The academic epidemic

Around 8 months ago, I had the misfortune of meeting a lady who earns her living as an Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations at a major federal government university. In my brief and mostly forgettable encounter with her, I was subjected to a wide variety of completely ludicrous statements on Pakistani society, politics, and international affairs, with some of them being so mind-bogglingly inane that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her students.
Starting off from how Pakistan’s ‘national character’, (whatever that is), is unsuited to democracy, she veered off from the inane to the downright insane by claiming how western political science is worthless, how the world is still recovering from the ‘debris’ of the Ottoman Empire, and how there’s a need to understand politics in the light of Quran and Sunnah. As I write this down, as it gets printed, and as you folks read it, more innocent students are being subjected to her brand of ‘indie’ social science.
I was reminded of this encounter by a thread of emails between Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Physicist previously associated with Quaid-e-Azam University and now with LUMS, and Dr Javaid Leghari, the current head of the Higher Education Commission. The subject matter relates to the Physics dissertation of some student at Balochistan University, which discusses the ‘science’ of chromotheraphy, i.e. healing human beings through colors. Even to a completely non-science student like myself, the idea stinks of quackery and, as Dr Hoodbhoy puts it, crackpotism. What was more troubling – yes, more troubling than the fact that such things pass for intellectual discourse in this country – was that the supervisory board of this dissertation consisted of the current Vice Chancellor of QAU – the number 1 ranked university in Pakistan. And more troubling than even that was the HEC chairman’s reluctance to put his foot down, despite being given proof of academic fraud and shoddiness by Dr Amer Iqbal, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, and not one but two Physics Nobel Laureates.
What’s worrying is that the prevalence of academic fraud, plagiarism, and substandard output is not isolated to one, two or ten events. It is embedded into the higher education system in this country and it functions in constant perpetuity thanks to the standards, or lack thereof, of our existing academia. Between Hoodbhoy, Dr Isa Daudpota, and a few others, a number of such scams, frauds, and downright travesties have been unearthed over the last few years.
As a social science student, and as someone who wishes to be a part of higher education teaching and research in the near future, the level of this rot never ceases to amaze me. The incentive structure created by some universities, duly abetted by the HEC, i.e. giving money to professors for supervising students and publishing articles with no complementing monitoring mechanism, leads to outputs like the ones mentioned above.
More than that, thanks to the centralised nature of higher education, academia is treated as a defined career with incentivised rungs just waiting to be climbed – very much like being a civil servant or an army officer. There is no impulse amongst careerist professors, hailing from mostly conservative middle class backgrounds, to undertake their work with diligence as long as they’re getting their share from the higher education treasury. Little surprise then that the VC of our number one ranked university saw nothing wrong in approving a Physics dissertation that had nothing to do with the subject as the world understands it.
For a quick reality check, compare this to the case of India, where public sector education is flourishing, where their version of QAU, the Jawaharlal Nehru University, is constantly ranked as one of the greatest post-graduate institutions in Asia, if not the world, and most of all, where genuine, citable research is being produced on a regular basis.
The problem with higher education is not limited to just that particular sector. It has a spillover effect on the next generation of researchers, thinkers, and intellectuals; it has an impact on how we understand identity, history, politics, and our place in the modern world; and most of all, it has an impact on our struggle with economic underdevelopment, poverty, and inequality. The lady I mentioned at the start seemed very smug and proud at her assessment, and subsequent middle finger to the ideas of western political science but what she’s clearly unable to see is that the joke’s on her, her students, and consequently, on all of us.

The writer blogs at http://recycled-thought.blogspot.com. Email him at [email protected], or send a tweet @umairjava



23 Comments

  1. panzu said:

    Agreed. You should also do some research on the schools and teaching systems in Finland and Japan for your knowledge 🙂

  2. shakrullah khan said:

    The "lady who earns her living as an assistant professor" is no oddity : she is a true
    representative of the rotten state of our universities , and the intellctual calibre of the
    majority of our teachers . Billions of rupees pumped into the universities to uplift and expand them has produced little by way of positive results . The HEC spokespersons , including its former chaiman Dr Ataur Rahman , quote a lot of statistics about the post-gaduate programmes and the number of Phd's being
    produced as a result of their measures . But a scrutiny of these claims will show that
    most of the universities are indulging in gross malpractices as indicated by the cases quoted by the author . They are dealing with caes of plagiarism — not with the intention of exposing and punishing the offenders ,but
    to cover up the malpractices

    • Anon said:

      Feeling sad, thinking…

      "It has a spillover effect on the next generation of researchers, thinkers, and intellectuals; it has an impact on how we understand identity, history, politics, and our place in the modern world; and most of all, it has an impact on our struggle with economic underdevelopment, poverty, and inequality."

