Universities and higher educational institutions are the most important producers of knowledge, which is the driving force for prosperity and increased standard of living. Models of economic growth have underscored the central role of knowledge accumulation to gross domestic growth. The modern university, with its mix of teaching, innovation and research, is different from the universities of yesteryears, which only served as teaching grounds. By introducing innovation, creativity and interdisciplinary research as a vital component of teaching, and with knowledge exchange programmes, the university contributes more directly to the economy and society than many other institutions.
The higher education sector worldwide is faced with multiple challenges in view of these changing dynamics. However, the HEC has kept abreast of these global developments and has taken numerous measures in recent years to improve the quality and relevancy of education and research at the universities. Quality Enhancement Cells (QECs) have been established in 85 universities in the last three years. Institutional Performance Evaluations (IPEs) using six international standards are being conducted for the first ten universities. By next year these will be extended to ten standards and for all universities. The IPEs and the QECs are self-evaluation processes to determine quality and ensure good governance is maintained at institutions.
The rating criteria for private universities have been enhanced from this year, and now W4 will be considered the highest rating instead of W, which had a lower standard. Simultaneously, the criterion to establish new universities in the private sector is being rationalised to enable more universities to be established without compromise on quality. Thirteen Accreditation Councils (nine autonomous, four through the HEC) are now functional which are working with the universities to improve the quality of curriculum and research. Associate-degree programmes have been introduced for the first time at two-year colleges, and the HEC is working with the provincial governments to improve quality at degree colleges as well. Research at universities has significantly increased to over 5,000 international journal papers, with Pakistan’s world share increasing by over three times. As a result, two Pakistan’s universities are now among the top 300 technology universities of the world, where none existed a few years ago. The university ranking exercise is presently been conducted nationally to rank all universities to determine their teaching and research standards, and categorised as general, engineering and technology, health, agriculture, business, and arts and humanities.
Faculty development programmes are continuing as the mainstay of the HEC, which includes foreign and local PhD scholarship programmes, as well as split PhD and post-doctoral fellowships. Currently only 25 percent (5,000) of the faculty has PhD degrees, and our target is to increase it to 50 percent in the next 10 years. One thousand and seven hundred HEC scholars have completed their PhDs from local and foreign universities and joined various organisations, and another 7,500 scholars are coming up. Starting January 2014, all appointments to the position of lecturer will require a MS/MPhil degree. From January 2016, all assistant professors and above will require a PhD degree. Knowledge transfer through teaching, research and community service, and not just experience, will be mandatory for promotion.
The HEC is following a zero-tolerance plagiarism policy in research. All faculties advising PhD students are being asked to be registered with the HEC and they will have to fulfil a minimum criterion to continue advising students. All universities have also been asked to upload the names of their full-time PhD faculty, including their CVs, on their website. A minimum of three full-time relevant PhDs are required in a department to offer the PhD programme.
A minimum criterion has been established for PhD degrees, which includes the NTS subject test, publication requirement in an approved journal, plagiarism test, review of thesis by two foreign experts and an open defence of dissertations. PhD degrees not meeting HEC criteria will not be recognised.
Better selection of vice chancellors is being ensured by their appointment through search committees. New challenges for vice chancellors include leadership skills, academic leadership, financial management, strategic planning, fundraising, and building communities, economies and leadership. A two-day leadership workshop was held along these lines for all newly appointed vice chancellors for the first time at the HEC this year to prepare the next generation of university leaders. They have also been asked to hold regular meetings of all mandated bodies, including syndicate and senates, and annual convocations every year as per their charter.
The HEC expects the universities to have a sense of ownership, to contribute to the local community, and be a regional hub for community services. Career placement offices, alumni offices and fund-raising/development offices have been developed at a number of universities, which are being extended to all.
Research is being given a new dimension. There is need to conduct meaningful and relevant research, one that can contribute to creating jobs and building economies. A spirit of entrepreneurship is being inculcated. The first ten Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation (ORICs) have been established at leading research universities in order to bridge the gap between universities and the industry. They will be expanded to 30 ORICs in the next couple of years. Incubators and technology parks are the next phase of development for which international partnerships for capacity-building are being sought. The technology parks will focus on regional clusters of industries and economies. In other words, the universities will focus on the creation of a knowledge economy, rather than just producing graduates.
The HEC will ensure only quality graduates and research is produced at our universities to develop the next generation of leaders. It is a challenging task which can be accomplished with political support and if the universities own it too.
The writer is chairperson, HEC.
Email: [email protected]