According to a news report published in the Daily Dawn, the government’s Central Development Working Party has approved a plan to hire faculty members from overseas. Under the plan, 300 foreign professors, associate professors and assistant professors will be employed annually and offered handsome salaries.

It is assumed that this plan would bestow a modern and progressive face to the Pakistani institutions after hiring faculty from overseas. According to the reports, the scheme will be completed in five years, which means that about 60 experts will be hired every year.

According to the planning commission, the faculty members will be hired only to supervise PhD researchers. On its face value, the idea appears to be quite all right but given our past experience it unfortunately be nothing more than an exercise under which lots of taxpayers money either will be wasted or misappropriated.

The first question that needs to be raised is that do we even have the necessary number of people engaged in carrying out PhD research? The answer to that is probably no; and it leads to the logical conclusion that hiring 300 foreign professors to carry out a supervisory exercise for which there are researcher makes little sense. Besides, the proposal fails to address another important issue – that of providing employment opportunities to Pakistanis with higher degrees. The government wants to spend Rs. 3.2 billion to provide jobs to foreigners; the question is, why should we be hiring people from overseas when there are many people in Pakistan with decent postgraduate qualification, including many who have studied from reputed institutions from overseas.

There are some other issues that also need to be addressed with regard to the quality of the faculty in Pakistani universities. If the government now thinks that 300 academics have to be hired from abroad then what does this will say about the quality of Pakistani professors? Even if one were to assume that they are very bad then the question arises that why were they hired in the first place? Who hired them and are the same policymakers whom made that decision would make the decision for new hiring? If the government wants to hire foreign professors then it must also be prepared to launch a full-scale investigation into the causes of the failure of the existing system of research in Pakistan.

The fact is that many of the teaching staff in Pakistani universities in not really inclined towards doing research. That being the case, university teachers can hardly be expected to supervise others who want to pursue research. This author has searched database in business and psychology studies and have found only a handful of published journal articles by Pakistanis researchers working in Pakistan.

The reasons for that should be obvious to the government and it should act to ensure that the quality and level of research in the country is significantly enhanced. Barring a few exceptions, faculty members are not made on merit but all kinds of other non-academic connections. Even after obtaining a Master degree many graduates do not know how to conduct research – the reason being is that degrees are usually awarded on the basis of coursework in Pakistan. Most professors and lecturers think that their primary job is to hold lectures in classes and train students for research.

Teaching staff even in some prestigious private universities are guilty of this. They get fat salaries but all they usually do is teaching – a few write articles in newspapers but that cannot and does not count as credible research. Most universities abroad place massive emphasis on research, so much so that a teacher cannot be promoted or granted tenure without publishing a specified number of articles in referee journals.

The other angle to this is, that many of our teaching staff, especially those in the government institutions, is low paid. Laboratories are not properly equipped with scientific equipment, libraries are under resourced and researchers have little access to expensive technical books and scientific referee journals. Research requires a lot financial resources but these are all absent in Pakistan. In places like the UK or USA, doctoral candidates are aid stipends and given other such financial assistance for carrying out research. They are paid generous allowances for carrying out fieldwork and are paid also for the travel back and forth from the university to the place where fieldwork is to be conducted (this often can man a doctoral student travelling back and forth from his university in America to conduct field work in, say, an Asian country).

Unfortunately, researchers in Pakistan can only dream of getting such benefits and facilities. This means that there is a big incentive for them to indulge in teaching activities outside their principal institution of employment. Perhaps, the government’s plan to hire 300 foreign professors should also address this issue so that Pakistani professors at least have some incentive in carrying out research.

If the government really wants to promote a culture of research in Pakistan then it should focus on hiring local qualified people and on making radical changes in existing academic infrastructure. The solution does not lie in hiring 300 professors from aboard.

Nadeem Yousaf

Uploaded on 29 May 2011

The article published in the Daily Dawn

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Foreign Hiring Scheme a Non-Starter