No sector has ever been subjected to so many reckless experiments as higher education, the cumulative effect of which is that our higher education, while lying as a bewildering welter of pre-colonial and colonial impulses, has lagged miles behind the goals and ideals of the 21st century.
To add to confusion further, HEC’s new undergraduate policy was introduced. One cannot help but be flabbergasted at the higgledy-piggledy, hotchpotch way the entire idea of undergraduate education has been worked out. Anyone having the slightest working knowledge of the worldwide trends in higher education will be stunned out of their wits at the wisdom of policy makers to have brushed off in an offhand way the key policy determinants that are rooted in our very ground realities. It is understandable, then, that it has drawn justified skepticism from various quarters who oppose sinking more money into what they see as a boondoggle of education.
The UGE policy 2020 came up with the purported objective to enhance the likelihood of success [sic].The policy further reads that the latter has to be realized through a scheme of studies to familiarize our undergrad students with a broad variety of fields of inquiry and approaches to knowledge in the 21st century. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the structural and functional areas of policy. The minimum requirement for a prospective student to qualify for a BS degree has been set at 120 credit hours in total, out of which a student is required to opt for general courses of 39 credits. The courses indispensable to all the specialized fields are supposed to be completed by the end of the fourth semester. The courses on general education have been categorized along the following lines: the first category is that of the Breadth Courses ranging over the broad disciplines of Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences, out of which two courses each have to be studied. The Foundational Skills Courses make up the second category consisting of 3 expository and 2 quantitative reasoning subjects. Two subjects each in Pakistan Studies and Islamiat fall within the scope of Civilizational courses.
The HEC prides itself on bringing in reforms that have streamlined higher education. Notwithstanding its claims, one may wonder how far along our higher education sector is with the trends and priorities of the 21st century. While dabbling with such consequential matters as higher education, the equation of policy with its marketability in the face of the peculiar tenor of the society has been left out of the equation with nonchalant abandon– an attitude, which betrays not just the naïveté, but arrogance, of those who are supposed to aggregate the divergent factors into policy formulation processes.
The cursory look at the foregoing policy reveals that the latter hardly rests on the ideals of objectivity and rationality. It fails to take note of the ractical constraints and institutional anomalies affecting Pakistan’s universities, the pillars of our higher education sector, which are creaking under the burden of drastic cuts in grants. It is something that many believe to be precipitating the unprecedented crisis in the universities already on a ventilator such that they might end up dead!
Any strenuous attempt at higher education reforms without factoring in elementary and secondary education is going to be a total fiasco. The universities will fare better provided that a holistic approach, incorporating the sustainable goals for tackling all the sectors of education system including technical and vocational ones, is solemnly visualized.
Firstly, our universities are incredibly ill-equipped to acclimate to the new scheme for couple of more reasons– the unavailability of surplus faculty for teaching such technical subjects galore as Philosophy, Logic, Critical Thinking, Psychology, and Regional Languages, and financial limitations to hire teachers for a litany of courses of general education, to name but tw. The personal observations further reveal that more often than not, students are faced with a Hobson’s Choice between X and Y or Y and X, that is, no alternative at all for opting from the pool of general courses.
Even worse, the so-called UGE policy continues to pose technical conundrums for our professors and those heading various academic departments, hence leaving different stakeholders flummoxed about the letter and spirit of the said policy. When there is not a single agreed definition of the UGE policy, how can there be any consensus about its implementation? Resultantly, we see no rhyme or reason to nonsense cloaked in the garb of the UGE being imposed upon our students.
Secondly, the availability of faculty in terms of both quantity and quality presents rather a nightmarish picture of the existing public sector institutions. At present, as paltry a figure as just 25 percent faculty members are PhDs. To worsen the situation further, academic terrorism with the thriving fraudulent research industry is rampant across the Pakistani universities. You will find everything but a meaningful research culture therein!
Thirdly, any strenuous attempt at higher education reforms without factoring in elementary and secondary education is going to be a total fiasco. The universities will fare better provided that a holistic approach, incorporating the sustainable goals for tackling all the sectors of education system including technical and vocational ones, is solemnly visualized.