Academic papers. Photo: iStock

Most of the PhD candidates I have had a chance to meet in Pakistan so far are pursuing a doctorate because they have not found a job after obtaining their last academic degree. Maybe this a desirable option for them, but it should not be a motivation for pursuing a PhD.

Let us consider Pakistani academics. Most think the research and development culture was promoted through significant grants for research laboratories under the leadership of Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, a well-known scientist who was chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in 2002. Several initiatives were launched, such as the introduction of a PhD allowance, a productivity allowance, and salaried faculty positions, and were linked to publications, travel grants, and incentives for Pakistani PhDs to pursue postdoctoral programs abroad.

What do international organizations say about that era? Thomson Reuters, a multinational media firm, reported that in the last 10 years Pakistan has emerged as the country with the highest percentage of highly cited papers when compared with Brazil, Russia, India and China. Moreover, scientific productivity has increased by a factor of four times, from 2,000 papers in 2006 to more than 9,000 papers in 2015, and 12,000 papers right now, and the trend is continuing.

It sounds great. But is it? What Thomson Reuters has failed to understand is that the HEC has a voracious appetite for the publication of academic papers, and has framed its policies in accordance with that appetite. The HEC enjoys perks, promotions, foreign trips, and pay that are closely linked to the number of papers published. Interestingly, universities are becoming paper factories, with absurd outputs. After teachers join an institution as instructors, they are promoted to professorships on the basis of their paper output. By the same criterion, they are granted civil awards. Consequently, such culture in academia has been insidiously affecting the teaching environment in classrooms and the quality of education in hard sciences.

American experts and educators continually assess their students’ progress – Pakistan needs to learn to do the same

The United States, in contrast, enjoys a reputation as the home of one of the best education systems generally and higher education specifically. Why? American experts and educators continually assess their students’ progress – Pakistan needs to learn to do the same.

In a written to response to my article, a reputed indigenous professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Dr Farhan Saif, remarked: “The gradual decline of higher education over the last 15 years has seen today a scientific culture based on greed, nepotism and superficial activism. The intolerable academic corruption in scientifically established countries is being given shelter under different names. The present-day scientific methodology introduced by Arab scientists a thousand years ago that requires theories based on solid experiments is rarely seen at work among Pakistani researchers.”

He continued: “The so evolved clumsy environment has a devastating effect on the PhD program being run in the country. The basic requirement of the local research program is to solve the problems and challenges faced by a country by its own people locally. In contrast, our local faculty in higher education institutions and universities are least concerned with the purpose, instead of becoming a beacon of knowledge maximum are busy in self-projection and in making money by writing low-quality but high-in-number papers.”

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, a reputed Pakistani scientist, lambasted the substandard doctorate program being run in the country, in his Dawn article, Enough PhD’s, thank you, argued that “Pakistan now has legions of highly paid ignoramus cartoon professors.” According to Hoodbhoy, the university system cannot be improved by publishing vacuous research papers – what really matters are having strict ethical standards, cultivating excellence, rejecting mediocrity, and nurturing a spirit of inquiry and intellectual excitement.

Bottom line

Currently, dishonest academics are turning the research and development culture into a mere rat race. And the onus must fall on the HEC to address this academic rot. The HEC must revise its policies and role. The development of a culture of research and critical thinking must be encouraged. And the focus must now be on producing and sanctioning research based on real-world problems, rather than one that is only focusing on adding to the existing tally of worthless studies by incompetent academics. Professors must produce books, not low-quality, copy-paste papers. Professors must understand the art of inducing critical thinking in students and unlocking creativity. Professors must be true masters at teaching their subjects.

Irfan Khan

Irfan Khan has written for various media outlets including CGTN, Daily Times, The Nation, Modern Diplomacy,, Eurasia Review, and Times of Israel. He mainly focuses on the Middle East, South Asia, the new emerging world order and human rights.

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