INTERVIEW WITH DR. AKHTAR BALOCH, PROFESSOR UNIVERSITY OF KARACHI.
PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.
DR. BALOCH: I was born in 1960 in Karachi, completed my schooling at Lyari Technical School and graduation from Govt. Haji Abdullah Haroon College. I received my Master in Political Science degree from University of Karachi in 1985. I completed my Ph. D in Public Administration in 2003. Before joining department of Political Science, University of Karachi, as a lecturer in 1988, I worked at PTV and Society for International Development, at Karachi Chapter. In 1995, I was transferred to Department of Public Administration and presently I am a Professor in the same department. I have 24 publications national, international, and one on the title of "Administrative Development and Political Change in Pakistan: A study of Civil Bureaucracy from 1970-1977". I had several opportunities to travel abroad mostly for academic purposes.
Attended training courses Uppsala University, Sweden, University of Oslo, Norway, Institute of Social Sciences, The Hague, the Netherlands, European Peace University, Austria and attended USIS international Visitor Program in 1996. I have also attended several international conferences.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN.
DR. BALOCH: Americans introduced Business Administration Education in Pakistan in 1960's. The first institute established in Pakistan was, Institute of Public and Business Administration (IPBA) at University of Karachi. However, in the subsequent years, Public was removed and it became Institute of Business Administration (IBA). Since business administration, education was a new discipline to manage business with a specialized way. Initially, it attracted our business elite and thus, business institutes became elite type of institutes. I must say the real demand for such specialized business education was very low. During 1980's private business institutes emerged and in 1990's, even IBA was separated from University of Karachi. (IBA does not seem to be a public institute, as the fee structure in only affordable for the elites of our society). Pakistan economy has a comprador base and therefore, it requires only record keeping. An accountant can do the best.
Until 1980's, if we look at the curricula of business administration it was not much different from a commerce degree. Changes were introduced when need emerged in 1990's of how to accommodate the banking sector and later on some multinationals, specifically after international economic restructuring. We have a very small market base and now a days there is a high crunch and thus, saturation demand for an MBA degree in business administration has drastically been declining in Pakistan.
PAGE: WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO PROVIDE QUALITY EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN?
DR. BALOCH: Education is not a right in Pakistan, it a privilege. In Pakistan, no priority is given to mass education. There is no appropriate education policy and funding is insufficient. Therefore, in couple of decades the plight of education has reached to an alarming level. The situation is even worse in public sector institutions. No serious attempts have been made so far. Secondly, quality education is a dependent variable and its primary independent variable is the market demand for education. Nothing can be done to improve the quality of education unless there is a demand for education in the society. The market demand for a quality education comes only when a targeted GDP growth rate is achieved, and inflation / government borrowing is under control or it is declining. All signs are negative in Pakistan. However, there was a demand for business/administration and commerce degree and without economic growth, this demand has declined. I happen to be a member of selection boards in different organizations.
It is my personal observation that the knowledge base of graduates, even from the elitist institutions is becoming shallower. Some measures can be taken to some extent to enhance the quality of education, such as increase in budget allocation, minimizing political interference in administrative institutions and introducing internship for one or two semester as part of curricula. In addition, a serious and practical administrative and financial accountability mechanism is a need of time.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON UNIVERSITY FUNDING FOR RESEARCH?
DR. BALOCH: Currently universities are facing serious funding problems. Allocated budget has been cut off and even the approved funds are not reached to universities in time. And, sometimes there are additional fund cuttings. In the 63 years of Pakistan, we are still experimenting different models and policies. HEC replaced UGC during Musharaf's rule. Atta ur Rehman as the Chairman HEC was at least successful in increasing university funding. Teachers were encouraged to apply for research grants and scholarships, but it could not continue long. Not all this process was part of a comprehensive education policy that could encompass all levels on education. In fact, they were trying to impose changes only at the top. HEC is almost reverted to UGC level again with a different nomenclature. Present government is under financial crunch and the impact has reached to all institutions. Since education is not a priority therefore education is worst affected.
PAGE: WHAT STEPS, IN YOUR OPINION, SHOULD BE TAKEN BY PAKISTAN TO STOP SKILLED WORKFORCE FROM LEAVING PAKISTAN?
DR. BALOCH: Pakistan has been facing this problem for decade. However, in the present time it has become severe. Our economy is not even stagnant, it is declining. Besides, we do not have appropriate policies and lack of counseling usually lead to surplus workforce. Our skilled workforce has no job opportunity. They used to search for opportunities abroad, mostly in the Middle Eastern countries.
The current law and order situation has further aggravated the situation. Opportunities for Pakistanis have become highly limited even in Middle East. Quality of life, nepotism, frustration, and corruption are causes usually identified by the people who would like to abroad.
PAGE: WHAT INCENTIVES EDUCATION SECTOR NEEDS FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN?
DR. BALOCH: The education sector surely needs sufficient funding and international scholarship. People should be given opportunity to go abroad learn and come back. International exposure is indispensible for broad vision. I remember when I was a student of political science during early 1980s, we had a large number of teaching faculty who had degrees from abroad. Most importantly, the amount of respect and honor attached to teaching profession must be revived again. Political interference must be discouraged in admission and examination. Currently, teaching community in Pakistan is working under intimidation and fear.