Reforming HEC and ECP
At first sight there seems little in common between the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), except for the two vitamin sounding initials E and C. But that is just the tip of a series of similarities that characterize these two great institutional showpieces. Both have important mandates that can seriously impact upon the political or academic standards in Pakistan. Both chose to take short cuts to glory. Both suffer from megalomaniac tendencies of big numbers, big talks and big plans. Both opted for quantity over quality in everything that they undertook. Both are in need of immediate and drastic reforms. The commonalities are endless. While HEC focused on pushing the number of universities and the number of PhDs , the Election Commission was busy assembling a voting list with 37.2 million bogus entries. For ECP, it was more important to demonstrate a large figure of 82 million registered voters, even if half of them were fake. ‘Big is beautiful’ seems to be the common philosophy driving both these institutions.
In a game of numbers, the HEC went overboard and made compromises in its ‘quality control’ over scrutiny of universities, the competence of Vice Chancellors, the rampant plagiarism in PhD theses and the use of fake journals to publish the research articles . By introducing financial rewards and promotions based on the number of papers, HEC encouraged a culture of greed in publications leading to hasty output of low quality research material – of little practical use to the challenges of a developing country. Not taking steps to scrutinize the ranking of journals, resulted in HEC’s PhD approved supervisors getting scores of their articles published in many fake journals. The inadequate controls to check plagiarism in articles and to differentiate between real and fake journals has led to a massive race for publication of sub-standard material in dubious journals. A few ‘cut and paste’ articles in a Nairobi based journal, edited by some Faisalabad based unknown professors could be enough to earn not just an easy promotion but also a financial reward for subsequent celebrations. It is important to look at two articles by Isa Daudpota (“Publishing scam” and “Management Sciences Publishing Racket” ) that recently appeared in a Pakistani newspaper to fully understand the dubious nature and extent of these practices. It is vital that the HEC takes effective measures to curb these shortcuts, and shifts its focus from the number of universities and PhDs to developing academics that can inspire critical thinking and ethical values.
Not to be left behind, the Election Commission, in a hurry to come out with a grand voter list, failed to scrutinize the list and thus facilitated the construction of a bogus parliament that was based on 37.2 million invalid votes. Not the least remorseful of this criminal neglect, the ECP waited for the Supreme Court’s orders to expunge the 37.2 million bogus entries. Conditioned by years of apathy, ECP continues to offer excuses as to why it cannot update the voters list. Only if the ECP had taken a few lessons in critical thinking, it could have taken the help of NADRA to accomplish this task in a matter of days instead of dragging its feet for months.
Pakistan became a unique democracy when an estimated 300 individuals defrauded the system and entered the parliament with fake degrees and dual nationalities. More than the public and the media , this fact was well known to both ECP and HEC. Both however failed to do what they ought to have done for verification of credentials or taking actions to unseat these dubious individuals. An offense of this nature, in any other civilized country could not only make these individuals lose their seats but also entitle a few months of free meals in a prison. Even when cases like that of Babar Awan having a distant-learning fake PhD degree from a certain fraud Monticello University were reported by the press and confirmed by the United States Educational Foundation, both ECP and HEC decided to look the other way. The ECP intentionally violated its own rules when it failed to see anything wrong with re-election of candidates like Jamshed Dasti whose fake degree had been confirmed only a few days earlier. Not to be left behind, competitor HEC shelved all ‘qualms of quality’ when it did not question the Karachi University’s lack of discretion in awarding a PhD degree to an undeserving interior minister solely for the purposes of political appeasement.
With the election fever in the air, one hears of demands and promises of all shades. Reforming the ECP and HEC however does not appear to be a high priority agenda for either citizens or political parties. These two institutions desperately await reforms, autonomy and leadership by people of high caliber and integrity. It is also time to address the critical issue of how these important institutions are held accountable when they fail to deliver on what is dictated by their mandate.
The News 5th Jan 2012