LAHORE - The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has constituted a committee of top educationists to look into reasons for falling standards of higher education in the country and identify measures to improve the situation.

At a time when the federal and provincial higher education commissions lack harmony, academia is not sure the committee would be able to formulate recommendations and authorities would be able to implement them.

The decline in the standard of higher education was ‘diagnosed’ by the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC), the official body for selection of qualified people for important positions in all government departments.

The PPSC chairman had pointed out that candidates for posts of assistant professors and lecturers, with some exceptions, had a poor understanding of the subjects they had done their MPhil or Masters in. By way of illustration, he said in a letter to the chancellor that some of the candidates could not elaborate or defend their own theses they had got degrees in. Moreover, his letter also pointed out that PhD and MPhil theses on various topics could be purchased from various academies all over the country.

All public and private sector universities in the province were directed to take cognizance of unsavory practice of sale of degrees and introduce appropriate checks to put a stop to it in consultation with the respective parent departments.

When both the federal and provincial governments are fighting a tug of war on the higher education handling even after the parliament adopted 18th Amendment in the constitution, it seems that it would be another futile exercise, said a senior professor serving at the Punjab University on condition of anonymity.

Whenever the HEC Islamabad convened the VCs’ conference in Lahore, the Punjab government didn’t allow the varsity heads to attend the conference on higher education.

Ex-VC of UET Multan Dr Muhammad Zubair said that plagiarism was primarily a major issue in social sciences. He said the committee would never be able to boost educational standards. Giving solution, Dr Zubair said the HEC should restrain supervisors to six researchers. Currently, they are handling 30-40 students each, he said. Moreover, without promoting educational standards at school and college level, you can’t bring standards up at the varsity level. He said that semester system also damaged educational standards.

Another public sector varsity VC said on condition of anonymity that merit was badly ignored while posting university heads. He said the search committee ignored facts while preparing recommendations. He said that the search committee finalized candidates were facing legal fights in superior courts of law. He said the apex court had to interfere and remove Punjab University VC Dr Zakrya Zakir, LCWU VC Dr Uzma Quraishi and VCs of some public sector medical universities. When the appointed VCs didn't meet the criteria for top positions what good could be expected from the faculties working under them, he said. The inclusion of MPAs and other political figures in the syndicates added fuel to fire, he added.

A committee member said on condition of anonymity that a comprehensive policy on the issue would be prepared and forwarded to the government. He confessed that co-authors in any thesis usually grab marks for doing nothing. He said that plagiarism was a behavioral issue that can’t be controlled through software. He said that National Centre for Academic Integrity was established at PITB for this purpose.

A Punjab University teacher said almost a decade ago the HEC had introduced the Tenure Track Scheme (TTS) with the objective of qualitative research. Every fresh recruitment is being made through this system, which provides an attractive package to faculty members. For instance, assistant professors, associate professors and professors have their starting pay at Rs130,000, Rs195,000 and Rs292,000 per month, respectively, plus annual increments. He said almost all fresh recruitments on faculty positions are preferably made on the TTS. However, the TTS teachers ignored the HEC policy and opted for not only administrative positions but also taught in self-finance evening programmes. Resultantly, the HEC funding and programme to promote research badly failed.

HEC Punjab Chairman Dr Nizamuddin was not available for comments on the issue.