WASHINGTON DC, July 18, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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HEC vs Dr. Hoodbhoy: The Controversy Continues

By Mamoona Amjed

ISLAMABAD, July 18: With reference to a rejoinder by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy captioned: “Pakistan Buying Costly, Obsolete Scientific Junk” it is stated that in his response to the rejoinder by the Executive Director, HEC, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy continues to distort, falsify and twist facts to fit his own viewpoint.

It is absolutely incorrect that HEC has spent or is spending Rs400 million on the purchase of a Van de Graaf Accelerator. HEC is not purchasing any equipment! HEC had allocated a total of Rs180 million to the National Center for Physics, (NCP) Quaid-e Azam University, Islamabad for the establishment of an Accelerator and an associated experimental Physics Laboratory. Out of this amount only Rs90 million were estimated to be spent on the purchase of the Accelerator and not Rs400 million as claimed by the writer.

The worthy writer finds it “shocking that no meeting of potential users of this large scale project was called, as is the practice in the rest of the world. And no one will have a clue of what to do when this machine finally arrives in Pakistan”.

It is to be noted that the top scientists of the country in the discipline of Physics were involved in the preparation and submission of the project to HEC. The project was prepared by Dr. Riaz ud Din, HI, a top notch physicist of the country and the Director of the National Center for Physics. Prof. Hoodbhoy claims that Prof. Riazuddin has acknowledged to him that he made a mistake. Even if his statement is true, how, is that the fault of HEC?

The project for the purchase of the Accelerator was reviewed by Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, NI, HI, SI, Chairman NESCOM and a top nuclear scientist and submitted to HEC by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, NI, HI, SI, our leading nuclear scientist, in his capacity as Chairman Board of Governors of National Center of Physics.

The actual specifications and type of the Accelerator to be purchased are still under consideration. A committee of scientists constituted for this purpose will take the final decision.

It is highly unfortunate that by making remarks about the project such as “stupid decision” and ridiculing the competence of those who are involved in establishing this facility, the worthy writer has insulted the above mentioned top scientists of the country as HEC is only sponsoring a project prepared, recommended and submitted by them.

Regarding the objections raised on the research proposal of Dr. Saadia Chishti, it is clarified that only Rs.400.000 and not Rs5.5 million have been released for the project. While processing the case HEC procedure of a rigorous peer review by top experts in the field, in line with international norms and practices, was strictly followed.

The project as well as the total amount to be allocated was approved on the recommendation of the Referees. Later on, HEC has had the progress report of her project evaluated by experts and the case is being processed for final decision in the light of evaluator’s comments. No further funds beyond Rs0.4 million were released after July, 2004.

The honorable writer has also falsely contended that the Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) has only a distance learning program and questioned the feasibility of carrying out chemistry research by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman at such an institution.

He seems to ignore the reality on ground that AIOU has a first rate chemistry laboratory with a functional gas chromatograph, mass spectrometer system, Fourier transform infra-red spectrometer, ultra-violet spectrometer, high pressure liquid chromatographs and other sophisticated equipment installed and fully operational.

Students are carrying out M.Phil and Ph.D. level studies in AIOU with the help of these facilities. Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman is the leading scientist in the country who has written/edited 87 books published mainly in USA, Europe and Japan, many of which are used in courses in the West. He also has over 600 research papers, chapters in books and international patents to his credit which have won him numerous international prizes.

He had the rare distinction of becoming a Cambridge Don (1969-1973 ) and he is the only Pakistani scientist (besides late Prof. Abdus Salam) to have been honored by the University of Cambridge with award of an honorary degree of Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) by Cambridge University.

He is also the only scientist from the Muslim world to have been awarded the UNESCO Science Prize by the Director General of UNESCO in the 30 year old history for his eminent scientific contributions. Yet Prof. Hoodbhoy feels that being incharge of more than one institutions Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman should not carry out research.

Regarding the “Best Teachers” awards, the worthy writer now acknowledges that it was impossible for HEC to interview 250,000 students (note that this is what he had recommended earlier -- that the students opinion should have been sought!) -- this time he has now changed his stance and made a different set of allegations against HEC saying that the “Administrators simply nominated themselves as best teachers” (presumably he means departmental heads).

The reality is that nominations under the program were accepted by HEC only from Vice Chancellors and not directly from any “Administrators".

The new objection raised by the worthy writer in “Physics Master Trainers Program” is not understandable. HEC has given the project to the Physics Department Quaid-e-Azam University and it is being run by the Head of the Department.

HEC welcomes positive criticism however, articles based on incorrect figures, spinning of facts and those creating public misperceptions about sincere efforts to develop S&T and higher education don’t serve any noble purpose.

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy responded to this latest rejoinder with these remarks on Saturday, July 16, 2005:

The HEC appears terribly confused. The official rejoinder of the HEC (17 July) to my article states that I have misrepresented facts and that only Rs 90 million shall be spent on a Tandem Accelerator. But this is not what the HEC chairman wrote on 25 June, 2005 (Dawn, Sci-Tech section, http://dawn.com/weekly/science/archive/050625/science3.htm).

According to the above article: “HEC has allocated Rs180 million to establish a 5MW Tandem Accelerator” and, to support its function, “HEC will spend Rs164 million to set up laboratories at the NCP, Quaid-i-Azam University”. Whoever on the HEC payroll is charged with defending the HEC has obviously not read what the boss has written.

I have no idea, or interest, of which individuals are behind this senseless project, one that is an astonishing waste of precious national resources. The author’s attempt to drag in other names is a mischievous move designed to create and inflame conflicts.

My previous statements are correct and can be easily verified: Professor Riazuddin, whose scientific credentials everyone seems to agree upon, has expressed his view saying that he cannot support this project on grounds of scientific merit. He has communicated this in writing to the HEC chairman.

In the matter of Dr. Saadia Khawar Chishty, the HEC web page shows for the project “Quranization Of Science Courses At The M.Sc level” the following entries: Total Amount – Rs5,581,000 and Current Year Award – Rs1,857,000. I do not see the figure of Rs 400,000 anywhere. Where is it?

It is my hope that the HEC will not make yet another attempt to change these figures or tamper with web pages that were created in 2003-2004. One such shallow trick has already been caught and exposed.

Best Teacher Awards: it is alleged by the HEC-commissioned author that I have “changed my stance” on the issue of getting students to evaluate a teacher’s performance in class. Rubbish! I think that without getting this crucial input, the whole idea of a “Best Teacher Award” is nonsensical. The problem seems to lie in the author’s limited comprehension of English. And, yes, I did mean that departmental heads had nominated themselves as the best teachers. It is perfectly normal to call departmental heads as “administrators” in the English language.

As for the other matters raised by the HEC’s second rejoinder: I think I have made my position clear in my initial and follow-up articles. There is no need to prolong a now tedious debate.

Ms. Mamoona Amjed is Director General Public Affairs, Higher Education Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan

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