With an annual budget of Rs 90 billion, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) strives to follow its mission statement ‘to facilitate institutions of Higher Learning to serve as an engine of Pakistan’s socio-economic development’. Last month, HEC released its annual performance report on the state of higher education in the country for the year 2014-15, after a lapse of three years.

This defeats the very purpose of an annual report, which is meant to present the progress of the institution and the subjects under its mandate, to the authorities, as well as for public audit. The delay violates Clause 14(5) of HEC Ordinance 2002, which makes it mandatory that “the Commission shall, after the end of every year, submit a report to the controlling authority on the state of higher education and its activities during that year,”

Skewed Focus

Better late than never, the annual report starts with an executive summary, giving out disjointed statement of achievements, written in a verbose prose. The annual report is divided into eight chapters, and spread over 116 pages. Again contrary to its mandate to provide an overview of the state of higher education in the country and the contributions of HEC to improve it, the report only describes activities of its selected divisions. It includes Human Resource Development, Research and Development, Quality Assurance, Academics, Planning and Development, Learning Innovation, Information Technology and Sports Division. The report does not lists any information about the key departments of HEC including, Attestation & Accreditation, Statistics, Administration & Coordination.

Generally, the annual reports are expected to report on the activities under taken during a fiscal year and are meant to be a systematic account of input and output of the reporting institutions. The Annual Report 2014-2015 is a general account of HEC wide ranging activities and lacks the specific references to the progress made during the reporting year. It appears as if to compensate for the scarcity of information on the activities of its select divisions, each chapter is swelled with the description of the different projects, adding info-graphics to reflect ‘the progress of the program during the year 2015-2015’. This pattern of descriptive writing is repeated throughout the Report in all 8 chapters.

While the Report thickens up to 108 pages, the evaluation of the performance or the output of the activities is grossly insufficient. There is no way for a reader to find out the value for the money spent on Human Resource Development or Infrastructure development of universities etc. All the reader can know is the substantial sums of money have been spent on an array of subjects, without any feedback on the tangible or intangible outcomes or returns on the investments.

Investing on research without impact evaluation

The Academics Division of the HEC, is designated to perform the vital functions of linking “academia and R&D sector through promoting research developing faculty, collaborating international research etc. For the enhancement of Research and Development in higher education, huge investments were made through National Research Program for Universities (NRPU) and Thematic Grants Program (TGP) for universities, but without any mechanism for evaluation of the social, economic, or industrial impact of the research funded by HEC.

Last month, HEC released its annual performance report on the state of higher education in the country for the year 2014-15, after a lapse of three years. This defeats the very purpose of an annual report, which is meant to present the progress of the institution and the subjects under its mandate, to the authorities, as well as for public audit

National Research Program for Universities

HEC has been proudly advertising NRPU, as a flagship program, which will serve as a catalyst for research led development in the country. In the year 2014-15, the total number of grants were given to the tune of Rs 100 Million to 51-selected researchers. In terms of inter provincial sharer, the grants were distributed as with 17 percent to AJK, 25 to Federal, 40 percent Punjab, 15 percent Sindh, and 1 percent each to Balochistan and GB. With majority of grants awarded to agriculture, botany, biology, medicine, livestock, the social science projects were sorely missing, despite immense challenges facing Pakistani society. One that was awarded, perhaps in the category of social sciences was to Dr Ishtiaq Hussain from Kohat University of Science and Technology, Kohat, for Rs 2,208,981,00 (two Million), titled Impact of Higher Education on the Social Adjustment of Women in Islamic Perspective in Pakistan.

Without a word on the impact of such high level research on the frontiers of knowledge in the world of science, the report devotes nearly 8 pages in the main body of the report in listing the titles of the projects for which money was provided by HEC without any evaluation of the impact of research and publication on society, academia, industry or technology.

Academic Rituals of Knowledge Sharing

Similarly, the report painstakingly list down the names of more than 70 private and public sector universities, which were given another 100 Million Rs (103,771,220) in the fiscal year 2014 2015 “to promote culture of research and knowledge sharing” by holding “seminars, conferences, workshops or symposia. Neither the topic nor the report of the any single activity undertaken by the universities in Pakistan is given. Little the reader knows on what topics the events were organized and what was the output of the events. Did it contribute to the knowledge sharing or it was an academic ritual intended to pocket the money? Balochistan lagged far behind, as it is observed in other categories as well, with a single university claiming 6 lacks for an unreported event.

