Around 177 MPhil and PhD scholars who availed the Higher Education Commission’s scholarships abroad have failed to complete their education, while at least 110 others did not return to Pakistan and managed to settle in their respective countries.
The HEC human resource development (HRD) division has been running the “Overseas Scholarship” programme since 2003. The education commission processes students’ documents for higher studies abroad after scrutiny and holds interviews for candidates using a panel of HEC’s partner agencies and foreign professors.
One of the requisites of the scholarship programmes makes it binding upon the scholars to return to Pakistan immediately upon completing their studies to serve the Government of Pakistan for six years. Legal proceedings are initiated against students breaching the terms of HEC scholarships, mostly for failing to complete their doctoral studies in time.
So far the HEC has awarded 7,537 students with scholarships in different programmes across the world.
Refuse to return
According to the record, action has been initiated against 37 of these scholars while HEC HRD member Ghulam Raza Bhatti said over 300 to 400 cases are being pursued in courts. Similarly, only five students have paid back the amount that was spent during completion of their degree.
Of the total around 37 students were sent to France, 13 to Germany, 14 to Austria, 15 to Sweden, 10 to the United Kingdom and to other countries.
According to the HEC rules, agreement breaches warrant the imposition of up to a 25 per cent penalty on the scholar and can also result in the cancellation of scholarships by the HEC chairperson or executive director.
Under the HEC criteria for awarding scholarships, all documents, namely the Deed of Agreement, Guarantee to HEC, Declaration of Assets, Certification of Financial Soundness and Surety Bond must be properly attested.
Out of the 177 students who failed to complete their degree requirements 36 went to France, 31 to the Netherlands, 23 to Germany, 11 to New Zealand and other countries like Sweden, Norway, Australia, Austria and China.
Serious questions have been raised by critics over the HEC yardstick for selecting and finalising students for overseas scholarship programmes. It appears that the procedure does not take into account several things, including courses offered and facilities available in the intended institutions abroad.
In many cases, according to documents, the supervisor raised objections that students’ master’s degree was not equivalent to an internationally recognised one requiring 18 years of education. While in others the supervisor reportedly suggested the student be placed in their master’s degree programme.
Around 104 students could not continue their programme because of ‘poor performance’. About eight due to medical reasons and 55 scholars abandoned their degree under ‘wilful withdrawal’.
In 2013, the accountant general’s report also expressed reservations over the HEC failure for non-recovery of Rs136 million it provided for scholars who breached various agreements under local and foreign scholarships.
One of the senior HEC officials also once told a French ambassador that scholars who do not return to Pakistan after their studies was a real challenge.
Commenting on the issue, the HEC chairperson Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said nobody, who has breached their agreement would be spared and informed that cases are initiated in the said countries to get the amount spent or bring them back. “Our selection committee and criteria are laid down and merit was strictly followed,” he added. He remarked that the number of failures is nothing compared to those who have returned successfully.
Bhatti added that the failure was not an unusual thing since there are variety of students in terms of aptitude and competence. “So such kind of failure is possible as completion of PhD is not child’s play,” he concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2015.