Friday, September 4, 2009

Hoodbhoy's Letter to Nature on Pakistan's Higher Education Reform

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy is a vocal critic of Pakistan's Higher Education Reform initiated by Dr. Ata ur Rahman, adviser to President Musharraf, in 2002. This reform resulted in a fivefold increase in public funding for universities, with a special emphasis on science, technology and engineering. The reform supported initiatives such as a free national digital library and high-speed Internet access for universities as well as new scholarships enabling more than 2,000 students to study abroad for PhDs — with incentives to return to Pakistan afterward. The years of reform have coincided with increases in the number of Pakistani authors publishing in research journals, especially in mathematics and engineering, as well as boosting the impact of their research outside Pakistan.

Reacting to the recent publication of a report on reform by Dr. Athar Osama, Prof. Adil Najam, Dr. Shams Kassim-Lakha and Dr. Christopher King published in Nature Magazine, Dr. Hoodbhoy has written the following letter to the editors of the magazine:

"Pakistan's Reform Experiment" (Nature, V461, page 38, 3 September 2009) gives the impression of providing a factual balance sheet of Pakistan's higher education under General Pervez Musharraf's former government. Unfortunately, several critical omissions indicate a partisan bias.

Mention of the billions wasted on mindless prestige mega-projects is noticeably absent. Example: nine new universities were hastily conceived and partially constructed, but abandoned and finally scrapped after it became obvious that it was impossible to provide them with the most crucial ingredient - trained faculty. Similarly, fantastically expensive scientific equipment, imported with funds from the Higher Education Commission, remain hopelessly under-utilized many years later. They litter the country's length and breadth. For instance, my university has been forced to house a "souped-up" Van de Graaf accelerator facility, purchased in 2005 with HEC funds. A research purpose is still being sought in 2009.

The authors conveniently choose not to mention that the 400% claimed increase in the number of publications was largely a consequence of giving huge payments to professors for publishing in international journals, irrespective of actual substance and quality. Not surprisingly these cash-per-paper injections had the effect of producing a plagiarism pandemic, one that is still out of control. In a country where academic ethics are poor and about a third of all students cheat in examinations, penalties for plagiarism by teachers and researchers are virtually non-existent.

Citing Thomson Scientific, the authors claim a large rise in the "relative impact" in some disciplines, based upon citation levels of papers published between 2003 and 2007. But did the authors try to eliminate self-citations (a deliberate ploy) from this count? If they had - as I did using an available option in the Thomson Scientific package - they might actually have found the opposite result.

While the authors laud the increase in the salaries of university professors by the HEC, they pay no attention to the disparities thus created. The salary of a full professor (after the raises) can be 20-30 times that of an average Pakistani school teacher. Money raining down from the skies has created a new dynamic as well. Naked greed is now destroying the moral fibre of Pakistan's academia. Professors across the country are clamoring to lift even minimal requirements that could assure quality education.

This is happening in three critical ways. First, given the large prospective salary raises, professors are bent upon removing all barriers for their promotions by pressuring their university's administration as well as the HEC. 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. Third, a majority wants the elimination of all international testing - such as the Graduate Record Examination administered from Princeton. These had been used as a metric for gauging student performance within the Pakistani system.

Pakistan's failed experiment provides a counter example to the conventional wisdom that money is the most important element.Instead, an enormous cash infusion, used badly, has served to amplify problems rather than improve teaching and research quality. There is much that other developing countries can learn from our experience - and it is opposite to what the authors want us to conclude.

Author affiliation: Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of nuclear and high-energy physics at Quaid-e-Azam University's department of physics, of which he is also the chairman.

