The number of faculty with Ph.D. degrees have doubled in the last five years, but even then, hardly 25% of the faculty have Ph.D. degrees. Pakistan needs to double the number of Ph.D faculty at the universities by 2015. This will increase the number of Ph.D. faculty to at least 40% after accommodating for growth in faculty.
The number of Ph.Ds awarded by Pakistani universities is currently 700 per year. This needs to be increased to at least 1000 by 2015, with a significant increase in science and technology disciplines. Pakistan Universities published 6200 research papers in 2011. The number of research publications per year will be increased by at least 50% by 2015.
In addition to the above quantitative increase in quality, a number of other soft quality reforms have been introduced. Quality Enhancement Cells (QEC) have already been established in the remaining universities. These Cells ‘own’ quality at the universities and report on a regular basis to the QA Division at the HEC, which monitor the performance of the universities. With the introduction of Institutional Effectiveness Performance (IEP) criteria, quality will be improved. Universities have already been ranked for the first time as per global standards. The Federal Cabinet Criteria, which categorizes universities under the W, X, Y, Z classification, has been further elaborated for W category from W1 to W4 with W1 meeting the minimum criteria, and W4 offering significantly enhanced capacity. There is enhanced focus on improvement in quality of governance and leadership at the universities. A merit criteria has been introduced for the appointment of all senior positions, including Vice-Chancellors, so that political influence is minimized.
The second major challenge is that of access. Currently, only 7.8% of the 17-23 age group have access to higher education in Pakistan. As per Education Policy 2009, Pakistan needs to increase access to higher education to 10% by 2015. This translates into more than doubling the number of students enrolled in higher education institutes within five years. HEC is improving equitable access through establishing campuses and universities in backward areas, in providing financial assistance to needy students, and in focusing on social sciences, media and journalism, and fine arts. But more so ever, HEC is encouraging cost-effective and widespread dissemination of knowledge through the use of educational technologies and distance education so that far-flung areas are covered while simultaneously ensuring that quality standards are not compromised.
The third important challenge is that of relevance of education and research to national needs. Universities need to build economies through providing knowledge capital. Even though a large number of curricula have been introduced and standardized which caters to the skill-based needs of developing Pakistan, HEC is now supporting research relevant to socio-economic needs of the region in the vicinity of the university. This innovation, research and creativity carried out at the campuses will be transferred to the industry and the business community. HEC is supporting and expanding on the establishment of Business, Agriculture and Technology Parks and Incubators. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grants will be introduced to support relevant research at the university which are partnered with the industry. Centers of Advanced Study and Research in priority areas, such as in energy, food security and water are being currently established to address national challenges.
The universities have been asked to associate themselves with the communities. The mega flood of 2010 served as a prime example whereby the institutions of higher education demonstrated their level of citizenship and responsibility, and were involved in relief and rehabilitation efforts to a great extent, raising a considerable amount of money and relief goods. This spirit is being carried through where universities are associating themselves in assisting and helping the local communities in resolving local issues and problems, be they environmental or health related problems.
Finally, universities are building leadership, both within the campuses and in the country. The top management of the universities need to serve as role model leaders. They need to demonstrate their sense of responsibility and accountability in governing and in managing the finances of the university. HEC is building up at all universities the capacity to raise funds, so that they can become self-sustaining with support from the government.
The universities are a catalyst for change, revival of creative thought and process, freedom of expression and speech, and of public debate on issues of national importance. The universities are the grooming grounds for future leaders of this nation, and this is where they are being reared to become mature and responsible citizens so that Pakistan develops and prospers to join the comity of fast developing nations.
These are testing times for the HEC and the universities in Pakistan. Even with the sharpest brain power, acclaimed experts, and earnest intentions, it will be a struggle but the community of academics from Pakistan’s higher education institutions has an important role to play in providing intellectual capital and leadership to solve the country’s long withstanding and new problems. Together we can do it, Inshallah!
Dr. Javaid R. Laghari