Privatization of Higher Education in Pakistan

Outlines

  • Introduction

  • The rationale behind the Privatization of Higher Education

  • Merits of Privatization of Higher Education

  • Bridging gap between demand and supply of higher education

  • Increase in the variety of subjects

  • Improvement in the efficiency of the educational institutes

  • Boost in healthy competition amongst the educational institutes

  • Alarming Drawbacks Visible in Privatized Institutes

  • Commercialization of higher education

  • Maximizing profit by charging higher fees

  • Lack of equitable access to higher education

  • Lack of proper physical infrastructure

  • Substandard research

  • The absence of talented and well-trained faculty

  • Rampant plagiarism

  • poor standard of assessment methods

  • Comparison of US and Chinese Institutes in Order to have a Better Perspective of the Issue

  • Conclusion

Pakistan has seen massive increase in the number of private institutes in the higher 1 education sector over the last couple of years. However, if looked objectively, one comes to the conclusion that privatization of higher education in the country has proved a mixed blessing. Honestly speaking, the privatization of higher education is not without its merits. It has proved extremely beneficial in different ways. It has not only added to the efficiency of the higher education system with respect to the propagation of knowledge as to variety of subjects, but it has also enhanced the element of quality in the domain of research in some institutes, if not all. Besides, privatization has also granted much needed independence in the domain of curricula, leading to enhanced interface between educational content and modern requirements. Needless to say, absence of government regulations in the sector has resulted in boosting competition, a prerequisite for efficiency in any sector. However, the negative side of the picture is also undeniable. With no checks and oversights from the government, privatized educational institutions are being run as commercial entities, leading to accumulation of wealth. Most of educational institutions have not only degenerated to money-making factories for their owners, but have also become degree-awarding factories, resulting in marked increase in quantity of knowledge but at the cost of quality. Adding fuel to the fire, the influx of lowly-educated business class in the system has further curtailed the element of quality in higher education sector. More importantly, with privatization of higher education, higher education has become a rare commodity for majority of the masses, especially lower classes of the society. It has become a luxury enjoyed by the privileged few. The negative side of the picture does not mean that privatization of higher education should be discouraged. Reasons are obvious. With population increasing at unprecedented rate, it is really not possible for the resource-deficit state to cater to the higher education needs of the population. Besides, the prevalence of abysmal conditions in primary and secondary tiers of education in the public sector further corroborates the fact that leaving the higher education sector completely at the disposal of the state would, no doubt, turn the higher education institutes into a picture of disappointment.

Before we resort to analysis of privatization of higher education in Pakistan, it would be quite appropriate to shed light on the fact as to why privatization of higher education is preferred in most of the countries, and the primary and secondary levels of education are kept mostly under the state’s control. Lower tiers of education are provided free of cost for multiple purposes by governments all around the world. Education, especially primary and secondary education, is a basic right of every child which is not only recognized by all governments of the world, but is also articulated in various UN conventions. This is because the immense importance of nurturing and grooming of human mind is undeniable in early years of life so that it can distinguish between good and bad. In other words, a human mind if left untrained has greater chance of being swayed by the evil nature within him. Education enables man to distinguish between good and bad, identifying the path of good leading to order in a society. Apart from that, education encourages a man to think and investigate. It also tries to order one’s social and moral life by various ethical elements involved in education. All these objectives are part and parcel of lower tiers of education, providing necessary grooming in early years of life. Imparting early primary and secondary education is thus a necessity and this explains the fact why it is provided free of cost in almost every part of the world.

Higher education is an altogether different affair. It is sought after for other reasons. The primary objective of seeking higher education is to obtain such a degree that can support one’s self financially. Most forms of higher education, for instance, prominent of them being engineering, medical and law in today’s world are acquired with a sense that it will provide financial support later in one’s life. A degree is leaned so that it could later be employed for the purpose of earning through it later. Second important factor in acquiring higher education is eagerness of research. Research is a field that requires investigation and experimentation in sophisticated, high-tech labs. Research in the fields of higher education especially in engineering and medical has proven out too much expensive in recent years. It becomes quite evident that higher education with the for of technicalities involved in it is costlier than its other two tiers of education. Hence, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the government to finance it wholly.

