Debating Pakistan’s higher education overhaul

Pakistan has seen radical reforms to its higher education since 2002 Copyright: Flickr/niyam bhushan

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Pakistani researchers, writing in three correspondences to Nature, comment on Pakistan’s higher education (HE) reforms that began in 2002.

Atta-ur-Rahman, head of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission from 2003–2008, defends the reforms, arguing that they have led to huge positive changes.

International scientific publications have grown seven-fold — from 600 in 2001 to more than 4,200 in 2008 — and about 50 new universities and institutions have been established. The reforms might have been quick but they were all above board, insists Rahman. The sense of urgency reflected an eagerness to move forward and avoid bureaucratic hurdles.

But Pervez Hoodbhoy argues that the reforms have not been as successful as claimed. Nine new universities were abandoned because of a lack of trained staff and now expensive scientific equipment remains under-used.

Financial rewards for professors publishing in international journals have increased a culture of plagiarism and increased salaries have created social disparities between academic staff. The bottom line is that the enormous cash injection has failed to improve teaching or research quality, says Hoodbhoy.

The reforms might have been more effective if they had included basic education, suggest Muhammed Naim Siddiqi and colleagues. Increasing higher education enrolment ultimately depends on increasing the supply of potential candidates by investing in primary and secondary education, they say.

Link to full Rahman article in Nature

Link to full Hoodbhoy article in Nature

Link to full Siddiqi et al article in Nature