State of higher education in Sindh
The writer is former director, SZABIST Centre for Information and Research, Karachi.
By Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh, firstname.lastname@example.org
Karachi, 29 Dec: "Sindh produces two things - men and sand - great men and sandy deserts," remarked Sir Rafiuddin Ahmed in March 1936 at the floor of the Bombay Legislative Assembly, while bidding farewell to legislators from Sindh on the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency.
He was right because before the advent of the Sukkur Barrage in the 1930s, most of the presently fertile lands of Sindh were marshy deserts. The only distinction for Sindh used to come from the quality of its people. Many of Sindh's political leaders, from M.A. Jinnah to Sir Abdullah Haroon, and from Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto to Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, had already transcended the status of provincial leaders and had established credentials on an all-India basis.
In the field of scholarship also, several of Sindh's academics and intellectuals had already earned reverence and recognition for their contributions across the country. They included Dr Gurbaxani, Allama I.I. Kazi, Dr Umer bin Mohammad Daudpota, Dayaram Gidumal, Principal Shahani, Mirza Kalechbeg, Jethmal Parsram and several others like them.
Before 1936, while Sindh was part of the Bombay Presidency, it had no university of its own. Its educational institutions, both schools and colleges, were affiliated with the University of Bombay for conduct of matriculation and other higher examinations. Once, Sindh's separation from the Bombay Presidency had been agreed upon, the scholars of Sindh dreamt of having a separate university for Sindh.
The reason was that despite numerous strengths and advantages the University of Bombay was far away from the soil of Sindh and could not serve as a centre for intellectual activity. In the words of Dr Gurbaxani: "The very existence of a university in their midst acts as a stimulus in creating an intellectual atmosphere."
Elaborating on his dream further, he wrote: "Sindh is an old province, perhaps the most ancient in India. It has a history, traditions and a culture of its own. Its soil and stones could be compelled to reveal movements and geological formations of the hoary past. Its races and its languages possess a distinct Oriental bias. All this remains unexplored … all of which await an army of scholars."Though Sindh attained the status of an autonomous province, separate from Mumbai, in 1936 the scholars and leaders of Sindh had to struggle hard for 11 more years, till April 1947, to have their own university, the University of Sindh.
Initially, the seat of the university was located in Karachi and had Mr A.B.A. Haleem as its first vice-chancellor. In 1951 the University of Sindh moved to Hyderabad and Karachi got a new university, the University of Karachi. Vice-Chancellor A.B.A. Haleem joined this new university and has the distinction of being the first vice-chancellor of both the Sindh and Karachi universities.
Subsequent years witnessed growth in both the universities, in terms of facilities as well as faculties. Today, they comprise of several departments, institutes and centres, which run academic programmes in disciplines from genetics to environment and at levels from graduation to doctorate. In addition to these two, several new universities, both public and private, many of them specialising in areas of engineering and medical sciences, dot the landscape of the province.
These institutions have the faculty, a part of which has acquired qualifications from some of the best universities in the world. Reasonably good laboratories and libraries are also available for the teachers and the taught. Thousands of people are today associated with these higher seats of learning, both teaching and non-teaching. Every year billions of rupees are spent from the exchequer on maintenance and upkeep of these institutions. But, when we look for the collective impact of these universities on the state of scholarship in Sindh, there is not much to find.
The ground realities expose that Dr Gurbaxani's "army of scholars" has yet not compelled the "soil and stones" to "reveal movements and geological formations of the hoary past". Scholarly contribution in areas from exploration of mines and minerals to irrigation, agriculture, transport, urban planning, architecture, journalism, environment, industry, education, history and culture stands at the minimal. There are few individual exceptions, but generally speaking the situation is not promising.
On the contrary, our universities are witnessing a strange phenomenon: the "uneducated" personnel of paramilitary forces and police have to be posted in most of our campuses to keep our educated classes within the norms of civilised behavior.
The reasons for this dismally poor performance of our seats of scholarship are numerous and beyond the scope and space limitation of this article. The academia in Sindh would have to go through the process of self-analysis to find out the causes of this state of affairs and chalk out strategy to get out of this pit.
While this may take a little time, a short-term measure could be the establishment of an institute engaged in social research and analysis of the policies and issues confronting the region. It should have capability to collect information on a very wide variety of subjects from institutional reforms to public finances, governance as well as other development-related matters. It should also have capability to disseminate the collected as well as processed information amongst various stakeholders including the government and the civil society organisations. In another sense, this institute should work as an independent think tank and a resource centre in addition to providing the scholars a platform to coordinate and cooperate with each other in their scholarly pursuits.
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has the distinction of being the first Pakistani leader who realised the need for establishment of "Centre for Information and Research" under the umbrella of university, of which she was the chancellor and chairperson of the Board of Trustees. On her initiative, I joined the centre as its first director. The centre carried out several studies from agriculture to irrigation and from karo-kari killings to textbook contents. However, due to her being out of the country and financial constraints on the limited resources of the university, the work could not be carried out further.
But, this type of centre or institute is definitely needed in order to facilitate scholarly pursuits and promote scholarship, especially in the area of social sciences. With the PPP government in power at both the national and provincial level, President Asif Ali Zardari in addition to resolving the chronic issues relating to the governance of universities may help establish an institute of information and research in the name of his wife as a lasting and befitting tribute.