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Do we have any roadmap for higher education in Pakistan?

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DR SAEED AKHTAR

Pakistani universities have been positioned at the bottom in the performance table in 2019 global ranking of 1,250 universities by Times Higher Education (THE) with only three national universities viz COMSAT University Islamabad placed at601-800, University of Agriculture Faisalabad and National University of Sciences and Technology placed at 801-1000. None of the Pakistani universities could again make a space among top 500 universities in the world in 2019.

There are primarily three major global rankings of the universities i.e. THE Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities and QS World University Rankings which insinuate amyriad performance indicators acceptable to all university leaders while undertaking the ranking process. The fundamental performance parameters include industry income, international diversity, teaching, research and citations contributing @ 2.5, 5, 30, 30 and 32.5 percent respectively towards overall ranking of a university.

Therefore, considering these rankings as a yardstick, we may check out if all assertions and plans made in the past by relevant entities and functionaries to foster higher education in Pakistan were unerring, truthful and natural.
Contextually speaking, Government of Pakistan, in its Vision-2030envisages the country to stand on the podium as a global economic giant by 2047 on centennial independence celebration which sounds like a dream of daylight. One of the 07 pillars delineated in the Vision 2025 for growth and development foretell an upsurge in higher education in Pakistan to the tune of 12 percent targeting 15,000 PhDs to be available in the country.

The same article further depicts an action plan for laying down a foundation for a knowledge economy by underpinning industry-academia linkage. These challenges warrant a drastic revamping in our higher education system which needs to be reflected as a reality on ground endemic in all national universities and research institutions.
Higher Education Commission in Pakistan has been independently working since 2002 as an autonomous and constitutionally established entity with a magnanimous funding to enable Pakistan to emerge as a knowledge-based economy in the global arena.

Several programmes are underway at HEC level such as Pakistan qualification register (PQR), attestation of degree/transcript certificates, indigenous PhD fellowship programme, human resource development initiative, travel grant, national research programme for universities, access to scientific instrumentation programme and technology development fund etc. to reach the goal for national prosperity through exercising knowledge and technology.

A 76-page document titled HEC Vision 2025, drafted in 2016-17 appears to be in place as a national road map for higher education indicating government commitment to outshine national economic outlook. A great deal of enthusiasm and high-level of commitment is reflected from the publication however the areas and the challenges covered therein such as nurturing research culture, industrial revolution, excellence in leadership management and governance, national and international system of ranking seems to be much demanding. Apparently things do not happen to be moving in the right direction for goals set out to be achieved by 2025.

United Nations sustainable development goal 4 entails provision of quality education with an opportunity to experience a lifelong learning process. Albeit, Government of Pakistan has been very well cognizant of the vital significance of SDGs especially Goal 4 and is progressing towards achieving them by 2030, however, it needs extensive planning and pragmatic approach to effectively accomplish the targets.

Present government has to put in all possible efforts to devise policies in the light of 2030 SDGs despite the fact, Vision- 2025 already encompasses a substantial level of strategies essential to achieving SDGs- 2030. GOP has established SDGs Monitoring and Coordination Unit in conjunction with UNDP to elicit extensive efforts for meeting 17 SDGs as an important component for sustainable national development. With all these efforts in place to drag Pakistan on the path of prosperity and economic growth, the tangible and measurable outcomes that can be quantified corresponding to raising the standards of living of the people of Pakistan are not yet visible.
The role and responsibilities of Pakistani universities have become more critical and intensified in the present scenario where ranking of the national universities is on a downward trajectory. Regrettably, most of the Pakistani universities have been cynically transmuted into epicenters for increased indigenous politics with a little focus on research, innovation and skill development among the faculty and aspiring students. There is hardly any concept of competition for publications, national and international research grants, international presentations, industry-academia linkages, international connectivity and collaborations etc. beheld among the students, faculty members, academic departments and university faculties in particular and among the public sector national universities in general.

These snags are essentially the result of non-compliance to the fundamental spirit of teaching and research and absence of any reward and punishment for the performers and non-performers. The conventional system of promotion and appointment of the faculty member exacerbates the magnitude of the non-productivity in academics and research in Pakistani universities.

Minimum eligibility criteria for becoming a professor as established by HEC Islamabad, necessitates 15 research publications with 15 years of teaching and research experience. Most of the early career faculty members and researchers strategize their whole career to achieve these targets and having met these challenges, they feel like accomplished in their areas of specialisation. With this persuasion in mind, they fundamentally lack the sense of competitiveness coupled with the flavour of the fervour necessary for undertaking quality research and innovation in their respective domains.

A passion for teaching and research is required to be instilled in the rising faculty members and researchers through intensive motivational and technical trainings.

The pivotal role of university leaders and the vice-chancellors remains to be substantial and cannot be left unheeded because they weave the real academic and research fabric in their respective institutions. Lamentably, there exists no benchmark or a performance measure to translate their productivity and results in a numeric description on the basis of certain data, organizational goals and performance indicators. Provided, these yardsticks are established for vice chancellors to weigh their performance in their administrative tenures of four years, they would outrightly perform to elevate institutional reputation. Non- performers may be penalised, publicised and imputed with the sorry state of affairs in their academic kingdoms, they eventually leave desolated and devastated.

Evidently, almost all developing and developed economies have explicitly established a well-defined agenda for the modernization of higher education. Assorted models for reforms in higher education are prevalent everywhere in the world. Likewise, numerous pathways have been developed for increased efficiency and output through higher education across continents.

Higher education bills and laws were enacted by several countries to trigger productivity. In a nutshell, the world has desperately realized and identified higher education as a way forward for a dignified way of life on the planet earth. However, Pakistan is yet daydreaming for a knowledge based economy analogous to Korea, Singapore, China and Malaysia without passionately prioritizing knowledge and technology as potential and viable tools for sustainable national economic growth. Without a doubt, there exists no cohesion, coordination, integration and monitoring & control system, aligned with the present day needs for a flawless and perfect higher education system in Pakistan.

The storyline and pretexts that we normally associate with our failure in higher education are no more gratifying and agreeable to the global community. The world has come out with a smart approach based on deliverables and tangible outcomes for vividly discriminating success and failure. Global university ranking systems have turned up as a conspicuous mode to ascertain the performance of the national universities therefore we have to be more prudent and realistic in higher education with the emergence of Naya Pakistan dreamt off by the leader of the ruling political party in Pakistan.

The author still believes that a voluminous intellect in terms of a heap of accomplished professionals are on hand with the present regime to bring about the constructive transformations in the higher education system in Pakistan that would ultimately be demonstrated in upgrading living standards among all common folk.

• The author is the Director ORIC at Baha Uddin Zakariya University Multan. He has also been working as Director, Institute of Food Science & Nutrition and is a known researcher with a specialisation in Food Safety and Nutrition. He may be reached at saeedakhtar@bzu.edu.pk

Dr saeed Akhtar

 

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