Rejoinder to Dr Hoodbhoy by HEC
S. Sohail H. Naqvi
July 15: Corruption. Dishonesty. Incompetence. Cronyism. These
are only a few of the very serious charges laid by Dr. Pervez
Hoodbhoy at the door of the Higher Education Commission. One would
expect such charges to be fully substantiated, especially when
made by a distinguished academic. Unfortunately, Professor Hoodbhoy
does not seem to believe in research any more.
us start with Dr. Hoodbhoy’s dramatic announcement that
HEC’s projects are riddled with “gross administrative
incompetence.” As proof, Dr. Hoodbhoy refers to the “Best
University Teacher” program. Please note that Dr. Hoodbhoy
has no objection to the project itself, merely to the manner in
which it is being implemented. But what is this highly objectionable
course adopted by the HEC?
the HEC selects the “best” university teachers on
the basis of nominations received
from university administrations. But those administrators are
not supposed to make nominations based upon their personal whims.
Instead, those nominations are required to be made on the basis
of numerous factors, including student evaluations, a point which
has been completely ignored by Dr. Hoodbhoy.
any event, is the HEC’s approach really so unreasonable
as to justify a charge of “gross incompetence?” Is
Dr. Hoodbhoy really arguing that no factor other than student
opinion can ever be important in determining who is a good teacher?
Is he really saying that the opinion of one’s peers is irrelevant?
are more than 250,000 university students in Pakistan. The HEC
cannot interview those students itself. The HEC therefore has
no option but to work with the existing administrations of universities
to implement its programs. So, once the hype is stripped away,
what we are left with is a program which Dr. Hoodbhoy admits is
innovative and desirable, which the HEC is trying to implement
in a self-evidently reasonable manner, and yet the program, according
to Dr. Hoodbhoy, is conclusive proof of gross incompetence.
real problem here is that Dr. Hoodbhoy sees the rest of Pakistan
as a problem, not as an opportunity. The HEC, however, does not
have the luxury of living in an ideal world. Instead, it has to
make do with the human resources which exist today in Pakistan.
Dr. Hoodbhoy is right when he says that the HEC sees existing
faculty members as “part of the solution.” Unlike
Dr. Hoodbhoy, the HEC feels no reason to be ashamed of that vision.
come then to Dr. Hoodbhoy’s other example of “gross
incompetence “– the Master Trainers in Physics program
being run by Quaid e Azam University. Once again, we can safely
assume that Dr. Hoodbhoy has no objection to the concept of the
program itself since two years ago, when the project was first
proposed, he demanded that he be placed in charge of it.
again, his only objection to the program is the manner in which
the project is being implemented. But, the HEC is not in charge
of the implementation of that project. That responsibility belongs
entirely to the Physics department of Quaid e Azam University,
of which Dr. Hoodbhoy is supposedly a very senior member.
to what Dr. Hoodbhoy says, HEC has not selected (let alone “hand-picked”)
a single “master trainer.” Instead, each and every
“master trainer” has been selected by the Physics
Department at QAU. Dr. Hoodbhoy may be justified in his criticism
of the master trainers but that is something for him, as a senior
member of the QAU Physics Department, to raise first with that
course, Dr. Hoodbhoy chose to spend the last year on extraordinary
leave so perhaps he was not in a position to offer his views.
Dr. Hoodbhoy also alleges that the Master Trainers are being grossly
overpaid. Perhaps Dr. Hoodbhoy has forgotten that he spent part
of his extraordinary one-year leave giving lectures at Rs. 45,000
per hour. The Master Trainers are only paid a fraction of that
amount; but then perhaps they lack Dr. Hoodbhoy’s facility
with the truth.
should be noted that the object of this article is not to unfairly
malign Dr. Hoodbhoy. However, Dr. Hoodbhoy has not given a single
name of a single Master Trainer whom he believes to be unqualified.
Instead, he has simply slandered the entire lot of them without
bothering to give any details whatsoever.
the extent Dr. Hoodbhoy has specific and verifiable details regarding
the Master Trainers he should first try to resolve his qualms
at the departmental level and if that fails, then approach the
HEC. If the HEC then refuses to listen to him, he can justifiably
claim that the program is a disgrace. Till such time he bothers
to substantiate his allegations though, it is only Dr. Hoodbhoy
who can be considered a disgrace.
come then to Dr. Hoodbhoy’s allegation that HEC is throwing
“enormous sums ... at half-baked proposals.” Dr. Hoodbhoy’s
first exhibit in this regard is the grant sanctioned by the HEC
for the purchase of a Van de Graaf accelerator. Admittedly, a
Van de Graaf accelerator’s use for “cutting-edge”
research is limited but that was never its purpose. Instead, it
was always intended to be used for teaching and general research
for which purpose it was, and remains, a very useful machine.
