“Developing countries are rapidly becoming the driving force of innovation and creativity. According to World Bank, emerging economies will outgrow the developed nations by 2015. It is an established fact that there is a direct correlation between knowledge capital and economic development. If Pakistan wishes to become an emerging power, it needs to enhance its knowledge and intellectual capital drastically.”
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan promises to its citizens that, “the State shall promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of backward classes or areas; remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period; make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”
Similarly, free and compulsory education has been declared as a fundamental right under Article 25 (A) of the Constitution but no serious effort has been made to fulfill the constitutional/national requirement at the Government level. A total budgetary allocation of around 2% to the education sector in which, less than one-fifth is spent on higher education, shows the importance this sector is receiving, let alone Research and Development (R&D). With meager allocations, multiple education systems, old syllabus, weak access to higher education and lack of market-based research has seriously left Pakistan way behind even in the list of developing countries.
The field of education and knowledge generally and higher education particularly suffers from problems of “accessibility, quality and relevance” (HEC 2003), in Pakistan. The non-availability of well-defined academic standards and key performance indicators (KPIs) and missing linkages with market based R&D, are serious hurdles in the path that could lead Pakistan into the comity of knowledge-based economies.
It was in 1992 that on the recommendation of the Task Force on Higher Education headed by Mrs. Zubaida Jalal, Education Minister and President’s Study Group on Science and Engineering Education headed by Mr. Atta-ur-Rehman, Minister for Science & Technology Higher Education Commission (HEC) replaced University Grants Commission (UGC) through Presidential Ordinance No LIII of 2002 for the “evaluation, improvement and promotion of higher education, research and development [R&D]” in Pakistan. The mission statement of HEC is to “facilitate Institutions of Higher Learning to serve as Engines of Growth for the Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan” (HEC 2010).
The initial challenges faced by HEC included increasing ‘access’ to higher education as less than 0.6 million people of Pakistan had an approach to higher education by 2001. To increase this access, efforts were made to establish universities across the country. A number of universities were established in both public and private sector with a spread to remote and backward areas. Similarly, a number of colleges, specially, in the public sector, engaged in providing tertiary education, were upgraded to the status of Degree Awarding Institutions in all the four provinces. The process started with the upgradation of Government College Lahore and Government College Faisalabad to GC University, Lahore and GC University Faisalabad respectively.
In the Province of KP, besides establishing a number of new universities in both private and public sectors three colleges in the public sector were also upgraded to the status of universities. These included Islamia College, Peshawar, Government Postgraduate College Mardan and Government Frontier College for Girls.
Quality output had never been the goal of our higher education system. Its feeding institutions (schools and colleges) had never provided quality raw material, but a bunch of youth loaded with high scores and low knowledge. It is also true that if the issues of quality and relevance are handled to acceptable standards, it will produce a product that will have the capacity to innovate, create and determine the contours of a knowledge-based economy. Although, some basic standards have been developed by HEC for the Universities but more emphasis on quality needs is required, as only numerical achievements will not be enough and universities have to strive to become “centers of research and creative learning, providing answers today to the questions of tomorrow and not learning today the answers of yester years” (National Education Policy 2009).