Classical university

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Tahir Kamran

The dismal state of the humanities and social sciences in the universities of Pakistan (particularly those in the public sector) is an irrefutable fact. The quality of the courses taught and the research output by university academics is hamstrung by a dearth of profundity and academic rigour.

Concern about the plummeting standards of academic activity in general is compounded by the fact that people at the helm exhibit absolute indifference to the alarming state of affairs in institutions. The marginal status of the humanities and social sciences is illustrated by the priorities set by such universities of specialised education as COMSATS Institute of Information Technology and FAST National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences. These institutions are the legacy, of sorts, of the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, and were established in the late 1990s. They opted to steer clear of offering courses in social sciences and humanities. Although some courses in social sciences are mentioned on the websites of these universities, these are all optional.

The very concept of degree-awarding institutions devoted entirely to an education in technology is extremely hazardous for the social development of a country as hapless as ours. The classical concept of a university offering education in all possible disciplines is not only a time-honoured one, it also precludes the segmentation, if not the complete compartmentalisation of knowledge, and equips students with a well-rounded personality, endowing them with the sense of responsibility towards others and the state.

More importantly, these universities were established to do public good and not in order to make profit.

The mushrooming of the private service providers in education has fostered a profit-mongering tendency, even among the public sector institutions. The current trend of according priority to such institutions that offer instruction in technological subjects has no parallel in the developed world either. Universities like Cambridge, Princeton, MIT and Stanford offer quite robust courses in science and technology, but they have equally rigorous programmes in social sciences and humanities, too.

Another noteworthy aspect is that Pakistan’s technological universities have very little to offer in pure sciences either. One may therefore infer that through these institutions technologists proliferate, and not scientists

Recent advertisements from FAST and COMSATS in the national newspapers invited applications for admissions in technological disciplines. This implies that courses in disciplines dealing in socio-political and cultural issues are deemed superfluous. This is a succinct reflection of the myopic views of the bureaucratic mindset, according to which instruction in technology is the only way to ensure progress and development.

Humanities and social sciences are, in this view, rendered to be disciplinary formulations of little consequence. Therefore, the inculcation of socio-political sensibility is left to the clichéd subjects like Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat. These are the only subjects regularly offered which do not fall into the ambit of technological disciplines. Both the subjects are employed as compulsory instruments to instill a state-driven ideology into undergraduate students. Those acquainted with the contents of these subjects, and particularly with the authors of the texts taught at various institutions, can very well imagine the extent of the awareness and ‘enlightenment’ they offer to the minds of the young.

In such a scenario, the technological instruction imparted to the youth is not even remotely embedded in socio-political reality. In many cases, this results in a catastrophe for both society and the state. The element of social responsibility among youth graduating in such disciplines is starkly missing; the fact alluded to by a faculty member of one of these institutions.

Such (mis)demeanour comes about largely because the intellectual growth of a young person takes place in an ambience where social ethics and values are hardly mentioned. Thus, in order to gain an understanding of the socio-political space they inhabit, they have no other source but the mullahs that infest our electronic media or the extreme right-wing ideologies projected by the headline-seeking columnists and self-styled anchors from which one has little hope of escape in Pakistan. The social ineptitude of the young generation is amply demonstrated through its scant care for the civic responsibilities like abiding by traffic rule etc.

Once, when I was a visiting member of the faculty at FAST, Lahore, as a co-curricular activity for the students, the speaker who was the most invited by the Islamic Society (which of course was the most powerful of the student societies), was Maulana Tariq Jamil, sometimes flanked by former cricketer Saeed Anwar. Both of them had re-invented themselves in the light of the preaching of Tablighi Jama’at (TJ). I found the speech of the Maulana to contain only empty rhetoric, designed to arouse the emotions of the students.

Religious speeches of that kind work only as effective tools to stem critical thinking. Thus the process of evolution in the students’ thought is utterly dissipated. Another problem with such Tablighi Jama’at-inspired professional preachers has been their conceptual ambiguity towards the Pakistani state and society as a self-contained entity. TJ’s pan-Islamist mission is contrary to the interests of a nation state. Such are the beacon lights that shine brightly for the Pakistani youth enrolled in these institutions.

Graduates in technological disciplines can be very easily moulded to become pan-Islamist mercenaries with no stake in the Pakistani polity. But the indifference towards such a vital issue is so deep-seated at the governmental level that one does not expect that any attention will be paid to it.

Tahir Kamran, “Classical university,” in The News, June 28, 2015. Accessed on June 28, 2015, at:

The item above written by Tahir Kamran and published in The News on June 28, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on June 28, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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