Pakistan’s Fake Degree Scandal
There are few quotes that are able to capture the essence of Pakistan’s battle for a better education system. But, we may have just found it:
“A degree is a degree! Whether fake or genuine, it’s a degree! It makes no difference!” Baluchistan province chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, who claims a master’s in political science, shouted at a gaggle of reporters.
The education system in Pakistan is in shambles. Just over half the population is literate, and there are no signs of politicians taking the situation as seriously as they should either for themselves or their constituents. Yet, they have time and time again been asked to provide evidence that they are university graduates.
The controversy has its roots in a 2002 law imposed by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf that required candidates for office hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Musharraf supposedly wanted to improve the calibre of lawmakers, but critics said the move was more about sidelining certain opponents. Unsurprisingly, in order to get elected politicians have been able to produce certificates that have later been deemed fake. Countries across the world have severe penalties for holding bogus degrees; yet in Pakistan there are no improved systems to keep this in check. The Higher Education Commission recently confirmed that the degrees of 46 members of parliament and the provincial assembly are fake.
Traditionally, feudal ties or business success are said to count for more in politics in Pakistan than academic achievement. The unfortunate fact is that fewer than 5% of Pakistanis are enrolled in higher education and the government spends just 2% of GDP on education. While there may be those who contend that what matters most in Pakistan are ‘contacts’ and ‘family networks’, both are transient and reinforces widespread nepotism.
In the government’s latest budget, 32% of spending will be on servicing debt and 16% on defense expenditure. Given education is such a prized commodity in Pakistan by those who are fortunate enough to receive it at any level, there needs to be a focused and steady investment into the education system at all levels, but particularly at the primary and secondary level. The politicians today are not going to be going back (or for the first time) to school any time soon. It’s time we focus on the lives that can be improved by knowing the alphabet.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
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