ISLAMABAD: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has issued a Policy Note to HEC to revise its Equivalence Standard for Master’s degree programs to create an exception for those who attained their Master’s degrees in a period prior to the introduction of Equivalence Standard, to create a level playing field among all the Master’s degree holders.
CCP took notice of concerns raised with regard to Equivalence Standard (ES) introduced by the HEC in Qualification Framework and Revised Roadmap for Business Education – 2012. The Equivalence Standard applies retrospectively and renders the Master’s degrees earned prior to introduction of the Equivalence Standard inferior to those earned after the introduction of ES.
The Business Education Roadmap clearly shows that an MBA attained after 16 years of education is equivalent to a BBA or B.Com culminating in 16 years of education.
Though the Qualification Framework and Roadmap for Business Education has set a standard for future students, they, perhaps, inadvertently, have not created any exception for Master’s degrees (MA, MSc, MBAs etc.) attained prior to introduction of Equivalence Standard, thereby rendering the degrees earned prior to ES sub-standard.
The Equivalence Standard raises a serious competition concern by discriminating against those who earned their Master’s degrees (MA, MSC, MBA etc.) prior to ES and essentially putting them at a competitive disadvantage in terms of employment and higher education vis-à-vis those who earned their degrees after the introduction of ES.
The Commission noted that by failing to create exception for degrees conferred prior to the introduction of Equivalence Standard, the HEC has applied the same retroactively against the principles of natural justice. Consider, for example, the case of Legal education in Pakistan, where the requirement of a 2 years LLB changed to a 3 years LLB; thus, making the completion of LLB degree requiring 17 years of schooling instead of 16 years.
Despite addition of a year in the terminal degree, the old LLB is considered equivalent to the one that is earned in line with the current standard. While the current standard has been mandatory since its introduction, it has had no retrospective effect thereby ruling out any possibility of discrimination.
The Commission believes that the Equivalence Standard discriminates old Master degree as it effectively renders an old MA, MSc, MBA etc degree inferior despite the fact that the additional years of schooling are not enhanced in these programs unlike LLB program, but still, nonetheless, render previous Master’s degree substandard .
For example, if a business school rated by the HEC as the ‘premier business school’ in the country, it can be safely presumed about it that the quality and standard of education imparted in the MBA program before and after the introduction of Equivalence Standard remained the same, since the time required to complete a MBA degree remained two years.
However, effectively its old MBA degree is rendered inferior by virtue of being declared equivalent to a BBA or B.Com degree under the HEC Roadmap for Business Education.
Furthermore, in order to compete, it is essential that one is able to enter a market. An old MBA being inferior to new MBA cannot apply for a job where the eligibility criteria is set as per HEC standard i.e. 18 years MBA.
Thus the Equivalence Standard makes it difficult for old MBAs to enter the employment market of management sciences and has the effect of reducing or restricting competition in the said market. Similarly, to seek higher education an old MBA has to repeat the same terminal degree in order to meet the HEC’s equivalence criteria.
Moreover, it needs to be noted that a profound goal of a four year bachelor program offered worldwide is to provide an opportunity to students to broaden their horizon by learning a variety of subjects in various disciplines.
A specialist program such as MBA prepares people to serve as business specialists in various sectors of economy. Therefore, the objectives associated with respect to a 4 year bachelor program and a specialist program are disparate and cannot substitute each other in any way.
After attaining a Master’s degree, whether we talk about old MBAs or the new ones, their ability to perform in a higher education program or the job field remains undistinguished as far as their preparation or training is concerned. The Equivalence Standard of HEC does not differentiate old and new MBA based on the curriculum or teaching methodology but instead on the number of years.
The Commission acknowledges that the initiative taken by HEC to introduce the 4 year bachelor program was in order to make the Pakistani degrees compatible with the foreign ones. However, the new standard should not negatively affect the degree holders who earned their degrees in accordance with the standard prevalent at the time of their schooling.
The Commission’s mandate includes ensuring free competition in all spheres of commercial and economic activity and to enhance economic efficiency.
Section 29 of the Act stipulates that the Commission shall promote competition by, inter alia, reviewing policy frameworks for fostering competition and making suitable recommendation to the Federal Government or Provincial Governments to amend any law that affects competition in Pakistan.
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