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Another factor that has contributed to the privatization of higher education is the sky-rise of population. Earlier, higher education was extremely selective affair. Today, higher education has become a necessary requirement. Advancement of technology necessitates advancement of skill and thus the demand for higher education has upshot in recent years. This higher demand cannot by solely fulfilled by the government. Governments or public sector for that matter is not only inefficient in most cases but also cannot bear the burden of massive finances involved. This brings us to the need of privatization in higher education which is not simply a means of acquiring more money for the opulent but also helping enormously in increasing efficiency, ensuring quality and boosting competition amongst the institutions. All of this is contributing essentially in generating more advanced and useful knowledge. At this stage, it would be quite pertinent to take into account the merits of privatization of higher education in Pakistan. One of the key merits of privatization of higher education has appeared in the form of marked increase in the number of private educational institutes in the country. There is no denying the fact that this increase has led to the propagation of knowledge on massive scale. The country has come out of the era when people used to travel long distances in order to get their needs of higher education tended. Now the situation has changed, thanks to privatization of higher education in the country. The higher education institutes can be seen even in small cities and towns, let alone mega cities. It cannot be negated that this promising trend has added to the quantity of knowledge. Coupled with the number, there has equally been increase in the variety of subjects offered in different colleges and universities. Erstwhile, there used to be a very limited number of the subjects offered at the public institutes. Another key merit is concerned with the efficiency. Privatization is generally thought of as an instrument that improves efficiency of a system. It has played this same useful role in education too. Resources not only in manpower but also in money are utilized efficiently by privatized institutes. How privatization enhances efficiency in administration can be gauged from the fact that privatized institutes trend to hire as many people as are required to perform a work. Similarly, overlapping among various departments is dealt away with. Privatized institutes are thus institutionalized and the work inside these institutes is channelized and there are seldom any redundancies. Furthermore the lax and laissez-faire attitude, so apparent in public sector institutes evaporates from these privatized institutions. All men who come to work are made responsible for their work and replaced if that need arises. Similarly, the whole system if it appears is not responding perfectly to the circumstances is also replaced or improved without much stress. All these factors that form the bedrock of private educational institutes add to their efficiency and in turn generation of more knowledge.

The element of competition is undeniable as far as privatization of higher education is concerned. Needless to say, privatization of various institutes has boosted competition among them. This competition in turn has added to the efficiency of the higher education institutes in the country. But like any other thing, privatization has its own pitfalls and drawbacks. Thus, it would be quite pertinent to shed light on the drawbacks of the phenomenon of privatization in the higher education sector.

The harm done by the burgeoning growth of private institutions in the sector of higher education over the last couple of years is really immense. It has mainly appeared in the form of commercialization of higher education in the country. The commercial element has significantly impinged on the quality of higher education. With exception of a few institutes in the country, majority of higher education centres are a deplorable picture of disappointment. The quality of education has been compromised for the sake of profit. The fact that profit is the ultimate goal of the owners has metamorphosed the institutes into money minting machines. Profit is the touchstone against all the decisions taken in the private institutes of higher education. The fact that owners are businessmen to the core is sufficient cause to prove the commercial element in private higher education sector. For the sake of their commercial interests, owners are willing to take any step that may earn them money. Needless to say, ingrained commercial interests result in violation of merit and standards. This explains the fact why it is easy even for the below average students to get admission in private colleges and universities as long as they can afford the hefty tuition fees.

The commercial element in the privatized higher education sector has engendered many other alarming manifestations in the sector. One of them is the deplorable lack of equitable access to higher education in the country. It is an established fact that privatization of higher education has significantly increased the cost of higher education in the country, making it a rare commodity for the masses at lower strata of the society. It has been seen that in order to recover the high cost involved in higher education, mainly the cost of attractive buildings, coupled with their own profit, owners resort to all possible ways. The most important way is charging high tuition fees. The admission criterion in these institutes is kept very low in order to attract maximum number of students. Aside from it, evening classes are also initiated to further the agenda of profit. To be honest, such profit-based approach makes higher education unaffordable for the majority of talented poor students. Only because of lack of resources, the poor students who might be more talented compared to their rich compatriots are sidelined by this privatized system of education. This type of discrimination spawns inequalities within the society, creating a generation of people who acquired higher education with more opportunities than the marginalized.