Riaz Haq's Note: For the first time in the nation's history, President Musharraf's education adviser Dr. Ata ur Rahman succeeded in getting tremendous focus and major funding increases for higher education in Pakistan. According to Sciencewatch, which tracks trends and performance in basic research, citations of Pakistani publications are rising sharply in multiple fields, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, material science and plant and animal sciences. Over two dozen Pakistani scientists are actively working on the Large Hadron Collider; the grandest experiment in the history of Physics. Pakistan now ranks among the top outsourcing destinations, based on its growing talent pool of college graduates. As evident from the overall results, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of universities and highly-educated faculty and university graduates in Pakistan. There have also been some instances of abuse of incentives, opportunities and resources provided to the academics in good faith. The quality of some of the institutions of higher learning can also be enhanced significantly, with some revisions in the incentive systems.

Admission meritocracy, faculty competence and inspirational leadership in education are important, but there is no real substitute for higher spending on higher education to achieve better results. In fact, it should be seen as an investment in the future of the people rather than just another expense.

Of the top ten universities in the world published by Times of London, six are in the United States. The US continues to lead the world in scientific and technological research and development. Looking at the industries of the future such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, green technologies, the US continues to enjoy a huge lead over Europe and Asia. The reason for US supremacy in higher education is partly explained by how much it spends on it. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform, "The Future of European Universities" points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.

Related Links:

Poor Quality of Education in India and Pakistan

Global Shortage of Quality Labor

Nature Magazine Editorial on Pakistan's Higher Education Reform

McKinsey Global Institute Report

Pakistan Ranks Among Top Outsourcing Destinations

Pakistan Software Houses Association

World's Top Universities Rankings

Improving Higher Education in Pakistan

Globalization of Engineering Services 2006

Center for European Reform

Reforming Higher Education in Pakistan

Hoodbhoy on India


Anonymous said...

is there a typo? nature or nurture?

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "is there a typo? nature or nurture?"

No it's not a typo. But I can see why it should be nurture rather than nature.

Riaz Haq said...

Dr. Hoodbhoy has been harshly critical of fraud in Pakistan's academia in terms of fake research and plagiarism in paper publication. Here is an excerpt from Calcutta's Telegraph newspaper report about science fraud in India:

Some of India’s most respected scientists are accused of covering up wrongdoing by others. Not surprisingly, not everybody is happy with the SSV’s efforts. One scientist derisively calls it a “self-appointed watchdog” while another likens it to Don Quixote, charging at imaginary windmills.

Yet the evidence is out in the open. Physicist K.R. Rao, associate editor of Current Science, a peer-reviewed research journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, says he has detected 80 cases of plagiarism — major and minor — in articles submitted to the journal in recent years.

Earlier this year, chemistry professor P. Chiranjeevi at the Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, was punished for copying from others’ research. Repeated attempts to reach him failed, but a member of the investigating committee says Chiranjeevi denied any wrongdoing when he appeared before it. The committee indicted him, and Chiranjeevi was barred from holding administrative posts or taking new research students.

In October last year, a team of materials scientists from Anna University, Chennai, and the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, was found to have published a paper on ionic conductivity that was a copy of a previous paper by a Swedish team. But the one who hit the headlines was Raghunath Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

In March 2007, Mashelkar admitted in a letter to the SSV that sections of a book he had co-authored on intellectual property rights had reproduced verbatim material from a paper by a British scholar without crediting him. “…I am highly embarrassed by this and I have decided to take some hard actions,” he wrote. He said he would stop further editions of the book and not take any personal gains from it.

A few months earlier, the US Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted a research paper by Gopal Kundu and his colleagues at Pune’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS). Kundu was accused of using the same data or images relating to proteins in two unconnected articles submitted to the journal. Kundu holds there was “absolutely no wrongdoing” by his team. He says another international journal has accepted the data.

But the authorities are still wary of confronting such accusations. Three committees, for instance, looked into the Kundu affair. A seven-member panel of top scientists exonerated him despite JBC’s withdrawal of the paper. Panel chairman G. Padmanaban says the journal’s decision was not “wrong”, but “harsh”.

The inconsistency between the Padmanaban committee’s views and JBC’s decision to withdraw Kundu’s paper has prompted some scientists to take the issue up. Rahul Siddharthan, a physicist and computational biologist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, says he stepped into the controversy with “a sense of deep indignation” at the way the committee decided to dispose of the case. He says the duplication — intentional or unintentional — of images is so “blatantly obvious” that he cannot understand how a top scientists’ committee can dismiss the charges.

