The Social Sciences discipline has long remained an extremely neglected and mistreated subject area in Pakistan. Our present complex policy, security, societal, local and regional challenges demand a great deal of scientific investigation through high quality and cutting-edge research. But, it seems the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which should be spearheading this cause, is yet to even recognise the actual role assigned to universities when it comes to Social Sciences.
In the Pakistani academic environment today, there is very limited knowledge growth happening to serve the needs of today's users and beneficiaries. The HEC has been largely ineffective in providing institutions with strategic direction, manpower and budgetary support.
It has neither reinvigorated the research culture nor revived the higher education system to meet the challenges our society faces.
Also read: The HEC should never rank Pakistan's universities
Essentially, institutions like the HEC are designed to utilise the assets of the nation’s scholarship. But there is no constructive networking in this field, very little university involvement in research and negligible public awareness of the Social Sciences subject.
Yes, there is a dissemination of knowledge on strategic and political issues through dialogue, conferences or seminars regularly conducted by the leading think-tanks in Islamabad. However, unless such practices are exercised at the university-level, on a regular basis, with apt input from groups associated with local communities, the resultant discourse will never be as productive and meaningful.
How did the HEC fail?
Lack of vision and institutional policy framework
Firstly, the HEC failed to institutionalise its policy structure on Social Sciences the way the international academic world would expect. The kind of strategic outlook and robust mechanism provided – in terms of intellectual investment in promoting the cause of higher education, producing quality journals, building universities up to the international standard, and working under a broad vision – is as good as absent in the present framework of this institution.
This 'framework' needs to be revamped with foresighted leadership, both in terms of increasing budgets and expanding consistently the chain of quality production that a nation in the 21st century requires. It was recently reported that the overall fund for the HEC will not be increasing; this is bound to be a setback to the progress of HEC and universities in general.
Mistreatment of foreign-qualified PhDs
The HEC's treatment of foreign-qualified PhDs (those who went abroad during President Musharraf’s tenure and have returned, now holding positions in local institutions) is no better. By overloading fresh PhDs with extensive workload, the HEC failed to receive quality output from them.
For example, each qualified faculty member conducts three courses (four credit hours each) during a semester, supervises five PhDs along with a maximum of 16 M. Phil theses at a time.
What can be expected from such overloaded faculties except little or no credible output?
When it comes to positions and incentives, the Higher Education Commission's criteria makes no distinction between domestic and foreign-qualified PhDs. The intent here is not to undermine the credibility of indigenous PhD scholars, but to urge authorities to focus on awarding skills rather than degrees.
When the HEC spends millions of rupees on producing a single PhD from abroad, it would do better to extract maximum plausible quality output from them. Their work needs to be recognised; they deserve due time, space and resources for undertaking meaningful projects; they should be aptly incentivised and rewarded so that they may continue to serve this nation. As it stands, the current situation is more akin to 'punishing' them for working for education rather than rewarding them
Recognition of published work not there
The HEC's practices in terms of acknowledging the publications of scholars need major fixes.
Currently, PhDs who have written academic books published with the internationally established publishers are being offered little to no credit for their hard work. It takes several months and years to even get their publications officially recognised, which causes deep frustration and damages the culture of quality research.
Under the HEC rules, a PhD faculty is required to publish at least 10 manuscripts in HEC-recognised journals, along with four years of post-PhD teaching experience to qualify for the associate level position. Unlike how it is abroad, having published a book adds no value to your credentials in the eyes of the HEC.
Also read: The sorry state of research at our universities and how to fix it
Also, when it comes to article publication in academic journals, the HEC seems to lack a defined criterion of distinction between publication in international journals and local HEC-recognised journals. It is not clear which journals, if any, are given more credence and weightage than others.
For example, the HEC recognises articles published in international journals if, and only if, they fall within the Thomson Reuters list of publications. Thomson Reuters may be a big and reliable production scheme, but it is far from a comprehensive index of all quality journals out there.
The list is dominated by applied sciences journals. Although one may find a few quality social sciences journals within the Thomson Reuters list, these journals could be of limited scope, in turn depriving a qualified Social Scientist of opportunities to get his work published in an HEC-recognised journal, especially work within the broader realm of Social Sciences.
There are numerous lists of high quality Social Science academic journals one finds in the Scopus, Routledge and Australian Academic Association, which the HEC can and should incorporate. It needs to find a balance and facilitate both applied and social sciences.
Ideally, the HEC should be an effective, responsible and strong educational body, whose initiatives promote research culture within universities. To this end, it is in dire need of generating funds, building national and global partnerships, and learning from others’ best practices.
It needs to spend much more in terms of enhancing the standard of the higher education system, transforming its logistical and structural setup to bring it up to international standards, and facilitating research endeavours on a large scale.
Until urgent measures are not taken to support high-quality basic, strategic and applied research along with the relevant postgraduate training in Social Sciences, our 'research' will unlikely solve any problems; our academicians will never turn into productive workforce.