  3. Qaiser Shahzad said:

    I think we cannot rely totally on western political science and democratic system because it is man made system which has been evolving since existence of mankind. On that basis, the teacher of political science might be exaggerating in her comments but she cannot be disregarded completely

  4. Ali said:

    Wow…Mr. Author, why dont you abolish HEC and bring an end to all of this….? After all who needs a Higher Education Commission in the country run by people with fake degrees? we havent invented anything in the last 500 years, so whats the need now? because of 3-4 instances highlighted in the article, it becomes mandatory to get rid of HEC since we do not have time to reform ourselves… we need to destroy what is wrong immediately.. that is what the Taliban has taught us… they practice it in their own way… the liberals brag and boast in their own way… this article is no exeption….ironically, very seldom do we find balanced people in our society who raise their voice with logic and they propose solutions… most of the media is like this… only highlighting the issues but there is no one with enough intellect to propose viable solutions and reforms… useless article….

  5. Ahmad said:

    So, if a professor of Politics says she does not feel democracy can work in this country or Islam should play a major role in state;s affairs, she is ignorant and ludicrous and one should feel sorry for her students. Only a secular and liberal teacher can inspire and enlighten her students. Wow

  6. M. Iqbal said:

    Dear writer,
    First of all, let me say I appreciate your courage and confidence to express your thoughts. If you tell all your thoughts in this column to one of your friend while having a cup of coffee it would be O.K. But this newspaper is one of the most popular media in the country in English. That means your thoughts have a global range of readers. And that means you need more care on what you share on your column to intellectuals that may have wider horizon ro see the world.
    What I mean is, simply to remind, there are two aspects of everything: one is what we see and we think that we understand, the other is what most of us do not see (so cannot understand).The people who see (somehow) what others do not, we call ‘journalists’.
    Here what you have written is what anyone could see… Regards…

  7. Ammara Khwaja said:

    I am glad someone has come up with this topic ! I completely agree with the writer..most of our institutes are plagued by such incompetent tutors that it amazes me!
    A little off from the topic, this write up reminds me of the things I witnessed during my masters.. being taught by some of the most incompetent people who would walk into the class, discuss personal matters, give tips on how to sustain relationships, engage in some indecent talk and leave the class! Talking about the incompetency reminds me of an assistant who would walk in the class, having no knowledge of the subject and when asked some question, would have no answer at all! Such is the pathetic state of our so called elite and high class institutes..and all this happens right under the supervision of the dean and of course, HEC! There are plenty of examples I could quote here that clearly depict what sort of 'intellectuals' such universities are producing! I would blame the 65+ in age people running the educational departments who have no vision and mission except to attain wealth! When I opted to do my final thesis on social media related topic as my, I was discouraged to do so just because the higher ups did not understand the concept, hence I had to work on the medium with what my higher ups were familiar with i.e television!! So yes, unless these old babas are replaced by some true visionaries, there is no hope that we would come up with some intellectuals!

  8. Ali Mahmud said:

    Rubbish column….total waste of time… there is nothing of interest or something that we dont know about…

  9. Tango said:

    I support the lady he mentions and general instances of low research quality…..Mr Hood and the likes need to improve on their ideas, however they are generally right about the poor research standards.

  10. Suleeman said:

    You are very young dear.. If I were in your shoes, I would listen the academician more carefully and I'd try to meet her again to learn more.

  11. Tayyab said:

    Entire article is based on some email exchanges making rounds on social media. Although its hard to disagree with, what is written but one has to wonder where is the CREATIVE JOURNALISM here, entire research of the author starts and finishes with ONE SUPPOSED ENCOUNTER with a lady.

    No wonder the average academia take the easy route, if this is the creativity/research of the supposedly better lot.