Some scientists at Lucknow’s Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants have complained to the SSV that their director, Suman Preet Singh Khanuja, has been claiming credit for too many research papers. Since he took over as director in 2001, Khanuja has published more than 140 papers and staked his claim to at least 40 patents. Some question how a director can find time to produce on an average 20 research papers a year. A large number of the papers appeared in a journal produced by his institution and of which he is the chief editor.

Riaz Haq said...

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy has continued his animus toward Dr. Ata through a piece in Dawn titled "A Case of Bogus Science". In this piece, Hoodbhoy accuses Ata-u-Rehman of engaging in "bogus science" by asking in his ecent paper on HAARP: “Is the HAARP then, a harmless research tool — or a weapon of mass destruction far more lethal than nuclear weapons? We may never know.”

I think Dr. Ata is well within the realm of science in speculating about HAARP's ability to effect weather patterns and seismic activity.

Here are some of the arguments that support Dr. Ata's concerns:

1. Major seismic activity is often preceded by extreme weather phenomena induced by ionospheric disturbances - like thunderstorms with extensive lightning discharges. Before the release of tectonic stresses, there are large changes in ground potential, and these interact with the atmosphere and eventually with the ionosphere. It is conceivable that humans could manipulate the coupling in the reverse direction - from the ionosphere via the atmosphere to the lithosphere.

2. HAARP's transmitter's 3.6 MW is not a "puny" amount of power, especially when focused like a laser beam to "tickle" existing tectonic instability, thereby releasing the energy already stored in tectonic plates.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a response from Dr. Ata to this aticle by Dr. Hoodbhoy:

In my article that I had written on HAARP, I was simply referring to an ALLEGATION made by others. If you read the preceding sentence to the one on earthquakes, it makes it very clear that certain allegations have been made against this the development of thistechnology---the preceding sentence starts with “It has been alleged that the programme aims to ----“. The subsequent sentence which is a continuation of the preceding one, continues the with allegations made. No where do I state that the allegation is correct. Indeed my conclusion at the end of the article is, and I quote: “ Is HAARP a harmless research tool ---- or a weapon of mass destruction far more lethal than nuclear weapons? We may never know.” This clearly establishes that the evidence against HAARP is inconclusive, in my opinion.

Dr. Hoodbhoy has alas taken one of the allegations against HAARP made by others (about its ability to cause earthquakes) and twisted it around as if I was making it. He has then gone on to write and a long and venemous article in Dawn against me and what a poor scientist I am. This is loathsome behaviour from one who pretends to be a scientist.

The allegations about HAARP that it can cause earthquakes are obvious nonsense, but its ability to change weather patterns has many US patents behind it and deserves serious consideration because of the chain reaction that the ionisation processes can cause.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a response from Dr. Ata to this aticle by Dr. Hoodbhoy (Part 2):

