Greed not good for Pakistan academy's moral fibre

July 23, 2009

"Naked greed" provoked by massive investment in Pakistan's higher education system has lowered standards and "destroyed the moral fibre" of the academy.

This is the view of Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the department of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University and one of the country's leading scientists.

Writing in the International Higher Education journal, he says: "An enormous cash infusion has served to aggravate problems rather than improve teaching and research quality."

He claims that some Pakistani institutions "are recognisable as universities in name only" and that "naked greed is now destroying the moral fibre of Pakistan's academia".

Dr Hoodbhoy accepts that a 12-fold increase in public spending on university education between 1999 and 2008 has brought some positive changes. Improvements include expanded internet connectivity, a virtual university, a national digital library and the recruitment of some foreign faculty.

The number of universities has tripled, PhD studentships have "exploded" and salaries have "rocketed", he writes, before arguing that the emphasis on "numbers over all else" has damaged standards.

Dr Hoodbhoy argues that to benefit from higher wages, "professors are speedily removing all barriers to their promotions".

He says that his own institution has dropped the requirement that applicants for associate professor or professor positions give an open lecture as part of the process.

"This is mind-boggling," he writes. "Public presentations allow an applicant's subject competence and ability to communicate to be assessed by the academic community."

The council at Quaid-i-Azam also voted to drop the requirement that PhD candidates must pass the international Graduate Record Examination before they can receive their doctorates, as it "proved to be too difficult" for many - a "token" internal test will be used instead "to keep up appearances", Dr Hoodbhoy says.

He concludes: "The bottom line: how you spend matters much more than how much you spend. Let this be a lesson."

phil.baty@tsleducation.com.

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