Pakistan medical education crisis

Medical education in the doldrums
Medical education in Pakistan is going through a serious crisis. With the significance attached to it as a major component of the social sector, one would have expected a little more official concern towards this vital area.

Yet different stakeholders are working for their own benefit at the cost of the national healthcare delivery mechanism. The government and its various functionaries, public-sector institutions and the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) - which is responsible for the monitoring and standardisation of medical education - have all apparently lost interest in this regard. It is therefore understandable that people with vested interests have taken over.

In the last two years, the PMDC recognised all medical and dental colleges that applied for registration. There was only one exception which, by the looks of it, lacked the 'right' political and financial connections. While we have as many as 92 PMDC-recognised medical colleges in the public and private sectors, the majority of them struggle to meet even the minimal PMDC requirements as regards to faculty, space and facilities.

It is also a fact that the PMDC has allowed several of these colleges to increase their induction quota. The least expensive of medical colleges in the private sector charges at least Rs400,000 per student per annum, making it one of those rare businesses in which millions can be earned without having to make a proportionate investment.

In terms of faculty, there is an acute shortage of educationists to impart instruction in basic medical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and histology that are taught during the foundation years. There was a proposal to have a shared faculty so that, for example, a professor of anatomy would embark on a teaching tour to various medical colleges.

The owners of private medical colleges were quite enthusiastic about the idea but are reluctant to merge colleges. The reason is obvious: by sharing a professor, they stand to cut their salary bill which will increase profits.

Public-sector medical colleges are in the same boat. Bolan Medical College in Balochistan is in a pathetic situation, while the newly opened college in Swat has an acute shortage of faculty in all departments. Some colleges in Sindh and Punjab are also faculty-deficient. Dow International Medical College, a public-sector entity charging a massive fee in foreign exchange, allegedly has faculty and facilities only on paper.

The situation on the clinical side is not too different either. Clinical teaching is not possible without professionals who are willing to spend time in wards, outpatient departments and emergency rooms. There is hardly any practical training under proper supervision worth its name.

During the previous government the then health minister, who was a graduate of Liaquat Medical College at Jamshoro, converted his alma mater into a full-scale medical university. He argued that this would organise medical education along scientific lines in the province. With the Higher Education Commission providing the millions that were needed, the Liaquat University of Health and Medical Sciences came into existence through an executive order, and without any feasibility study having been undertaken.

Immediately afterwards, the health minister of Punjab decided to have a medical university in his province. Thus came into existence the Punjab University of Health Sciences. Since then a plethora of medical universities have sprung up across the country.With so many universities one hoped that everybody would have been satisfied, but that is not the case. No studies have been undertaken on what effective change has been brought about by the hundreds of millions that have been spent on these fancy universities. They have started PhD and MPhil programmes but the quality of training and teaching is obvious in departments where faculty members are not qualified to deliver.

One of the first things that ought to have been done after all these institutions achieved university status was to convert part-time medical institutions into full-time educational centres. That, however, was never on the agenda. The focus was on construction and purchasing equipment, which could never have had any impact on the basic structure of training.

The current government's decision to turn medical colleges in Larkana and Nawabshah into universities is also rooted primarily in politics. There is no valid reason to hope that they will be any different from their predecessors in terms of approach and execution.It is time someone in authority did a serious, sincere and professional audit of the billions issued in grants. Did the grant have any impact on the quality of teaching? Was the money well spent?

In terms of postgraduate training, a number of programmes are run by various institutions but are plagued with the same malaise that is the fate of their undergraduate counterparts. The establishment of universities has in fact only exacerbated the situation. Every institution now wants to start some training programme or the other to justify its existence even though most of them have neither the infrastructure nor the human resources for a structured training programme that would produce specialists.

Medical curricula and training programmes need to be developed according to the needs of the local people. What we are doing is training doctors to work abroad. Medical students and postgraduate trainees are not exposed to the masses and their afflictions. No wonder we have a very high maternal mortality rate, we have failed to eradicate polio, our neonates are dying, we are unable to save the eyes of young children and our basic health units, rural health centres and taluka hospitals are non-functional.

Furthermore, a large number of doctors have no ethical considerations. This is because we initiate programmes without thinking, planning and setting definite goals. The common man and his problems are nowhere in sight when we make decisions.

There is a need to form a high-powered committee or commission on medical education to address these issues. Such a commission should justify the need for profit-oriented medical colleges and their role in the country's healthcare system, and examine the role of medical universities in the war against sickness and disease. Dawn

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Strict action to be taken against failures
Islamabad: Higher Education Commission (HEC) will take strict action against those PhD scholars who have failed to return home after completing their studies abroad, said HEC Executive Director Dr. Sohail Naqvi.

