Major reforms required to stem academic corruption

By Ahsan Jamil

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan was awarded the mission to integrate the concept of quality assurance in higher learning with enhanced levels of international compatibility through capacity building. And, to safeguard public interest by enforcing good practices in education and encouraging continuous improvement in the management of quality in higher education.

Along with public sector universities, private sector is also an exponential variable in education that absorbs much of responsibility of capacity building in various fields. But according to a list published by HEC on its website there are about 185 universities being operated in Pakistan without proper approval from concerned departments.

There is a mushroom growth of different disciplinary private higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country, majority of them are operating in unapproved conditions, which is sheer violation of HEC rules and regulations. The issue of quality has been identified as the major issue in these private HEIs.

Commenting on the situation while talking to Technology Times, Prof Dr. Manzoor H. Soomro, President, Economic Cooperation Organization Science Foundation (ECOSF) said, “There are certain higher education institutions and universities which lack infrastructure, faculty and facilities and yet lure many ordinary middle class students in the name of either a Foreign Degree or relatively cheap degree without much hard work in studies, mainly because of lenient regulatory mechanism and/or kickbacks involved”. He further added, “Pakistan has numerous standards in almost every aspect of life – products, processes etc. and education is no exception. This regulators need to be very strict with standards and quality monitoring mechanism in place”.

The root of all problems is the make money mindset of private institutions owners that has transformed the role of private HEIs from knowledge repositories to money making mills. The commercial benefit prioritization has led to dwindle the true spirit of imparting knowledge. Just for monetary gain, more than required students are often admitted to particular department that creates saturation in the job market when they pass out.

The lack of qualified faculty is another issue; there are only few universities that have ample number of PhDs and still most of the private HEIs entail inexperienced and less qualified faculty for cutting the financial outflow of the organization. No emphasize on academia industry linkage in private HEIs can be seen due to which the curriculum is outdated and the resource produced by these institutions lack the knowledge and skill requisite for industry due to which they lag miles behind.

According to a locally held survey, many of the campuses of private HEIs are located in congested arteries of the cities in different shopping malls as well as private apartments, and even private bungalows. These lack basic infrastructure of laboratories and research facilities and take hefty amounts from students in lieu of various charges i.e. medical insurance, sports etc.

The most horrific aspect of private HEIs is the issuance of Fake Degrees that attests the notion of money making farce. These kinds of bloopers also hurt the repute of serious contenders and private HEIs doing quality work in education sector. Therefore, immediate steps are needed to enhance the quality of output and efficiency of the higher education learning systems.

HEC has to shoulder prime responsibility for devising a filtration mechanism and frequently auditing the academic honesty of private HEIs. There are about 14 degree awarding private HEIs with 28 campuses across the country. Stringent policies for monitoring, regulation, and evaluation of degree awarding status to these institutions are mandatory to discourage the commercial mindset and produce knowledge hubs rather than shifting orientation to money making.

It is pertinent to mention that few months back the National Assembly Standing Committee on Federal Education and Professional Training has expressed their deep concern over the drastically risen number of private HEIs and their quality standards. The Committee urged HEC to take serious actions against these HEIs.

If private HEIs are not monitored and regulated properly; various fetters like saturation in particular field, worn-out curriculum, inadequate focus on skill development, saddling the students with additional charges, inexperienced faculty, below par research facilities are always obvious to germinate.

This is the high time to crack down against such private HEIs because a blanketed beast is still a beast and can`t be a bunny. The restoration of culture of academic honesty will implicate on national level as a consequence.

Beside all odds, there are number of contributions of some of private universities in producing excellent breed of engineers, scientists, doctors, researchers which played their paramount part in country`s progress. But unfortunately, there exist serious tribulations with private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) practices which have created a black hole in education system quashing upright outcomes to a great deal.

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