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An international degree scheme offered by Lancaster University and a leading Pakistani University has come under severe criticism, with issues needing to be resolved by a parliamentary education committee in Islamabad. The partnership between Lancaster and the COMSATS Institution of Information Technology (CIIT) in Lahore was touted as one of the first ever such programmes between UK and Pakistani universities when it began back in 2010. The dual-degree scheme was to be taught in Lahore by both CIIT and Lancaster teaching staff, and covered a range of subjects from Business Administration to Software Engineering. All qualifications would be accredited by both institutions for a fraction of what it would cost to study in the UK.
However, back in March of this year a number of students enrolled on the programme began to voice serious complaints. They alleged that the CIIT had defrauded them of their tuition fees and placed their futures at risk owing to the fact that the degree programme was not recognised by neither the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) nor approved by Pakistan’s Higher Education Council (HEC). The reason for this is that the HEC argues having a qualification accredited by two separate institutes is effectively the same as gaining two degrees for one course which is not allowed. In an attempt to get around this problem it was decided that since the end 2014 only Lancaster would issue degrees to the students, rather than both universities as initially thought. Around 2500 to 3000 students are believed to have been affected, with undergraduates being enrolled until as late as last year despite their being no official recognition for their chosen degree scheme.
Those who applied for study on the scheme did so in the hopes of graduating with the benefits of a transnational education, something that warrants far greater significance in an increasingly internationalised modern world. Instead, after 4 years of hard work and research, and the financial costs of having to spend around 3 times as much as a Pakistani student would pay for a regular degree scheme, they found their qualifications had no accreditation or validation from either the HEC or PEC. The sum total of all their efforts is a piece of paper that warrants no recognition either in Pakistan or any other nation, despite having passed through an academic institution ranked 4th in the country. Understandably, their frustration has been vented towards the CIIT over the amount of money they have received from students for apparently ‘worthless’ degrees due to the fact that they failed to gain approval from the relevant authorities for the scheme. Anger has also been directed towards the HEC for failing to highlight that the programme was being run without their permission.
In recent weeks, various groups have issued statements as to how to resolve the issues graduates have been faced with, with two solutions being proposed by the HEC itself. The first was simply to have students on the programme be reimbursed by the university to cover their financial losses. The second was to transition their qualifications into regular degrees accredited solely by CIIT and approved by Pakistan’s educational authorities, and to then arrange Masters courses for them at Lancaster. However, a parliamentary body, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), instead chose to establish a discussion in order to resolve the issue after both COMSATS and the HEC failed to agree on a method to solve the matter in the months since student concerns were raised.
On Thursday the PAC issued a directive to the Auditor General of Pakistan that a special audit of the fee collected by CIIT from the dual-degree programme was to be conducted. It also instructed the HEC that they should verify those degrees that had been issued by CIIT and that the PEC should accept the same. However, the HEC cannot verify any degrees issued by Lancaster University. Even with these major developments in bringing an end to the problems of recent months, many students are still unsatisfied. Those who have completed the degree scheme are demanding that they be awarded the qualifications they were promised and feel they have earned. One graduate, Jawwad, told a press conference, “Please stop calling our degrees fake. We request all relevant institutions and media not to use that word as we have worked hard for four years to meet international standards and to attain this degree after spending a huge amount”.
The HEC has also spoken about how they recommended the programme be scrapped back in 2013, although given recent events it’s clear that no such action was ever taken. Some reports have stated that no more enrolments are being taken this year, however, neither COMSATS nor Lancaster have confirmed nor commented on whether their dual-degree scheme is to be continued or terminated.