How greed ruins academia in Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

ScreenHunter_05 Feb. 10 14.17 Pakistan's university system is breaking down, perhaps irreparably so. Thanks to the Higher Education Commission’s grand plans for a massive change, a tidal wave of money hit our public universities during the Musharraf years.

Although difficult financial times finally stemmed the flood, this enormous cash infusion served to amplify problems rather than improve teaching and research quality.

Naked greed is now destroying the moral fibre of academia. Professors across the country are clamouring to lift even minimal requirements that could assure quality education. This is happening in two critical ways. First, to benefit from three-fold increases in salaries for tenure-track positions, professors are speedily removing all barriers for their promotions. Second, they want to be able to take on more PhD students, whether these students have the requisite academic capacity or not. Having more students translates into proportionately more money in each professor’s pocket.

Nowhere is this more evident than at Quaid-i-Azam University, said to be Pakistan’s flagship public university. Barely two miles from the presidency and the prime minister’s secretariat, it was once an island of excellence in a shallow sea of mediocrity. Most other universities started lower, and their decay has gone further and faster than at QAU. Some are recognisable as universities in name only.

QAU’s departments of physics and economics were especially well known 35 years ago, which is when I joined the university. The faculty was small and not many PhD degrees were awarded in those days. Money was scarce, but standards were fairly good and approximated those at a reasonable US university. But as time passed, less care was taken in appointing new faculty members. Politics began to dominate over merit and quality slipped. That slow slippage is now turning into rapid collapse.

Last month, at a formal meeting, QAU professors voted to make life easy for themselves. The Academic Council, the key decision-making body of the university, decided that henceforth no applicant for a university teaching position, whether at the associate professor or professor level, could be required to give an open seminar or lecture as a part of the selection process. Open lectures were deemed by the council as illegal, unjust and a ploy for victimising teachers.

This is mind-boggling.

More here.