Mar 12, 2007

Letter to the Chronicle Editor

[This letter, in its original form, was turned down by the Chronicle editor with the following note:
I'm sorry to report that we have already published letters to the editor about the January article you mention. We will not be able to publish more letters on that article now;]

Document ID: IPZ20070312 URL for this article: Blog here

Letter to the Editor

The Chronicle of Higher Education

March 12, 2007

In Reference To: "In Pakistan, the Problems That Money Can Bring", by S. Neelakantan, Chronicle, Jan 19, 2007

In reference to your above cited article on Pakistan's Higher Education Commission's role in transforming the higher education in our country, and the follow up letters of commendation for HEC written by HEC friends and employees, I would like to have my own small plebeian voice also heard in your august magazine. I am a consumer of education, a parent, and an ordinary Pakistani citizen.

From where I see it, your reporter was rather mild in her criticism of HEC. Lot's of facts and figures have been put out by HEC, and they are all over HEC's website. But the reality on the ground is that I still don't have a single good multidisciplinary university where I might send my own kids. And I wanted to have them study in Pakistan, but where? In the single one of a kind specialized engineering universities that the West itself has rejected as a model of education as it steps into the challenges of the 21st century (please see this EE Times article "Engineering education prepares for 2020" - Keynote address Leah Jameison, IEEE 2007 President, Feb 1, 2007)? But we are building 6 or 9 more of these silly things for billions of rupees! Instead of overhauling our existing infrastructure, perhaps employing the enormous amount of intellectual capital freely available in opencourseware - universities giving away their crown jewels for free, an unheard of phenomenon in the past (please see "The great giveaway" - Education Guardian, Jan 17, 2007) - we are instead borrowing funds from the World Bank to finance our development or siphoning it off from our other national projects in our debt financed economy! The only thing the World Bank constructively does is enable an inextricable lenders trap upon the developing nations through its WB-IMF structural adjustment lending schemes. That this view is shared by many informed critics of the World Bank, including substantiated by disclosures by former World Bank consultants in exposes such as "A Game As Old As Empire" and "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" (both available from, discredits the World Bank as an "unbiased" source of evaluation of its own funded programs, even as mildly critical as they are of HEC.

So who must evaluate? Who is an objective source of evaluation? How about the local consumers themselves? Why do we need foreigners to tell us how we are doing? Are we so far gone that we cannot even evaluate our own programs? Does the United States go to ask Europe how they are doing for their own domestic policies? Should any self-respecting nation (solely) rely upon the World Bank and other outsiders to tell them how they are doing?

Therefore, recognizing this fact of self-reliance of a developing nation being an axiomatic imperative of its free peoples in order to stay a free peoples, as a parent-consumer, I have provided a very detailed first hand evaluation to HEC, which they unfortunately felt compelled to respond with the same sort of meaningless World Bank kudos that one of their writers noted in her letter to the editor of the Chronicle. My detailed evaluation and feedback, written as an ordinary plebeian Pakistani consumer of education, who is compelled to educate his own kids abroad because he can't find a decent school system in Pakistan, who seeks for others' kids what he seeks for his own kids, and who consulted for two weeks in the summer of 2005 for HEC and knows its Chairman and Executive Director well and is their friend and well wisher rather than an antagonist, can be provided to the Chronicle if they wish to print it without modification and with its full context intact. It might make an interesting feature length case study or cover story, all 19 pages of it, for how not to transform an education system in developing nations with World Bank funding, how not to operate its execution in military style dictatorial and entirely unaccountable manner, and how indeed to create the essential infrastructures necessary to genuinely seed such transformations in a third world developing nation.

I applaud the objectivity of your Chronicle reporter. She attempted to show both sides of the story, and as I informed her by sending her an unsolicited compliment via email, she in fact did not go far enough to uncover all the dirt that is being shoved under the rug. I find it shameful that an august educator from HEC, in her blind zealotry to defend HEC, did them a discourtesy when she questioned the reporter's integrity based on the latter's ethnic origin just because your reporter tried to expose some of the candid views of local Pakistanis themselves without any syntactic sugaring. Indeed, it is interesting how the reporter has allowed both sides to speak in their own voices, rather than provide any penetrating analysis of the matter.

This missing component was the main purpose of my detailed feedback letter to HEC, and it was indeed prompted by the article written by your reporter and news reports appearing in the local Pakistani newspapers criticizing HEC's performance and demanding a public accountability (please see oped "HEC's Unconvincing Mega Projects"
, Dawn, Feb 10, 2007, and the more recent "Bring HEC back to earth", Daily Times, March 03, 2007). Please let me know if your distinguished half a million educators and learned readers would be interested in seeing the world from an ordinary plebeian, but still an informed consumerist point of view. After all, we are indeed the consumers of HEC products. In a rational world, our (i.e., the peoples) humble assessments must prevail over the World Bank's, shouldn't it?

An IratePakistani

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