Cutting-edge particle accelerators cost billions of dollars which
is why HEC has partnered with other developing nations to have
access to the SESAME project in Jordan.
It should also be remembered that the proposal for the accelerator
was submitted by the National Center for Physics, whose board
is manned by the most eminent physicists in Pakistan. If Dr. Hoodbhoy
is to be believed, those physicists are all either fools or criminals.
The alternative does not leave Dr. Hoodbhoy in good company.
Dr. Hoodbhoy pours much scorn on the grant to Dr. Saadia Chishti.
But, Dr. Chishti holds a PhD in education from Cornell and has
been a senior research fellow at both Oxford and the Divinity
School at Harvard. Her project, like any other research grant
proposal funded by HEC, was not examined by HEC itself.
as per standard procedures, the proposal was sent to be examined
by the focal person in that subject (normally, the single most
eminent and recognized scholar in that area in Pakistan) who then
referred it to other competent scholars, who examined and reviewed
the proposal. That internationally recognized method remains the
standard method by which HEC reviews all grant proposals. Dr.
Hoodbhoy asks “how true is this?”
The question which Dr. Hoodbhoy needs to be asked is, “where
is your proof that this method is not being followed?” Dr.
Hoodbhoy tries to gain much mileage from the fact that some of
the research proposals he reviewed were dubious. But clearly,
HEC is not responsible for the quality of research proposals sent
to it, only for the quality of research proposals actually funded
Dr. Hoodbhoy did indeed review a proposal containing a request
for a $90,000 fridge, how is that proposal in any way represented
of HEC’s performance?
Hoodbhoy drops dark hints about how his refusal to fund $90,000
refrigerators has resulted in his no longer reviewing research
proposals. It is a routine matter for reviewers to reject unreasonable
requests submitted by scientists, and Dr. Hoodbhoy's rejection
of such a request was a normal response. The item was thus never
funded by the HEC. Dr. Hoodbhoy is here trying too hard for the
halo of martyred sainthood. HEC has no control over who is selected
by the focal person to review proposals, nor has it created any
Dr. Hoodbhoy is not being selected to review proposals by the
focal point in Physics, that would be the focal point’s
decision, not that of HEC. It should further be noted that the
focal point for Physics is Professor Dr. Riazuddin, one of 25
Distinguished National Professors in Pakistan, the Director of
the National Center for Physics, and according to one internationally
accepted method of ranking scholarly achievement (the “Impact
Factor Assessment”), having an impact factor nearly eight
times as that of Dr. Hoodbhoy.
same shoddy approach can also be seen in Dr. Hoodbhoy’s
discussion of the grant to the Allama Iqbal Open University. He
notes that according to the project summary, “this work
aims to correct the mistakes made in this area by a Nobel Prize
winner in chemistry” and that “such grand notions
of challenging Nobel Prize winners are highly suspect.”
the abstract of the proposal actually states is that, “In
our earlier investigations . . . we had found the earlier work
of the Nobel Laureate Sir Ropert Robinson and two of his eminent
colleagues Sir W. H. Perkins and R.H.F. Manske . . . to be incorrect.”
The project abstract clearly states that the initial work was
done in 1972 by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, that the resultant research
did in fact show the work of the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry to
have been incorrect, and that the current work is only an extension
of that research.
fact, the 1972 article by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman was one of the works
specifically cited by the United Nations when it awarded him the
UNESCO Science Prize. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman remains, till date, the
only Muslim scientist to have received this honor. It is tempting
to believe that that Dr. Hoodbhoy simply misread the project abstract.
Unfortunately, it appears more likely that he has deliberately
misrepresented its contents.
Hoodbhoy’s allegations with respect to HEC’s efforts
to increase the number of PhDs in Pakistan is one of the few instances
in his article where he actually substantiates his allegations
with concrete facts. Unfortunately, those facts are all wrong.
Hoodbhoy specifically alleges that in the Physics department of
QAU, as many as 15 PhD students are registered with one supervisor
while in the Biology Department at QAU, there are as many as 40
students with one supervisor. The Quaid-e-Azam University has
confirmed that these allegations are incorrect. It should first
be noted that as per HEC rules, the maximum number of PhD fellowship
holders allowed to be registered with any one supervisor is eight.
