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Analysis of criticism on Pakistani universities by Dr. Hoodbhoy

In the past few days, several columns written by the renowned social worker Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy have been circulating on social media. These columns, written quite some time ago, extensively criticize the higher education system in Pakistan. It appears from titles and contents of these columns that teaching in Pakistani universities is the worst profession in Pakistan, and it is equivalent to working with Pablo Escobar. For instance, one of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s columns is titled ‘Pakistani Professor Mafia.’
In one of his columns, Dr. Hoodbhoy mentions an international institution that ranks world universities, highlighting that this institution has ranked a department at Quaid-i-Azam University, which does not even exist. Similarly, Dr. Hoodbhoy criticizes the methodologies of several other international ranking agencies.
When Dr. Hoodbhoy discusses international ranking agencies, it becomes apparent that this ranking is not just a local matter but an international one. Therefore, targeting Pakistani universities exclusively goes beyond comprehension. If an international ranking agency provides an incorrect ranking for Quaid-i-Azam University, is it the fault of the agency or the Quaid-i-Azam University?
In one of his columns, Dr. Hoodbhoy discusses the ranking of the world’s top 2% scientists. In this ranking, more than 15,000 individuals are included, among them are 81 Pakistani professors. Dr. Hoodbhoy suggests that securing a place for these 81 individuals in this ranking is the result of some unethical practices, therefore, he criticizes the entire higher education system. However, two things become clear from this analysis. Firstly, this ranking is global in nature, with more than 15,000 individuals included, with very little proportion having any connection with Pakistan. In this context, targeting Pakistani universities exclusively raises questions. Secondly, it should be noted that this group of 81 individuals is not a representative sample of the entire academic community. The result cannot be generalized to all professors in the universities.
Dr. Hoodbhoy criticizes the methods used by professors to publish research articles, alleging that professors can publish a large number of research articles with the help of some unethical tricks. While I am aware that such practices exist, I must assert that the actions of Pakistani university professors are not significantly different from the professors in most of the universities worldwide. The way Pakistani professors publish papers is similar to what academics do in the Middle East, China, and many other developed countries. Targeting Pakistani universities exclusively, as done by Dr. Hoodbhoy, is equivalent to attempting to close the opportunities of foreign study and foreign jobs for Pakistani graduates.
The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has linked the promotion of university professors to the publication of research articles. If you don’t have 15 articles, you cannot qualify for the professor’s rank. Publishing an article in a reputable international journal costs between $500 to $3,000. The associate professors and lower rank academics receive a salary of less than $750, and most universities do not cover publication fees. Hence, paying from one’s own pocket to publish an article is an extremely difficult task. Therefore, many Pakistani authors collaborate with authors from China, Middle East, Australia or any other country, who cover the fees. It is considered as an unethical practice to credit such a collaborator. However, it is a joint act happening with the collaboration of Pakistan academics and his foreign counterpart. If your intention is to criticize this shared ethical crime, then both partners should be criticized. It is against the principle of honesty to attribute the responsibility for this shared ethical crime solely to Pakistani professors.
After spending an extended period in Pakistani universities and having long academic relationships with foreign qualified professors and top institutions, I have come to the same conclusion that there are numerous flaws in the university education system. People misuse inappropriate tactics to enhance their rankings, giving more importance to research papers than the ability to teach students. There are countless inappropriate methods available to publish research papers. However, my fundamental claim is that the behavior of Pakistani universities is not unique but rather aligns with global practices. Despite these flawed practices, the same system has gained popularity worldwide. Therefore, there is no reason to specifically target Pakistani universities for criticism.
If you wish to bring about reform, consider reforming the education systems of the universities worldwide, or to grant financial and administrative autonomy to Pakistani universities and the Higher Education Commission, allowing them to create a system that sets them apart from the rest of the world. If the two options are not feasible, then singling out Pakistani universities for special criticism will only harm those seeking education or employment opportunities abroad.
I am acquainted with numerous individuals who have extended their CVs significantly within a short period. According to Dr. Hoodbhoy, these professors have built their profiles using inappropriate tactics. However, in reality such profiles are the currency of the time. These kinds of profiles are widely accepted in universities worldwide. If you can write 20 research papers in a year, you will be considered eligible for teaching at universities in any country of the world. The world will not assess how your research has benefited the society of your country or host country. The host university will only see how much of an impact factor a professor has obtained and how much he/she can contribute to the ranking of the host institutions.
In this scenario, it would be more appropriate to direct criticism towards the administrators of host universities. If Sheffield University, McGill University, Kingston University, Xinhua University, or any other foreign university has lowered her ethical standards to the extent that they are hiring researchers with low quality research solely for rankings, then criticizing such universities will make more sense. If Dr. Hoodbhoy’s method of criticism aligns with this line, only then I will join him in criticizing.