Blogs > Cliopatria > Universities in Pakistan

Jan 4, 2005 5:20 pm


Universities in Pakistan



When the subject of education in Pakistan comes up in western media, the attention is focused entirely on the madrasa-system. However, there is a more acute problem in Pakistan - the higher education system - which has to produce scientists, researchers and teachers of the present and future.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, who currently teaches Physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad - the flagship university of Pakistan has just written the clearest denouncement of Pakistan's higher education in the highest circulation English daily in Pakistan, Dawn. I cannot urge you more strongly to click here and here and read.

His message is clear. Pakistan has no framework of higher education that can match up to the rest of the world. The universities are a quagmire of despotic clerks and professors. The PhDs cannot function in the real world. There is no standard of research in the country in hard sciences or social sciences. There are more mosques on campuses than bookstores. Knowledge is passed by rote and memorization in an endless loop from teacher to student to teacher. Teachers do not engage in or tolerate critical thinking. Any old place can slap a university sign on the door and become an accredited institution to qualify for govt. subsidy. JNU? IIT? forget it, they cannot even match Tehran University in a country cut off from the world for 25 years.

Hoodbhoy has some excellent suggestions. Requiring all graduate applicants to take the GRE; instituting tenure review and administrative review; re-starting student unions on campus; invigorating cultural and social discourse and, most intriguingly, attracting Indian teachers.

There is one bright spot in Pakistani HigherEd. Lahore University of Management Sciences [LUMS] has attracted foreign capital, foreign teachers and a higher caliber of students by adhering to international standards. It should act as a model just as Hoodbhoy's op-ed should act as a declaration for reforms.

On September 23, 2004, Congress passed HR 4818 which mandates the State Dept. to submit a report within 90 days on:

(1) describing the strategy of the Government of Pakistan to implement education reform in Pakistan, and the strategy of the Government of the United States to assist Pakistan to achieve that objective; (2) providing information on the amount of funding— (A) obligated and expended by the Government of Pakistan and the Government of the United States, respectively, for education reform in Pakistan, since January 1, 2002
Let's see what comes out there.
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Oscar Chamberlain - 1/5/2005

I don't know if it is comforting or not, but history in Europe and the United States emerged from non-academics, amateurs really, some of whom came to take the job seriously. Do any of the arm-chair historians show any promise?


Manan Ahmed - 1/4/2005

That is exactly the point, Amardeep. History is done by career bureaucrats and retired military colonels and generals. It is not done in the academy because the academy is controlled while the bureaucracy and retired intellegentsia has little oversight on such matters and access to publishing houses. I call them arm-chair historians - one reason my family is always perplexed at my career as a "historian" is that they consider this a "hobby" or a "side-job".


Amardeep Singh - 1/4/2005

Small anecdote that may not be exactly relevant to your point: I met a historian from Lahore named Fakir Syad Aijazuddin at a conference at Yale in the spring. (If you follow that link, you can actually download the paper he gave at the conference. Read especially at the end where he talks about the education system in Pakistan)

He is actually a career bureaucrat -- earlier he had worked in the government banking system. What was strange to me was that he seemed to have no particular complaint about the authoritarian strain of the government he served under. When interest became illegal in the name of the Islamization of the Economy, he himself helped draw up an Islam-friendly replacement term that would allow the banks to stay in business ("Expected rate of return").

What disturbed me about the whole thing was that he saw it as completely routine. 'Yes, of course we have to comply with Islamization, no problem.' It made me think the situation is at once all the more hopeless (he didn't see that he was being manipulated by a totalitarian government) and maybe also not that bad (very easy to get around restrictions with little bureaucratic sleights of hand).

As Kafka showed us, Bureaucracy and totalitarianism seem to feed off one another.

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