so far as the Biology department at QAU is concerned, HEC has
not approved even a total of 40 PhD fellowships, let alone 40
for one supervisor. Instead, HEC has only approved a total of
20 PhD fellowships at the QAU biology department, which are being
supervised by 10 HEC approved supervisors. Similarly, so far as
the QAU physics department is concerned, HEC has only approved
a total of 33 fellowships which are in turn being supervised by
11 professors. It should also be noted that none of those 33 students
are enrolled with Dr. Hoodbhoy. In fact, Dr. Hoodbhoy has not
published any work with a Pakistani student for almost a decade
is unfortunate that the HEC’s efforts continue to be greeted
with scorn and suspicion. Dr. Hoodbhoy, like many other education
reformers in Pakistan, has called for more funding of the sciences
on numerous occasions. Now that funding is being provided, it
is necessary for Dr. Hoodbhoy to remove the blinkers of the past
and give the HEC a fair hearing. For example, Dr. Hoodbhoy says
that the PhDs which will be produced locally as a result of the
HEC’s efforts will be worthless.
Dr. Hoodbhoy fails to mention is that the HEC has stipulated that
it will not recognize any local PhD unless the thesis has been
approved by at least two eminent academics from industrially advanced
countries, and the work has been published in an international
journal. In fact, the quality control system that has been introduced
includes the introduction of an international subject GRE before
a student is allowed to be enrolled into the Ph.D. program and
extensive course work both at M. Phil. and PhD levels. Dr. Hoodbhoy
is well aware of these steps but has conveniently ignored these,
and many other measures, taken by the HEC to raise the quality
of higher education in Pakistan.
is most unfortunate is that Prof. Hoodbhoy has ignored the largest
programs of the Commission. These include programs relating to
sending students on scholarships to foreign universities, post-doctoral
training programs, and the foreign faculty hiring program under
which hundreds of eminent expatriate and foreign scientists have
joined Pakistani universities.
These are the programs that have begun to change the landscape
of our universities, uplifting them from their current mediocre
status. Professor Hoodbhoy claims that the GRE-type administered
by HEC is worthless. But if that is the case, why are professors
from Austria, Germany, France and other countries clamoring for
these students? Last week alone, 92 students left for France to
do post-graduate studies. Till date, foreign supervisors have
expressed complete satisfaction with the quality of the students
sent to them.
Higher Education Commission is aiming to be one of the first public
sector institutions to implement a fully computerized financial
management system in accordance with the New Accounting Model
(NAM) adopted by Project for Improvement of Financial Reporting
and Auditing (PIFRA).
almost all the financial record of the HEC for the previous financial
year has been entered into the computer, and record of every transaction
is available at fingertip. The HEC has also implemented a wide-ranging
project monitoring system under which every project in every university
has been physically visited, and its performance assessed against
reports are subsequently sent to the Finance Division, and the
Planning Division. HEC also maintains the most widely accessed
web site of any government department in Pakistan in which every
single program is listed in detail along with results of all examinations
and details regarding the award of research grants. For the record,
HEC would welcome any financial or performance audit by any agency.
We have nothing to hide.
must also be realized that the entire amount of Government funds
available to nearly sixty public sector universities in Pakistan
do not match the funds available to a single reasonable size university
in Malaysia. Advanced countries spend an average of about Rs.
6 million per student per year while Pakistan only spends Rs.
35,000 per student per year. Today, out of an eligible pool of
more than 20 million people in Pakistan between the ages of 18
– 23, only about 250,000 students are physically studying
at universities and degree granting institutions. This is one
of the lowest percentages in the world. Is it not time that Pakistan
improved this percentage?
as a consequence of the HEC’s efforts and the enhanced funds
provided by the government, every public sector university in
Pakistan has computers, an internal computer network, high speed
connectivity to the Internet, access to more than 15,000 journals
and access to state-of-the-art instrumentation. Enrolment in our
universities is rising at an excellent rate, four-year undergraduate
programs are being introduced from Malakand to Khairpur, faculty
members are writing research proposals, collaborating with leading
foreign universities, going on sabbaticals and post-doctoral fellowships,
and presenting their research work to the world.
500 students have been sent abroad for PhD studies, Australia
has offered 500 fully paid scholarships to Pakistan and over a
billion rupees scholarship program has been initiated for poor
and deserving students to study in private and public institutions
which were previously beyond their financial means.
the last two years, there has been a 44 per cent increase in the
number of papers by Pakistani academics appearing in internationally
reputed scientific journals. For the first time, Pakistan is making
its presence felt in the international academic world. Is this
conclude then, Dr. Hoodbhoy’s diatribe against the HEC is
completely unfair and unjustified. The HEC is doing its best to
reform and serve higher education in Pakistan with both honesty
and integrity. Unfortunately, that statement cannot be made with
respect to Dr. Hoodbhoy’s efforts.
writer is Executive Director, Higher Education Commission of Pakistan
and this rejoinder has been issued in response to Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy's
article published on July 9, 2005