Another pathetic manifestation caused by the commercial mentality in the privatized higher education institutes appears in the form of the lack of proper physical infrastructure. It has been seen that most of private higher education institutes are deficit in libraries, laboratories, latest scientific equipment, teaching aids, spacious classrooms and high speed internet connection at campuses. Without the provision of these resources the learning process cannot be effective. Needless to say, quality-based knowledge generation coupled with innovation cannot be achieved without the delivery of proper infrastructure.

Moreover, the profit-based approach is also significantly responsible for the appearance of below-par research in majority of private higher education institutes. Except a few private universities in Pakistan, the standard of research is very pathetic in private colleges and universities. There are two established criteria to measure the standard of research all over the world. Firstly, the number of books published by the academics or research scholars of a private university and secondly, the number of patents registered by the private institutes of higher education. The performance of private higher education institutes of Pakistan is disappointing in both the fields. Reasons are obvious. Quality-oriented research entails huge amount of money, and the commercial mentality of the owners does not allow them to curtail their profits in any way. That is why, they are least bothered about quality-based research.

There is no denying the fact that the absence of a qualified and well-trained faculty reflected in most of private colleges and universities is also the corollary of commercial element involved in private higher education sector. Needless to say, well-qualified and talented faculty is the heart and soul of an institution of higher education. Without it, no higher education institute can touch the pinnacle of excellence. However, the owners of the private institutes seem least bothered about it as long as their commercial interests are protected. Resultantly, it has been seen that in order to bolster their commercial interests, the private colleges and universities compromise on this prerequisite by inducting low paid, under-qualified and untrained faculty. In this way, the commercial mentality of the owners further adds to the crisis of quality in these institutes.

Apart from the absence of talented faculty, rampant plagiarism also goes a long way in curtailing the element of quality in the private higher education institutes. No one can deny the fact that the generation of high quality knowledge cannot take place at an institute where the students are busy in stealing others work and presenting it as of their own. Coupled with plagiarism, the absence of standardized assessment methods in the private institutes also gives a severe blow to the element of quality in the private sector.

It becomes quite clear that privatized higher education sector is in dire need of reforms. The presence of alarming flaws in the sector does not mean that the privatization should be discouraged. The privatization of higher education is a trend visible in most countries. If comparative analysis of both private and public higher education sectors is made, it comes to light that private higher education institutes perform far better than the public ones. For instance, a comparison of US and Chinese institutes reveals how privatized and public sector institutes are faring in their respective circumstances. US educational institutes although receive much government grants but are not under complete state control. The situation is quite opposite in China where institutes receive state grants for research that too after approval of research proposals by local authorities. Consequently, nepotism and favouritism sneaks in and stifles progress in research and innovation in Chinese institutes. Favourite institutes and teachers are awarded huge grants often without accountability. In contrast, US educational institutes, most of them private funded are awarded grants purely on the quality of research proposal proposed by an institute or an individual. This is the precise reason why US institutes are ahead in innovation, research and generation of more knowledge than institutes of any other part of the world.

All the discussion drives us to the conclusion that privatization of higher education in Pakistan is a double-edged sword. It has positive as well as negative impacts. Positive side is revealed in the form of increase in the quantity of knowledge. However, this increase has resulted in compromised quality of knowledge in majority of private higher education institutes in the country. To be sure, reasons behind poor quality of knowledge are the ones primarily based on commercial interests of the owner. The profit-based approach of the owners has turned private higher education institutes into money-minting factories. But it does not mean that privatization of higher education should be discouraged. This is because it is not possible for the resource-crunched state to tend to higher education needs of such a huge population. The involvement of private sector is a must to fill the supply-demand gap left by the public sector. The need of the hour is that privatization of higher education should be encouraged but it should also be accompanied with some efficient measures. Measures like proactive and vigilant role of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) by cancelling the degree awarding status of those private institutes of higher learning which do not ensure the minimum benchmarks of quality, provision of infrastructure, hiring of qualified and trained faculty, increased focus on research, standardized assessment methods and a keeping a strict control on plagiarism will certainly go a long way in translating the current moneymaking private institutes of higher education into the centres of excellence and high quality knowledge. These measures will not only lead to the generation of high quality knowledge in the society, but they will also create a merit-based, equitable and efficient higher education system, which is a prerequisite for translating the dream of a knowledge-based economy into a reality.

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