental basis for the prosperity of a nation, what should be
supported with first priority by the government.
As a well-wisher of
Pakistan, I was greatly saddened by the completely unjustified criticisms of HEC
programmes. Pakistan should be grateful for the leadership provided by Dr Atta
in science and technology, information technology and higher education sectors
over the last eight years. He does not belong to any political party but is a
scientist of the highest international standing, and his eminence and political
neutrality is proved by the fact that he is the most decorated scientist of
Professor Atta-ur-Rahman grew up in an international scientific
community, he knows in detail about the needs of the students and scientists. He
wanted and still wants to realise a vision: to launch Pakistan's higher
education system from the platform of backwardness to a western state-of-the-art
level. It was to be expected that the seniors of the Pakistani scientific
establishment could mentally not follow the new era. Of course, fundamental
parliamentary decisions need some time to prove their suitability for the
nation, and then to become adapted to the needs of the country.
Atta is a visionary, yet his inspiring intellect would not allow him to overcome
insurmountable obstacles. He is receptive to criticism without losing his
unfailing courtesy and flexible to change his mind; but arguments must be
convincing. From my decades lasting experience with Pakistani bureaucracy, I
would foresee a national tragedy, if the new government fails to make use of the
unique expertise of one of Pakistan's brightest brains.
By Prof Dr Wolfgang Voelter
The writer, who has been decorated with the Hilal-i-Pakistan and Sitara-i-Pakistan, is a
professor at the Eberhard Karls University, Tuebingen, Germany
"Prof. Wolfgang Voelter writes: "As a well-wisher of Pakistan, I was greatly saddened by the completely unjustified criticisms of HEC programmes. Pakistan should be grateful for the leadership provided by Dr Atta..." I would like to ask him the following question: In this country of Pakistan, it is known to everyone how easy it is to classify any criticism as " completely unjustified criticism." In view of this known fact, could you please suggest some workable and practicable mechanism that allows healthy and constructive criticism of HECs policies and actions? Prof. Atta-ur-Rehmans stature as a scientist does not put him beyond accountability when it comes to the question of wisely spending the public money. I have been a keen reader of Prof. Hoodbhoys writings and disagree with you when you say that "Dr Hoodbhoy is completely wrong when he criticises the selection process for foreign scholarships." Hoodbhoys observations in this regard, seem perfectly rational to me."
City, Country: Rawalpindi, Pakistan
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HEC may come under ministry's control
Islamabad: The government is working on a plan to make the Higher
Education Commission (HEC) as one of the education ministry's subsidiary
departments, a source said on Saturday.
The HEC was set up in
September 2002 through a presidential ordinance as an autonomous organisation.
Under the ordinance, its chairperson was given the status of federal minister
and the executive director as federal secretary. The HEC replaced the University
Grants Commission which used to work under the education ministry.
government is increasingly working on a scheme of things whereby the HEC would
be managed both administratively and financially by the federal ministry of
education instead of its own chairperson and executive director," the official
For this purpose, the government has to repeal or amend the
existing ordinance according to which the HEC was made an independent department
with complete control over its administrative and financial matters, he
During the last one week, HEC's top officials have received clear
indications that soon they would be given under the control of Federal Minister
for Education Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, he said.
According to an education
ministry official, at present the ministry only controls schools and colleges
which fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Board of Intermediate and
Therefore, the ministry always wanted to bring the
HEC under its control. Now with its increased budget, the ministry is more
interested in looking after its affairs, said the official who requested not to
After the formation of the present government, the HEC came
under tough scrutiny for its increased budgetary allocations which had risen
from a few hundred millions of rupees in 2002 to over Rs30 billion during the
ongoing financial year.
The government not only imposed deep cuts on its
budgetary allocations but also remained indifferent to its future projects. The
government's intentions became clear in the first week of October when it asked
Dr Attaur Rehamn to resign as chairman HEC. So far, neither his resignation has
been accepted nor any appointment made to replace him.
At present, the
HEC is facing a deficit of Rs8 billion which is seriously affecting its
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