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Pakistan's higher education reforms have boosted the number of research papers published and PhDs awarded but whether they are creating a genuine research culture remains to be seen, say Athar Osama and colleagues.

The reforms — which began in 2002 — came out of recommendations from a public–private task force analysis that concluded the country's higher education system was suffering from chronic underfunding, ineffective governance, weak institutional leadership and poor performance.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) was given a massive budget — increasing from 3.9 billion rupees (around US$47 million) in 2001–2002 to 21.7 billion rupees (around US$255 million) in 2005–2006 — and put in charge of implementing the reforms. It focused on developing human resources, improving research and physical infrastructure, and reforming curricula and governance.

To date, the HEC has sponsored more than 200 PhD students to study overseas and claims to have caused a 400 per cent increase in papers published in international journals by Pakistani universities. It also takes credit for the placement of three Pakistani universities in a top-600 ranking of world universities.

But some academics remain critical, saying that the HEC lacks transparency and accountability and has undermined university leadership and freedom. Its tying of faculty performance to financial compensation in particular has been deeply divisive.

A culture of research is not driven by monetary incentives, say the authors, but by a genuine wish to create new knowledge that can benefit society at large.

Link to full article in Nature