Pakistan’s “Intellectual Rubble”: Learning the Hard Way

“Newsweek”: this week reports that while American universities have become models of sucess, universities and colleges in the rest of the world are fast failing. The problems range from too many students – lack of space in a Roman college had classes being held in tents, garages, and porn theaters (and they say do as the Romans do!) – to too few students and facilities.

Pakistan has it’s own special problems, the article notes:

bq. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a noted professor of nuclear physics at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, visits a top American university for several months every year — most recently Stanford and MIT — to do research. He�s even more outraged than before about the sorry state of his country�s universities, which he describes as “intellectual rubble.” That may sound harsh, but few Pakistani academics would disagree. The problems are many: a dearth of qualified faculty, students ill-prepared by a dismal public-education system, an often incompetent university bureaucracy and blatant government intervention. “On campuses, serious discussion of scientific, philosophic, social or political issues is virtually nonexistent,” he says. “It is difficult to imagine a system in the modern world which had a greater antipathy to intellectual inquiry than the one which presently exists in Pakistan.”
» “Learning the Hard Way”: Newsweek International Sept. 15 issue.

The problem ultimately boils down to money, namely the system of funding. Public universities such as “Karachi University”: face the brunt of it, with limited public funds available, or being made available. Cambridge and Oxford University in England face a similar problem, with low tuition fees and limited private funding.

The Task Force on the Improvement on Higher Education in Pakistan in it’s report to the Ministry of Education outlined the problems:

# Inefficient use of available resources.
# Inadequate funding.
# Ineffective governance, management and recruitment practices.
# Politicisation of the educational system, faculty and students.
# Inadequate provisions for research.
# Inadequate incentives for performance and development of faculty.

Under the recommendations of the Task Force, the MoE went forth to replace the Universities Grants Commision with the Higher Education Commision, in the hope that the HEC will enable universites to move forward.

h4. TIP. Intellectual Heaven or still Young and Learning

Where does the Textile Institute of Pakistan stand in all this? “TIP”: was established under public funding (see “Support for Skills Development & Infrastructure Strengthening”: as a private not-for-profit institution to meet the needs of the textile industry. Given the track record of other private universities established on similar grounds — The Aga Khan University and Lahore University of Management Sciences, established 1983 and 1985 respectively — TIP’s future is very bright. Similar to AKU and LUMS, TIP is supported by donors and income from its own operations.

While TIP does not face many of the problems faced by public universites in Pakistan, there are some items in the Task Force’s report that may be a reason for concern.

# Inadequate funding.
# Inadequate provisions for research.
# Inadequate incentives for performance and development of faculty.

h5. Funding?

We know that TIP tries to meet it’s operational costs through tuition fees (Rs.66,000 per semester) but with still too few students, it falls far short. The National Textile Federation (NTF) as TIP’s trust body meets the remaining costs, as well as providing sponsorship for 30 students. But where does the rest of our funding come from? The money from the initial grant EPB gave us, Rs. 50 million, has been all spent on infrastructural development. However, our infrastructural developement is still not complete and has been put on hold due to good reasons as outlined at the President’s speech at Graduation 2003.

Some funding comes in through donors. However, students are not generally aware of any donations. An example is the rapier loom donated Spring 2003 by Siddiqsons, a large integrated textile mill. While students thought that the donation came forth when the CEO saw the ancient shuttle loom in the weaving lab, it was actually suggested to him by TIP’s President, Mr. Shakel Ahmed. Many students were genuinely superised to hear of the donation. The news, if reported by the then student newspaper, was low profile.

It leaves one wondering, how actively does TIP pursue such endowments? Did our public relations people spread the news to the textile industry hinting that they too can donate equipment to TIP? Or did our Board, or NTF’s or APTMA’s Board spread the news? What about other venues for fund-raising?

Update: At TIP, the only person pursuing endowments is Mr. Shakel Ahmed, TIP’s President. Should we have a whole department looking into donations?

h5. Research and Faculty Development

Next, where can our funds go? As TIP approaches it’s tenth anniversary, we have no research to show for it. While the previous decade can be easily forgiven, what about the next? The question here is; are our students and faculty being encouraged to do research, and if so, do they have the time for it? Each teacher teaches the same subject to multiple classes (this semester, Sajjad Gheewala teaches Intro. Marketing to three classes on the same day) – and this can’t be too good for his development. The next question; are our teachers even interested in research? Have any of them come up with research proposals? If not, TIP needs to work harder at encourgaing faculty and on their development.

h5. What Next?

We don’t know. TIP students are mostly kept in the dark, as there is no established medium of communication of TIP’s plans for itself and it’s students. Why should we care? Because TIP’s future is our future, and we have a right to know.

For starters, I would recommend that the TIP adminstration have a bi-yearly (end of each semester) newsletter, similar to the one by AKU (available in our library). This newsletter can talk about our higher education links with the University of Manchester Institute of Technology, about the increased student body, about the expanded campus facilities (better catering, more hostel rooms, more classrooms), about the prominent persons visiting our campus in the course of the semester, about of faculty studying and doing research abroad, and finally about the rapier loom endowed to us by a kind donar.

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