Recently, an important development in the higher education sector has been in the news — the release of the belated HEC report which needs some analysis and discussion. The opponents of the 18th Amendment in the constitution have been particularly targeting the devolution of education to provinces. The argument is that the provinces lack the capacity and expertise to deal with education especially at the tertiary levels. Moreover, the self-styled defenders of ‘national integrity’ have been having cramps on the possibility of provincial curricula that may, in their opinion, jeopardise the uniformity of ‘one Pakistani nation’.
The recent report mentioned above, has once again exposed the hollowness of such arguments, and the level of competence and expertise displayed at the federal level. The HEC annual report that — as the rubric suggests — should be prepared and released every year has come after a gap of three years. The last report had covered the period till 2013-14, and the recently released report should have come out in 2015. Even then the latest report of 2014-15 misses out on some of the vital information that an annual report should contain.
But first, some good points: the report starts with chapters on human resource development (HRD) and research and development (R&D). In the executive summary, the report informs us that almost Rs25 billion were allocated for 192 development projects including 12 projects for Balochistan. Almost 40 per cent of HEC funds were allocate for HRD and almost 27,000 scholarships were awarded. Of which, 193 overseas scholarships were awarded in 2014-15 whereas 89 scholars returned after completing their degrees. According to the report, 1530 scholars completed PhD degrees overseas and 57 under the HRD initiative-MS leading to PhD in Pakistani UETs.
The executive summary is so poorly written that it not only lacks the most important information about the higher education sector in Pakistan but also gives information in a confusing way. For example, where the summary talks about almost 27,000 scholarships it fails to mention whether this number is for students or teachers. In a very simple manner the number of scholarships for students and teachers could have been given separately. Similarly, when the summary mentions ‘192 projects including 15 for Balochistan’, it could have given the breakup for all provinces in a line or two.
When the summary mentions about 27,000 scholarships ‘of which 193 overseas scholarships awarded and 89 scholars returned’, again it fails to mention whether these 193 and 89 scholarships were for students or teachers; or which level is being discussed here, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral? Then in the next line it says, ‘1530 scholars completed their PhDs overseas in phase I and II’, so are these other than 193 and 89 mentioned in the previous line? And what was the duration of phase I and II? If phase I was earlier than 2014, why is it included in the report? Probably to cause more confusion.
The chapter on HRD informs us that 22 scholarship programmes are currently being implemented by the HRD division with an approved budget of over Rs70 billion. Now, the report does not mention what it means by currently, since the report is released in 2018, one would assume that they are talking about the present. The report does not mention anywhere the release date, neither does it apologize for the delay in reporting or explain any reasons. Then it goes on to mention indigenous scholarship to 421 scholars again without clarifying whether the scholars are students or teachers.
In the same executive summary, it is mentioned that ‘1246 research projects have been carried out since 2002’; and under the ‘Faculty Startup Research Grant Programme, 300 research projects worth Rs150 million were funded’. One wonders as to why in the summary the entire period from 2002 has been covered? Similarly, it says ‘around 13,292 faculty members and university management officials have been trained by HEC in order to further build their capacity’. Again it is not clear if this number is cumulative or just for the reporting period. The information is all jumbled up.
Ideally, from the HEC one would have expected a report developed and edited by high-quality professionals. First it should have come on time in 2015, and second it should have mentioned the reasons for the delay. If the HEC is a federal body, it should have given us the information about the state of higher education in the country, for example we fail to get from the report as to how many institutes of higher education were there in the reporting period; how many campuses were there all over the country; and what was the strength of the higher education sector in Pakistan in terms of students and teachers.
Rather than giving phases I and II from 2002, the HEC annual report should compare the data with the previous yearly report. Writing a good report is a professional’s job and writing an executive summary is even more so. The report fails to give us information about its own key departments or units such as Attestation and Accreditation, Statistics, Administration and Coordination. If we want to know how many cases of plagiarism were detected or reported in 2014-15, the report can’t help us. If you require information about how many new faculty members were hired or retired, or how many were in the tenure track system in the reporting period, again the report is silent.
Even more so is the information about the number of HEC-recognized journals in the reporting period, but you can’t get it from the report. Then there is an HEC governing body with an 18-member Commission, but the annual report does not make any mention of the total number of meetings and important decisions of the Commission during the reporting period. The HEC is essentially a commission with 18 members, so that it can be run in a transparent way in consultation with the commission members. But, the situation is that the commission meetings are not regularly held and the meeting minutes are not made public.
After the 18th Amendment in the constitution, ideally the HEC should confine itself to the maintenance of standards and through the new NFC Award the funds for higher education should be given to provincial authorities. At present, the HEC annual report does not even give the breakup of fund allocation at provincial level. The report is also silent about the implementation of the federal quota policy in employment within the HEC. One would like to know about how many senior positions are occupied by professionals from, let’s say, Sindh and Balochistan, but perhaps that information will jeopardize ‘national integrity’.
The purpose of this article was to give some tips on how the HEC report can be improved in future. The good work done by the HEC is appreciated, but a more professional and transparent approach is required in collecting and reporting the data. The provincial HECs should learn and produce much better annual reports to show that the argument about a lack of capacity at the provincial levels is false.