Some 20 years ago, while living in Pakistan, I thought of applying for higher education to a foreign university, and thus I had to travel 400 kilometers to a different city to the university in Pakistan I had graduated from. I tried to avoid this unnecessary travel by making phone calls. I asked friends in that city to visit the university and save me the trouble of travelling for 5 hours. I also sent a letter to the registrar of the university but no one relied. All I needed was an attestation of my degree sent directly to the foreign university. The unnecessary travel I did in the end nevertheless and at the university I was asked to submit an application explaining why a photocopy of the transcript had to be attested by the registrar. Why the university wanted to know this I could not understand. Did the university think that after graduating me their job was done and I was not supposed to make any contact with them in future. I had to attach a copy of my degree, transcripts, older degrees, matriculation and secondary school certificates, national identity and proof of my intentions of seeking admission. The foreign university required that the attested photocopy had to be enclosed in an envelope with the university emblem on it, but the university did not possess such an envelope. When I submitted my application, with all the necessary requirements, attachments and application terminologies reminiscent of imperialism, I was asked to come back in two days along with an envelope bearing the necessary postage stamps for the country of my intended university. I again did not understand why it would take 2 days for the university to find my records. The registrar refused to seal and stamp the seams of the envelope and it took me a lot of pleading to convince him to do so.  I wanted the registrar of the foreign university to think that the envelope was sent to him directly by the registrar of local university without any intervention from my side. I wanted to be proud of my university even though I had no reason to be so.

Two years later, I graduated from the foreign university and started looking for a job in the same country but a different city. The prospective employers wanted me to have my attested transcripts sent to them directly by the university. The employers need transcripts to evaluate the employees’ areas of expertise. I called the foreign university and someone picked the phone after two rings and asked me to either write a letter mentioning the address where I wanted the application form to be mailed back to or simply narrate my address on the phone. I did so and I received a letter the next day from the university with the university emblem on the front and an application form inside, asking me to write on the form the year of graduation, my roll number and address where I wanted the transcript to be mailed to; and return to the university with a minimal processing fee. They did not ask for my identity or photocopies of my degrees. They did not ask for transcripts because they were not evaluating my expertise. They already had these details stored in their databases. They were not attesting my identity, they were just attesting a paper and its contents which had been issued by them; and because they had neatly and efficiently maintained 300 year old records of all their students, they managed to send my transcripts to the prospective employer the same day. And thus much before I went in for the interview, the new employer already had my transcripts sent to him directly by the university, along with a letter bearing phone numbers of the transcripts department, in case the employer wanted more information or verifications.

Two days ago, I had to visit the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan for attestation of a degree. For a degree which could not have been acquired without going through the secondary, intermediate and bachelor’s education, the HEC still wanted me to bring all of the previous certificates and associated transcripts in original.  I had to show the original identity and bring a copy of my National identity also. Sometimes I do not understand what happens to the millions of ID card copies these institutions even banks receive on daily basis. I had travelled 9000 miles to pay my rakoo and sajood to the HEC for something I had earned without their involvement and by paying money for every hour, month and year of my time during my education. I pre-emptively had attached the marks sheet of the final year of my professional degree, which to my surprise I had still kept after 25 years, but the teller wanted me to bring marks sheet of all the previous three years pertaining to that degree, otherwise the degree of which I had the original in my possession, and sitting right under the tellers nose, could not be attested. I asked him bluntly if he thought that I was asking HEC to attest a fake degree. He said he was sorry as he was just following a procedure. I asked him again, if there was another way and he said he needs to see other documents, just like one has to perform ablutions before saying prayers. I told him I have performed these prayers 25 years ago and you had checked my ablutions when I passed that exam 25 years ago, that’s why you guys gave me this degree. He just refused to listen. I could not imagine that HEC would not attest a valid and original hard earned degree, which was issued by an organization under their so called umbrella, and which I was presenting along with 20 other degrees and transcripts as supporting documents.

This was enough to make me furious. This should make anybody furious. HEC refused to verify the authenticity of a degree, but does not say that the degree is fake. I asked the teller bluntly, that he had three options. Either to verify the degree, or tear it apart and put me in jail for trying to get a fake degree attested, or to write on the degree that it was being verified without looking at the transcripts. HEC had no right to deny the authenticity of the document.

I returned without an attestation of a degree which I had earned after 4 years of hard work and kept safe with me for 25 years. My job was to study hard, earn a degree, and keep the degree safe from rain and sun and 25 years of dust, decay and loss of pigmentation. It was the job of HEC to maintain a record, on a single line on a paper or a computer. That single computer would have been enough to maintain 70 year old records of other students like me. If a foreign university could issue an attestation without asking for a single supporting document for every student that has graduated in the last 300 years, then why can’t HEC do so? Obviously HEC could not as HEC plainly refused to verify a valid document because of unnecessary procedures and their own lack of commitment, absence of self-discipline and dearth of organizational skills. I spoke with some of the 525 graduates and MPhils and PhDs roaming around the steel shed outside the attestation office and no one had a single good word for HEC. They were all unhappy, disgruntled and helpless. They were unhappy about so many things and felt as if by graduating from a university under the umbrella of HEC they had committed a blunder and they were all proven guilty for no crime committed at all. The burden of proving the authenticity of their degrees was on the students and not on the HEC. Even the watchman at the gate was treating these essential personnel of the country as sheep and goats. There were boys and girls begging the clerks at the windows for listening to their questions about attestations, equivalencies, and what not. In midst of all this there was a window where employees of HEC could sponsor the applicants and fast track the process. I saw a few applicants so desperate to get the attestation done as if their life depended on it. One of them had applied for a job in Qatar and entry visa was about to expire despite all his efforts in the last month to get his degree attested. There was guy about to lose his last date for a scholarship in London. A girl had completed her education from Toronto and was trying to establish an equivalency in Pakistan and her father was about to leap through the window and kill the clerk for his arrogance and inconsiderate behavior. With lack of employment opportunities in Pakistan many graduates seek jobs elsewhere and if successfully employed send billions in remittances to Pakistan. It’s not wrong to say that not facilitating these graduates is a loss to the economy of Pakistan.

Education has become a business everywhere in the world and that’s why education is not cheap. Acquiring education requires hard work and students pay a lot in terms of monetary, physical and mental stress. Even a single attestation costs between 1000 to 2000 rupees at HEC. For every degree all the previous degrees also have to be attested. Sometimes a more than three year old attestation is considered not acceptable by HEC.

We all know, the world is full of fake and forged documents and degrees. The only way out is that the regulatory institutions have efficient systems to be able to verify the authenticity of the documents. While it is important and fair to the holders of the degrees to be able to have their degrees verified whenever necessary, it is also important that such a task be done as quickly as possible, without asking the degree holder to visit the regulatory bodies and  without putting the burden of proof on the student.

25 years ago when I graduated from a university in Pakistan, before I could acquire the degree, I was asked to register with the ministry of labor, where I was issued a certificate declaring me as an essential personnel of the country. I felt good, really. It made me feel important. But keeping the essentiality of educated people in a nation aside, it is also worth mentioning that our money pays the overheads and salaries of people working at HEC and it’s rightful to ask that HEC improves its bureaucratic procedures, the level of performance, maintains efficient data banks, makes its duty to provide attestations as an obligation and not as a favor, and starts treating the essential personnel of the country according to their importance to the nation.

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