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Thursday Nov 09 2017

HEC, let's talk about plagiarism

If you were to ask Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, chairman of the Higher Education Commission, about the academe in Pakistan, he would tell you that all is well. Talking to a small gathering recently, he boasted about the number of published dissertation and research papers by PhDs to have gone up to 12,000 per year, compared to only a few hundred from a few years ago. There are now more than 300 universities providing quality higher education, he added. Standalone, these numbers seem impressive. But in reality, they gloss over the actual facts that reveal the deteriorating education standards in the country.

Renowned academic Pervez Hoodbhoy, and other scholars insist that Pakistan’s higher education system is regressing. Even if over a thousand research papers are being published annually, are they, in fact, original? What are we doing about those who resort to plagiarism to obtain their educational certificate? Are these plagiarists not further compounding the problem, especially when they are later appointed as teachers/professors? What do we do to stop the cycle?

When theses MPhils and PhDs begin teaching in the same institutions they give birth to graduates who are even worse than them. I had referenced to such individuals in a previous op-ed. Some of who are working in sensitive institutions of the state, hoping to have the authorities take notice and make sure that heads roll. But alas, it was not to be.

Are big-budgeted projects, such as the Orange Line Metro Train, more important than education for our youngsters?

I recently read through two reports: one authored by Pervez Hoodbhoy and the other by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British company specializing in education and study abroad. Let's talk about the latter first.

As per the HEC, the Quaid-e-Azam University is the number one ranked institute in Pakistan. The Punjab University comes in second, followed by the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST). The benchmark for the ranking is the number of PhDs and research papers being churned out by these colleges. Interestingly then, the HEC yardstick is rejected by international organisations. The QS and the London-based Times Higher Education, consider LUMS to be the best university in the country. Who should we believe?

A query, often asked by academics, is that how can the HEC, an institute that grants funds, rank universities? More important, on what basis and criteria are our provincial education ministers being appointed?

Hoodbhoy has himself written about this issue several times, begging the 300 reputable universities to stop doling out PhDs. In one article, he mentions Professor Freeman John Dyson is an authority on physics. Yet, the 90-year-old does not have a doctorate. While, he has only published 50 research papers till now, each is considered a Holy Grail in the world of physics. But here, in Pakistan, it is mandatory for science teachers to hold a doctorate certificate, regardless of how or from where they go it. These hallowed educational institutions have become assembly-line factories where doctorates are handed out without merit. If Prof. Dyson were to come to Pakistan, he is unlikely to find a job here. Is that ironic?

A few, if not most, research papers are a copy paste job from the Internet. Rarely are they ever proofread and checked. And if they are, the accused usually end up avoiding the consequences. The vice-chancellor of Lahore’s Comsats ran away from the country.

If these fake professors and lecturers make plagiarism a norm, then we are training our future generations to be intellectual thieves, devoid of all critical analysis. Are those the kind of men and women we want to send out in the world?

The author is the Group Director Infotainment in Geo News. 

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