By extension, that means we will never have the scholars to tackle our most pressing social and economic challenges, or ones that have a broader impact on the Pakistani society.
Dr. Rizwana Abbasi received her PhD from University of Leicester, UK. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Islamabad. She has authored a book titled, Pakistan and the New Nuclear Taboo: Regional Deterrence and the International Arms Control Regime (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012).
Dr. Zafar Khan is a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the University of Hull, UK. He is currently teaching as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Islamabad. He authors the book entitled, Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy: a Minimum Credible Deterrence (Routledge 2015).
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NDU, Islamabad.
An in-depth analysis of global figures reveals Pakistani researchers are more focused on volume over value, quantity over quality; Pakistan needs a drastic policy shift.
Knowledge has become crucially important in global economies since many economies are becoming knowledge-based. The emerging economies are participating in production of new scientific knowledge that contributes to an accelerated pace of technical and scientiﬁc advancement.
The rapid growth of scientific publications is a key performance indicator (KPI) to quantify the production of these new knowledge powerhouses. This report presents the statistics of the scientific publication output of Pakistan comparing them with the world, including the emerging economies in Asia from years 2000 to 2013, using Scopus database. The results provide useful information to the scientific community, as well as to the higher education policymakers.
Growth of scientific publications in emerging economies
Looking at the publication growth of the selected countries, interestingly, the gap between the United States and China has significantly been reduced in recent years. With the same growth rate, China is expected to surpass the United States in producing scientific publications. While the European powerhouses, United Kingdom, Germany and France, show steady growth in publication output, India is quickly catching up with France.
Another surprise is Malaysia overtaking Singapore. The reason for this rapid increase of Malaysian publications could be explained by the increase in research and development (R&D) expenditures from 0.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in year 2000 to 1.2 percent in year 2011.
Among the selected countries, Iran, Malaysia, China and Pakistan shows a phenomenal increase in publications with cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 18 percent. While all the selected emerging countries stand above the world average in terms of the CAGR, the United States and the European countries stand below the world’s CAGR.
Furthermore, drilling down into the disciplines of science and technology reveals an interesting view of the global research landscape. China produces 287,916 publications in Computer Science, i.e., 23.64 percent of the world’s share in the field. The United States stands next to China with 18.45 percent share of the world’s publication output in Computer Science.
Similarly, in Engineering, China has overtaken the United States with 620,887 publications in Engineering, i.e., 30.42 percent of the world’s share. The United States shares 17.16 percent of the world’s publication output in Engineering.
Research landscape of Pakistan: volume versus quality
The publication output of Pakistani institutes shows a tremendous growth since 2002. Using the core-2014 outlets, that ranks journals and conferences into four outlets A*, A, B, C, based on the perceived quality of their papers, the quality of the publications can be quantified.
The publications’ volume has increased from less than 2,000 publications per year before the year 2004 to above 10,000 more recently. While the research volume has increased over the years, the quality has decreased from A*: 3.84 percent, A: 10.16 percent in 1996 to A*: 2.21 percent, A: 6.84 percent in 2013, respectively. Thus, resulting in less than 10 percent of the total research output that meets global high quality standards.
Moreover, analysis at the institute level reveals a closer view of the national research landscape. Among the selected top-tier institutes in the country namely: COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), National University of Sciences and Technology Pakistan (NUST), Quaidi-Azam University (QAU.), University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, and the University of the Punjab Lahore (PU), more than 70 percent of the publication volume does not meet global high quality standards. Excluding QAU and LUMS, the institutes hardly make 10 percent of their publications in A* or A ranked outlets.
Similarly, drilling down into the field of Computer Science does not show an encouraging picture as well. A number of top-tier institutes do not make even five percent of their total publication volume into high quality venues. Again, a large portion of their publications falls into C or unranked outlets of scientific publication venues.
The research and innovation plays a vital role in the economic development of the countries. In this era – shifting towards the knowledge-based economies – the most crucial contribution is knowledge creation. The last two decades have shown a significant shift – where new emerging economies in Asia are competing with, and many actually have overtaken, the North American and European powerhouses in research and innovation. The research standing of Pakistan has become very crucial in this regard. Though research output of Pakistani institutes has grown over the years, digging deeper into the data reveals an alarming situation in terms of quality of the research produced by the Pakistani institutions.
The higher education policymakers must come up with short term and long term plans to break the cycle of ‘publish or perish.’ The following steps may be taken. Teaching-load of the faculty on tenure track system should be reduced; a clear distinction should be made and rewarded between publishing in a ‘cost-effective’ ISI indexed journal versus a high-ranking journal or conference in the field, better benchmarks need to be set, and last but not the least, more funding options should be provided by the government to promote high quality research in the country.
Dr. Saeed Ul Hassan is the director of ITU Scientometrics Lab and a permanent faculty member at the Information Technology University, Lahore.
اسے اردو میں پڑھیں
«Previous Post: The Crisis in Higher Education
Next Post: » Higher Education: Past, Present and Future