Addressing a press conference here Wednesday at the conclusion of the Vice Chancellors' Committee meeting, Dr. Naqvi said that 3,700 scholars have been sent abroad under the scholarship programme of the commission and so far 350 scholars have returned to the country. "Those who have refused to come have been served court notices and FIA and Interpol have been involved in the matter, as public money has been spent on them," he added.

He said that strict action would be taken against the scholars who have refused to come back.

The vice chancellors of different universities expressed grave concern over the growing political interference in the education institutions of Punjab. They said that there had been a rapid increase in political activities on the premises of education institutions, which need immediate attention of the authorities in order to maintain the quality of education in these institutions.

Earlier in the meeting the vice chancellors said that by law universities were autonomous body and were responsible for making its rules and regulations, but the constant political interference was hindering them to do so.

A joint resolution emphasising safe release of Dr. Lutfullah Kakakhel, the kidnapped vice chancellor of the Kohat University of Sciences and Technology (KUST) who is missing for the last four months was also passed by Vice Chancellors' Committee.

The newly appointed vice chancellor of Quaid-i-Azam University, Masoom Yaseen Zai, who was, earlier, serving Balochistan University as VC said, "It is very unfortunate that university professors in Balochistan were being killed and many professors have left the area due to security concerns, which have affected a lot higher education in the province."

The committee also recommended names of three vice chancellors as vice chancellors' representatives in the Commission for approval by the prime minister.

While responding to a question regarding the illegal grant of scholarship in NUML, Rector Dr Aziz said that the scholarships were granted purely on merit and denied all these allegations. "I was not in the selection committee neither I was in Board of Governors (BOG) so I had nothing to do with anyone's selection.," he added.

The university heads had met the prime minister on Tuesday where the prime minister committed that there will be no cut in PSDP projects in health and education. The prime minister also acknowledged HEC's efforts to bring the higher education sector at par with the international institutions. He also mentioned that according to National Education Policy-2009, the education budget would be raised to 7 per cent of the GDP by 2015.

The vice chancellors committee unanimously agreed to improve quality and give it top priority in order the meet the challenges faced by the higher education sector. It agreed that all PhD dissertations in subjects other than languages and Islamic Studies should be written in English. It also recommended that all PhD defence should be live telecast on the HEC video conferencing system.

It was emphasized that no compromise will be made whether it is appointment of faculty members; selection of students, graduate, post-graduate, MS/PhD studies or evaluation of research.

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Education expo 2010
Islamabad: The huge participation of girls in Education Expo 2010 marked the changing trend in education sector where the students irrespective of their genders thronged the fair and looked into the opportunities to excel in their respective fields.

The Education Expo 2010 was organised by HR Consultants in collaboration with Jang Group where 17 recognised universities of England and Australia besides three big groups set up their stalls and provided free consultancy to the students, who wanted to go abroad for higher studies.

The participation of girls in the expo revealed their increasing interest in taking education from abroad and also the gradual end to the stigma attached to the practice of sending girls abroad for higher education.

"There is a need to trust your daughters. Once you give them trust, they will try their best to keep it," said Mohammad Sarfraz, who is a government servant and came with his daughter Amber Naz.

Amber wanted to do ACCA from some recognised university abroad and came with all relevant documents to submit to various universities. "Its my aim to do ACCA from abroad so that I could return not only to support my family, but also to serve my country in a better way," she said.

Sadaf Afreen, a student of Human Behavioural Sciences from Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) wanted to go abroad to specialise in her respective field. She shared the findings of a recent research according to which depression would be the biggest disease till 2015. "I would return after completing my education and serve my expertise to curb this dangerous disease, which is fast gripping the whole world," she said.

She however suggested that such Expos should also be organised on the premises of different universities so that the girls who could not reach due to some reasons could also have the knowledge of recent trends, reputed universities and free consultation.

The boys on the other hand appeared determined to return after completing their education from abroad and serve their country in a constructive manner. Fawad Ali Khan who came all the way from Peshawar to attend the Expo shared that their group of friends have decided to come back and work in their own country for its welfare and progress.

"We are greatly moved by the current situation of NWFP and have decided to go abroad for higher education so that we could contribute towards the development of our area after finishing our studies," he said.

Khan warned other students of illegal consultants who grab a huge some of money and have no knowledge about the procedure and requirement of visa. "I myself am a victim of these illegal consultants who have grabbed Rs20,000 for nothing. Such Expos are good as they provide an ideal opportunity to have a direct interaction with the consultants and representatives of different universities," he said.