Thematic Research Grants without the outcome

The case of Thematic Research Grants is equally incredible, under which 67.35 Million Rs were awarded to 20 projects. Intended for ‘seasoned scholars from academic having enriched research background’, it aimed to ‘address the prevailing issues of the country’. Neither the names of the seasoned academics are given nor the details of the projects. Needless to point out that, as in every other section in the annual report, this section does not even hint at the problems the massively funded research studies solved, innovation it made or any path breaking findings that researchers generated relevant to the needs of Pakistani society.

Perilous state of social sciences

The ‘development of Social Sciences in Pakistan’ is listed as one of the key objectives of the Academics Division, established in 2005-2006 which is “embarked upon an agenda of initiating plans for social transformation by building knowledge and expertise on key social and cultural issues”. To implement the lofty ideas of radical transformation of Pakistan’s knowledge economy, the Division does the following six things, as listed in the report. It evaluates and certifies the high quality research journals, verifies the international publications and books authored by Pakistani academics, and holds workshops for editors of journals and holds annual social science conferences. In terms of annual output, the Division certified 16 journals, 280 publications, 335 books, and held a conference. This does not sound like a lot of work for the division in a year time!

More of the same is expected under the faculty development program, where two activities are reported for the year. One is nomination of academics for the civil awards and the best university teacher awards. Similarly, under ‘international collaborations’, on page 62, one expects to find the details of institutional collaborations of HEC with its counter parts around the world. Surprisingly, the Academics Division reports, ‘foreign student admissions’ as their only activity to justify the existence of their section. Without giving any details to the nationality, the HEC proudly states the figure of 1650 foreign students, who were admitted in Pakistani universities.

HEC has the mandate to propose revisions and amendments to the curricula. Without giving any details of the institution or the subject of the curricula, it quotes a figure of 13 curricula, which were circulated to more than anonymous 150 public and private universities. There is no information on whether or not the proposed curricula were adopted or not, HEC is pleased to take credit for the work delivered without ascertaining its status. That sadly, as stated earlier, it is the consistent pattern of the report, where it hides more than it reveals.

Visionless Planning and development

The activities of Planning and Development Division leaves much to be desired from a section, which works for the stated aim for ‘identifying, studying and evaluating policies, procedures, priorities and proposals in planning or development of innovative educational programmes’ for the needs of the government and industry. In mark contrast to its wider and more ambitious scope, all of what the Planning and Development Division is to report the following 09 activities, which were not delivered but only ‘conceived during the reporting year’. The first and foremost is Prime Minister Laptop Scheme for provision of 500,000, laptops, to students. It is followed by establishment of universities in Swat, Gilgit, Nawabshah, Islamabad and up gradation of few campuses. Last but not least of the Planning and Development Division conception is the ‘establishment of Seerat Chairs’ in the universities in Pakistan.

As a matter of routine bureaucratic affair, the Planning Division also administered the development projects for the building or up gradation of educational infrastructure of Pakistani university under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP). A total of 193 development projects of universities/HEC costing 27,0220.926 Million were approved in the year 2014-2015.

Culture of Anonymous Reporting

The annual report was long awaited and the Chairman HEC was under fire from the press for delay in the execution of its crucial function. However, the report gives the impression of being ghost written, as it gives no clues to the authors or credits to any individual or organisation. Neither is the date or the place of publication mentioned, which is standard part of back page matter. Surprisingly, a customary note from the Chairman or the Minster is also absent from the Annual Report 2014-15. The names of the members of HEC Commission, the 18 member apex governing body of HEC, are nowhere cited. Nor there is any reference to the members of staff of numerous divisions, whose annual activities are being reported here. In the absence of crucial information on the quality and quantity of human resources, employed by HEC to undertake its activities, it is hard to fairly and squarely appreciate the contributions of HEC in the development of higher education in Pakistan.

Conclusions

It must be remembered that the information generated by HEC through its publications serves as vital statistics on higher education, which forms the basis for federal and provincial educational planning. As it is regrettably evident from the information given in the annual report 2014-2015, the publication arm of HEC is severely crippled and is unable to give credit to HEC for all the outstanding work it has done to monitor and reform the state of higher education in Pakistan. A quarterly newsletter is produced by HEC which showcases largely the high profile public engagement of the HEC staff. A more serious collection of facts and figure which can allow a researcher to evaluate the performance of higher education sector under the watch of HEC appears to lie outside the scope of their work.