It appears that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) is operating in silos, far from the glaring realities of Pakistan’s educational systems and its demography. As per latest developments, the HEC has decided to prohibit private/external graduations and Master’s degree programs in the fields that can be easily attained through distance learning.
The move seems quite contrary to global best practices, emerging trends of global and local mobility, as well as Pakistan’s own needs to expand and improve graduate programs given the country’s dismal performance in tertiary education.
As the rigmarole to ban private education has been lurking since 2005, one was hoping that the HEC will come up with a more powerful, inclusive, and practical educational system; an approach towards learning that would be according to the changing world and workforce.
The Commission proclaimed time and again that they wish to bring the level of tertiary education equal to international standards.
If the HEC really desires to bring education to international level, then distance learning is the future
In this respect, they introduced an ‘Associate Degree Program’ (ADP) that would allow bridging private/external students with the universities/colleges from the 5th semesters as regular students. But how would the country reap benefits from acquiring higher education by banning external/ private students is a mystery to many.
Till last year, private examinations were held for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees after much ado.
In the beginning of 2023, a few universities opened registration for private degrees, but they were asked to close their respective registration portals. Many undergraduates had already paid their registration fees, other students were registered long before and were unable to take exams for some or other reasons despite paying relevant fees. All the students who are in the pipeline have been sidelined.
These students could be in a straggle for various reasons. Perhaps, due to financial problems or a family matter, a health issue, dislocation due to floods or it could be because one was a woman in labour.
Various questions surface for the students living in rural areas, people performing full/part time jobs to support their families, people with certain disabilities.
Then there is a mother of all questions and that is education of women. Even though women population is approximately 114 million, it seems that they are destined to remain without education, financial independence, and empowerment.
There are women who aspire for education, however, they cannot travel to study because either it hurts the fragile patriarchy, or the country is not safe enough for them to commute.
There are widows and divorcees whose education is crucial for the progress of their children and to generate passive income.
One cannot ignore the significance of education of transgender population because they cannot really step into any institution without being ridiculed to tears.
It seems more than half of the population is to remain ill-educated because of unrealistic methods. Despite the face of resentment, confusion, and distress teeming amongst the students and parents due to lack of clarity in the matter, the Commission is keeping a giant silence and a blind eye.
There are widows and divorcees whose education is crucial for the progress of their children and to generate passive income
Clearly, there is someone running the show within the HEC with a tunnel vision by ignoring these issues.
There is also news circulating that as such no policies have been assembled, instead certain graciously paid consultants are hired, however, after completion of tenure, they slip from the back doors without bringing constructive changes in the system. I cannot possibly know the entire truth, but I do know that where there is smoke there is fire.
If the HEC really desires to bring education to international level, then distance learning is the future.
A few examples will probably educate the educators. The University of London, which is a Federal University, has 17 member institutions including London school of Economics (LSE) and Political Science. The University of London mentions on its website, addressing students to study from anywhere and learn at their pace according to flexibility by fitting studies around work schedule and commitments on a part-time or full-time basis. Their website also highlights that distance learning has lesser amount of fees as compared to campus programs in order to encourage more people towards tertiary education.
Other than these many other universities can be cited of international level that help people in attaining distance learning. To name a few there is University of Oxford (the UK), Wageningen University and Research (the Netherlands), Freie Universitat Berlin, (Germany), Stockholm University (Sweden), Swiss School of Business and Management, (Switzerland).
It is pertinent to mention that their distance learning is equivalent to Master’s level. In fact, there is also a concept of “School leavers”.
As per this scheme, people who leave education at any point in life for whatever reason can continue their studies through taking diploma classes to bridge the missed curriculum, later they can join a relevant university at any age bracket. This kind of facilitation helps solve the problems of society – making them more equipped to face the future.
Bradley Farnsworth, vice president for internationalization and global engagement at the American Council on Education, once said that “Institutions will have to share resources and utilise emerging technologies like in a more creative fashion, utilising globally but assessing locally, this will require a greater creativity in curriculum and program development.”
Clearly, these are global best practices that HEC needs to follow by removing hurdles from education by democratising access to distance education rather than curtailing them. The job of a higher educational body is to find ways to deliver high-quality education to people with limited resources and poor infrastructure.
Many people in Pakistan and other parts of the world need to work and find other stabilities in life before attaining education.
Such students come to tertiary education with a wide range of prior experiences. They have some validated experience gained outside educational institutions. An increasing number of entrants are adults who have long since left secondary school, many of whom desire to use alternative routes for education.
Policies addressing roads to tertiary education need to consider people’s needs over their whole life rather than just at the point of leaving secondary school. As mentioned earlier the routes by which these adults make themselves eligible for higher education should no longer be considered a side issue.
In an age and era where distance education is projected to grow fast due to rapid technological development and to cater to unique needs of world population, our-arm chaired thinkers are wasting time by sweeping off the lives of people without proper strategic planning.
As no alternative routes of education has been introduced for those who cannot attend colleges and universities, it is still not late for HEC to reverse the banning of private education and bring improvement in the system through practical and innovative ideas.
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