Quality research in Pakistani universities

Friday / Jan 11 2013

Newspaper : The Express Tribune

In an article entitled “Let’s stop promoting corruption in Pakistani universities”, Mr Pervez Hoodbhoy, (The Express Tribune dated January 5, 2013) has chosen to criticise the quality of the research output of our universities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The various allegations of Mr Hoodbhoy made in the same vein in numerous newspaper articles during the last decade have been firmly rejected by neutral foreign experts after year-long reviews of the dramatic progress made by Pakistan in the quality of education and research. Indeed, Pakistan has won a number of international awards for these achievements including the prestigious TWAS (Italy) award and the highest civil award of the government of Austria. The remarkable progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector is documented in detailed reviews carried out by various respected organisations and academics amongst others.

After careful evaluation of the higher education sector, Professor Michael Rode, chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development, wrote in 2008: “Never before have I seen such rapid positive changes in any country in the higher education sector as witnessed in Pakistan in a short period of six years. Around the world when we discuss the status of higher education in different countries, there is unanimity of opinion that the developing country that has made the most rapid progress internationally in recent years is Pakistan … . The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that (the) policy and programme is a ‘best-practice’ example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.”

An independent senior US educational expert, Professor Fred Hayward, after careful analysis of this sector on behalf of USAID wrote: “Since 2002, a number of extraordinary changes have taken place. The HEC instituted major upgrades for laboratories and information and communications technology, rehabilitation of facilities, expansion of research support, and development of one of the best digital libraries in the region. Its successes have been remarkable.”

The claims of Mr Hoodbhoy that plagiarism was promoted by the policies of the HEC are sheer nonsense. Admittedly, there were a few stray cases of ‘cut and paste’ research articles (plagiarism) but the HEC acted swiftly to put a stop to it. To generalise and make sweeping criticisms on the basis of a couple of happenings is wrong. Indeed Pakistan is probably the only country with a nationwide system in operation to detect cheating in research papers. A software (‘ithenticate’/ ‘turnitin’) was introduced in every university to check the theses and research papers regarding any illegally copied materials. A watchdog unit was also established within the HEC, and out of the 14,000 international research publications during 2011 and 2012, no cases of plagiarism were detected. In order to enhance the quality of teaching and research, about 84 quality assurance cells were established in all public sector universities.

Today, six of our universities are ranked among the top 500 of the world. During 1947-2003, prior to the establishment of the HEC, not a single university could achieve this distinction. In 2012, About 8,000 research papers were published from Pakistan, overtaking India in terms of research output per million population — a historic achievement.

In the final analysis, it is the views of neutral external experts who have carried out peer reviews of our higher education system and documented them in comprehensive and voluminous reports about remarkable changes in the landscape of higher education in Pakistan that must be believed rather than the maverick views of Mr Hoodbhoy whose contract at LUMS was not renewed because of his lack of performance and productivity.