Let me summarise:
In my article I had described the work going on at a US military research facility in Alaska for the last several decades on developing weapons that can alter weather patterns (HAARP). Dr. Hoodbhoy has dismissed the article as being a case for “bogus science” .
The facts are as follows:
(1) The European Union in an unprecedented move officially condemned the US for the research being conducted at this US Alaskan secret facility. The formal EU resolution No. 24 of 28th January 1999, states “Considers HAARP by virtue of its far-reaching impact on the environment to be a global concern and calls for its legal, ecological and ethical implications to be examined by an international independent body before any further research and testing; regrets the repeated refusal of the United States Administration to send anyone in person to give evidence to the public hearing”: The link is available at : ”:|PRG@QUERY|APP@PV2|FILE@BIBLIO99|NUMERO@5|YEAR@99|PLAGE@1&LANGUE=ENDr. Hoodbhoy has dismissed this resolution as being based on “bogus science” and gone on to defend the US by stating that the European Union members who passed this resolution may not have been scientists. Not surprisingly, Dr. Hoodbhoy claims to be more learned on such matters than members of the EU Commission who have access to the best scientists in the world!
(2). Twelve US patents have been granted to ARCO power Technologies Incorporated (APTI) since 1985 on the use of HAARP for altering weather patterns The first of these twelve patents was U.S. Patent 4686605 entitled : “Method And Apparatus For Altering A Region In The Earth's Atmosphere”, linked to the Star Wars Defense system. These patents do NOT represent “bogus science” as claimed by Dr. Hoodbhoy but two decades of serious research on which hundreds of millions of dollars were spent which raised deep concerns of the European Union. APTI was sold in 1994 to, “E-Systems”, one of the largest intelligence contractors in USA , and E-Systems was later acquired at a price of US$ 2.3 billion by Raytheon Corporation, a large US company with several military contracts. What is Raytheon doing with HAARP if there are no military applications?
(3) All the patents granted by the US patent office, after careful independent evaluation by scientists, support the claims that the technology can affect weather. Dr. Hoodbhoy again claims to be more knowledgable than US Patent Office specialists who vetted and approved these patents.
(4) Nowhere in my article have I stated that the technology caused earthquakes ---- I did state that these allegations had been made by others, including the President of Venezuela. Dr. Hoodbhoy twists these statements out of context, conveniently forgets to mention that these were allegations of others as correctly mentioned by me, and then goes on to criticize me for making them. What a shame !!!!!
Dr. Hoodbhoy will be well advised to do some serious physics research and make some genuine contributions to science in Pakistan . He obviously gets his kicks by trying to insult others publicly, while he himself has not produced a single PhD or published a single international research paper for several years---- that is however his business. Regards Atta Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, FRS
UNESCO Science Laureate
Honorary Life Fellow
Kings College
University of Cambridge

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a report of Pakistan's Higher Education Commission (HEC) under attack by crooked politicians:

ISLAMABAD: Parliament’s revenge against the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for its laudable role in identifying the fake degree holding MPs will not only destroy the higher education structure, built in decades, but also threatens huge and committed $550m (Rs47 billion) in foreign assistance.

Informed government sources told The News that the USAID had hinted on Friday of keeping on hold the committed $250 million assistance under the Kerry-Lugar Act to establish three centres of excellence besides pursuing certain other potential goals for higher education development in the country.

Already, the World Bank, which has only recently approved $300 million soft loan for the HEC to support its various programmes for the next five years, has verbally told the commission’s bosses to wait as the Bank is unsure about the future of the HEC.

The sources said that the USAID, in its communication with the HEC officials, has indicated of not doing the cost reimbursement PIL for the next six months because of a meeting the USAID had with the Economic Affairs Division, which has told the American agency that the HEC is going to be devolved.

Out of the $250 million, so far only $45 million has been transferred to the HEC by the USAID, which had agreed to hand over to the HEC all the education related programmes handled by the US Financial Assistance Development (FAD) programme. Now for the HEC officials, all the committed US aid for the HEC is frozen.

The sources said that under the USAID assistance programme, the HEC had designed to set up three centres of excellence (CoE), including the CoE in water resource at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, the CoE in food security at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and the CoE in energy at the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar.

Already, as reported, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) would lose 300 million dollars of loan approved by the World Bank (WB) to support its various programmes for the next five years.

According to the report, the $300 million equivalent credit was supposed to finance the government’s tertiary education development programme. It is said that the loan deal would automatically come to an end after the devolution of the HEC due to some legal implications. “There is a clause in the agreement between the WB and HEC that any change in the legal status of the HEC would end the agreement at once,” the reporter quoted HEC Executive Director Dr Sohail Naqvi as saying. This is a soft loan.

The HEC is facing the wrath of the parliamentarians after it had refused to accept any pressure for the verification of the MPs’ degrees, more than 50 of which have already been declared invalid whereas above 200 degrees were termed suspected.