Mohammad Yasin Imtiaz, a student of Punjab University said that it was actually financial crisis who were forcing youth to look into the opportunities to go abroad so that they could have a degree, which would help them to get a reasonable job in their own country. "There are certain good habits, which we could adopt from abroad including the habit of hard work and punctuality," he said.

He said that the Expo appeared an ideal opportunity for him as here he could apply to number of universities and could also avail scholarship without paying any registration or consultation fee.

The representatives of the universities expressed their satisfaction over the number of students who were approaching them for consultation and scholarships. According to these representatives, the number of students approaching international universities through such events is increasing every year.

"It is the response of the students, which forces us to participate in such expos every now and then. We not only provide consultation to the interested candidates, but also give partial scholarships to the brilliant students," said Arsalan Shahid from London School of Business and Finance.

He said that most of the students visit them to explore various subjects they were offering and also the ways through which they could facilitate the visa process. "We also guide students as to which subject they should choose according to their aptitude and the finances they have with them," he said.

Shahraz Rashid, a representative of Brunel University West London said they were receiving huge response from the students because of the variety of subjects they were offering, which include Business, Engineering, Data and Wireless Communication System, Environmental Science, Health Sciences, Social Care, Information System, Computing and Mathematics, Law and social Sciences.

"Gone are the days when only boys used to visit and apply for the education abroad, as girls now seem more enthusiastic to continue their higher education in some reputable international university," he commented.

He said that they were also offering 2000 pounds to 3000 pounds, which are given to the students who obtained 80 per cent or above marks.

HR Managing Director Hamid Rauf said that there were misconception among people regarding the process of visa, lifestyle and deportation of students from United Kingdom. "There had been a change in Visa Policy on February 22, but there had not been any major change for the students as they are allowed to work 20 hours a week like previously and required 80 per cent attendance in their respective education institutions," he said.

He said that the aim behind organising such Expo was to save people from the unauthorised consultants who grab a big sum of money in the name of visa fee or admission fee. "We provide free consultancy to the students, as we are the only authorised consultant in Pakistan and charge nothing in the name of visa fee, admission charges or another bill," he said.

He further informed that they have plenty of partial scholarships for the bright students ranging from 1000 pounds to 5000 pounds and are truly based on merit. "Sometimes students could not bear the full fledge expense of education so we try to facilitate them by providing assistance in shape of scholarships," he said.

The participating universities included the names of Birmingham City University, University of Bradford, and Queen Mary-University of London, Middlesex University, Brunel University West London, University of Leicester, London South Bank University, University of Hertfordshire, Bradford College, South Thames College, London School of Business and Finance and Navitas.

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Disgraced NUML brigadier
Islamabad: The National University of Modern Languages (NUML) will again be in the news as the brigadier who bashed a professor has been summoned to the NA Standing Committee on Education for interrogation. His patron, the rector of the university, will also be in the line of fire.

The NUML's Academic Staff Association (NASA) has written to the president, demanding his immediate intervention for removing the relics of the past military ruler and streamlining the university's affairs.

The standing committee, led by PML-N MNA Abid Sher Ali, has also summoned Interior Minister Rehman Malik for his questionable role during the drama after the former brigadier Obaidullah Ranjha assaulted the NUML professor Tahir Malik.

The civil authorities had long been misled into believing the university belonged to the Army, notwithstanding the fact the ordinance did not delegate any authority to the Army.

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Polling at Islamia School
Rawalpindi: Casting of votes remained suspended for half an hour at a polling station set up at the Government Islamia High School No-4 as supporters of the PML-N and AML clashed over a 'fake vote' casting.

Hundreds of supporters of the two political parties blocked College Road and Iqbal Road near China Market. They raised slogans against each other and blamed each other of resorting to rigging in the bye-elections. A heavy contingent of police and commandoes reached the spot to control the situation.

Presiding Officer Fazal Raheem said that a supporter of Awami Muslim League (AML), named Muhammad Shafiq, came to the polling station for casting vote. As he entered the polling station, he raised hue and cry alleging that a supporter of the PML-N had already cast his vote. On this, several supporters of both parties reached there and started fighting, he said.

He said that according to the voters' list, Muhammad Shafiq was not the voter of this circle, however, he was the voter of circle number 301, which is at the DAV College Road polling station, he said. He was insisting that the PML-N supporter had cast a 'fake vote' in his name, he said. He said that polling disturbed for some time due to the incident but after some time he started polling again.

Police managed to pull out supporters of both political parties from the polling station. But they continued fighting on College Road and Iqbal Road for some time. The news

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