  12. Shakil said:

    to check plagiarism, turnitin.com like tools are easy to catch such cheats. all the researcher and even at degree and masters level scholors should submit written material through such tools, this is the better way to deal with this intelectual theft. HEC should implement this as a regulatory need. So Pakistan can be filtered out such sham researchers and true research make its way to our universities.

  13. Yawar Saeed Khan said:

    Apart from his own opinion, the author has not presented a valid justification for readers to believe that the Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations at a major federal government university was indeed making "ludicrous", "inane" or even "insane' statements . This article is too opinionated. It does not present a convincing case despite that the topic might have been a good opportunity to exploit the weaknesses of HEC in Pakistan.

    Another instance where the author wants to make up the readers mind for them is about a dissertation on science’ of chromotheraphy. As the author confirms that he is "completely non-science student", on what merit can he question the validity of this dissertation and comment on the VC accepting it?

    This article could have presented the issues in HEC with more seriousnes if the author had kept to the topic, present credible references and not pass his own judgment on things as he percieves them.

  14. A'Majid said:

    A.Majid' A few months back I read a few words by a professor of international politics and I was impressed by his conclusion that ' we should better wake up now' . I strongly agree with the well written essay and do hope that critical thinking is developed in our educational system. As put by Churchill about U.N O.Even democracy is not meant to take us to paradise but the alternatives we have have been going through for more than half a century are even worse.According to a recent report by Dawn India is ten times ahead of us in education.As put by Professor Sana Ullah in an interview good education is as important for a human being as a gun is for a soldier.

  15. A'Majid said:

    A'majid.Due to the relevant importance of the issues involved I am inclined to add a few lines on the subject.A lot of people forget that foundations of the western politico..philosophic thought were laid down by the illustrious efforts of the muslim moors in Spain.Selfless efforts required for education are becoming foreign to the world in general and to Pakistan in particular.Recently Christopher Hedges was saying on TV in U.S.that our universities are working hard against our education' our judicial system is busy denying justice and our economic system is busy rendering the poor even more helpless.The blind worship of power is playing havoc everywhere and specially in Pakistan.A famous Urdu poet said hundreds of years ago that'' Kum hoga Dagh sa bhi makkar is jahan mein….us but pe shefta ho awr nam ley Khuda ka..

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  17. Ijaz Durrani said:

    Mr Umair Javed has committed a grave error of judgement .After the passage of 60%of his article a sentence commences with "five months ago –the next 2 sentences concern me and I must say that Mr Zahir Ebrahim has led Umair to the path of sheer travesty. That man Zahir committed criminal DMCA violation and criminal imputation. Had he ( ZE) been here in Pakistan I would have sued him to his last sinew. What UJ has done has violated the Policy and Tos of an estimable NP like PakistanToday. The webmaster or the author himself is requested to delete the three lines concerning me as they comprise of yellow journalism and border on criminality.
    Thanks. Dr Ijaz Durrani

  18. Ijaz Durrani said:

    Mr Umair Javed has committed a grave error of judgement .After the passage of 60%of his article a sentence commences with "five months ago –the next 2 sentences concern me and I must say that Mr Zahir Ebrahim has led Umair to the path of sheer travesty. That man Zahir committed criminal DMCA violation and criminal imputation. Had he ( ZE) been here in Pakistan I would have sued him to his last sinew. What UJ has done has violated the Policy and Tos of an estimable NP like PakistanToday. The webmaster or the author himself is requested to delete the three lines concerning me as they comprise of yellow journalism and border on criminality.

  19. Ijaz Durrani said:

    UNLESS UMAIR JAVED REDACTS HIS THREE OFFENDING LINES I WILL MOVE THE COURT OF LAW FOR WILFUL DEFAMATION!!

  20. Ijaz Durrani said:

    I don't even know Umair javed and yet he has the temerity and audacity to defame me. What sort of journalism is that . Is he paid to perform this criminality? UJ is just a waste of space a piece of meat who should have been well left unborn! Than to turn out to be a journalistic scrooge!

  21. @IJAZDURRANI1 said:

    About three months back para(5) was redacted as being fallacious both by the author and by the webmaster Pakistan Today! Suddenly it has appeared again. Not that it is of any consequence , but on googling my name it sticks out like a sore thumb and embarrasses and defames me quite needlessly. It should be considered redacted !

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