The federal and provincial governments and members of parliament and provincial assemblies exerted all sorts of pressure on the HEC to stop it from the verification work but to no avail. Later, more than 200 MPs refused to cooperate despite the apex court’s decision, refusing to provide to the HEC or the universities concerned the details of their qualification certificates and degrees to stop their verification by the HEC.
In its meeting on March 28, 2011, the federal cabinet, instead of devolving all functions of the Education Ministry, decided to retain several of them at the federal level by assigning these functions to different ministries and divisions like the cabinet and foreign ministry.

Riaz Haq said...

Best universities in Pakistan 2017
Discover the best universities in Pakistan determined by data collected by Times Higher Education
February 17 2017

Pakistan is a fascinating country with beautiful natural scenery, a rich culture and a complex history.

The country stretches from the shores of the Arabian sea in the south to the towering heights of the Himalayas in the north, and encompasses the Indus River valley, a cradle of human civilization and home to some of the world’s most ancient cultures. Over the millennia the land has been ruled by many different kingdoms, Hindus, Muslims, Mongols, Sikhs, Achaemenids, Mughals and the British have all controlled parts of modern-day Pakistan.

The country today is an ethnic and linguistic patchwork (more than 60 languages are spoken in Pakistan) where the people mirror the incredible diversity of its landscapes and geography.

Pakistan has around 170 public and private higher education institutions, some of which date back to when the country was first established. Following the establishment of Pakistan as an independent country the government built several universities to provide vital skills to the newly-formed republic, especially in the sciences and engineering. That legacy continues to this day with many universities retaining a focus on science, medicine and technology.

Many Pakistani universities actively encourage foreign students to enrol, and large numbers choose to study abroad in Pakistan. Students come from as far afield as Saudi Arabia, Africa and China as well as some from America and Europe. Higher education is delivered in English at all public universities in Pakistan which, combined with the relatively low cost of living, makes studying abroad here an attractive option.

COMSATS Institute of Information Technology

The COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, or CIIT for short, was established in 1994 by the commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South, an intergovernmental organisation whose goal is to promote sustainable growth in developing countries through science and technology. CIIT is spread over six campuses with the main campus in the capital city, Islamabad.

National University of Sciences and Technology

The National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) is a public research university based in Islamabad. The university was founded in 1991 to further the provision of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in Pakistan’s higher education system.

Quaid-i-azam University

Also based in Islamabad, Quaid-i-azam University was founded in 1977 to further the study of postgraduate education. A public research university, Quaid-i-azam University was called Islamabad University when it first opened. Since those days the institution has broadened its curriculum and is now proud to call itself an interdisciplinary university offering postgraduate and undergraduate degrees.

Riaz Haq said...

Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy says IITs have become victims to rote learning due to coaching classes

As more and more students leave India for higher studies, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy proposed that governments and corporates should “incentivise” researchers with grants and provide facilities to work here. “The 10,000 crore per year grants for universities under the New Education Policy will help institutions become competitive", he said.

Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy on Tuesday expressed concern over India’s education system saying that even the IITs are becoming a victim of learning by rote due to the “tyranny of coaching classes.” Murthy suggested that our education system needs a reorientation directed towards Socratic questioning.
The Infosys founder, who himself is an IIT alumnus, batted for Socratic questioning in the classroom in order to arrive at solutions to real-world issues. “Many experts feel that (in) our country, (there is an) inability to use research to solve our immediate pressing problems around us… (this) is due to lack of inculcating curiosity at an early age, disconnect between pure or applied research," he said.

As to what could be done to solve this, the 76-year-old suggested that the first component is to reorient teaching in schools and colleges towards Socratic questioning in the classroom to solve real-world problems rather than passing the examinations by rote learning. Socrates was a fifth century (BCE) Greek philosopher credited as the founder of Western philosophy.
Speaking at the 14th edition of the Infosys Prize event in Bengaluru, Murthy said that the nation’s progress on the economic and social front depends on the quality of scientific and technological research. Research thrives in an environment of honour and respect for intellectuals, meritocracy and the support and approbation of such intellectuals from society, he noted.