Higher education in tatters in K-P

In the past, specialised Pakistani universities have failed to produce any form of credible or valuable work


Dr Syed Akhtar Ali Shah October 05, 2022
The author is a former Secretary to Government, Home & Tribal Affairs Department and a retired IG. He holds a PhD in Political Science and currently heads a think tank ‘Good Governance Forum’. He can be reached at [email protected]

In the age of information and technology, quality higher education is crucial for the progress of society. Universities and the teaching faculty, including lecturers, assistant professors and others, play an important role in imparting knowledge. Therefore, the quality of education and a university’s ranking depend upon the teaching faculty’s expertise and proficiency. Conducting lectures and providing notes to students is not enough for universities to rank among the best. In fact, a good university is known for its effective research papers and co-curricular activities.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, many international universities and their departments stepped up research to produce vaccines against the virus. Some of these institutions include the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Texas, Washington University in St Louis, Colorado State University and Baylor College of Medicine, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases United States, the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Sinovac Biotech, and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products China. These institutions successfully produced Covid vaccines, which brought them global recognition as well as financial gains.

All high-ranking international universities are attuned to creativity and innovation. They invest in different departments of sciences for new discoveries and inventions. Most new theories and laws of physical nature and social sciences are a product of their labour. This has led to significant progress in sciences and evolved philosophical debates, which have impacted legislatures and reforms in areas of governance.

On the contrary, the Pakistani government has disregarded the sustainability of existing universities and embarked on the project of opening new universities for political point scoring. This is particularly absurd because both federal and provincial governments lack the funds and resources for these institutes. Establishing separate universities for different disciples such as medical, engineering, agriculture, law, etc, instead of creating general universities, is against the principle of optimum utilisation of resources. In the past, such specialised universities have failed to produce any form of credible or valuable work to justify their existence as independent universities. Whereas many globally renowned universities have schools of medicine, engineering, business, and other disciples under one roof.

In a response to a survey in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), a large proportion of the respondents listed university management’s incompetence, poor governance mechanism, poor government funding, the absence of quality research, incompetent faculty, outdated and conventional teaching methods, and the divide between teachers’ tenure track and basic pay scale as some of the reasons for the deteriorating higher education standards in K-P.

The K-P Universities Act 2012 mandates reconstituting and reorganising universities to improve their governance and management ensuring accountability, transparency and giving due representation to all stakeholders in decision-making to enhance the quality of higher education. But the act has been largely ignored by all the relevant authorities.

Although accountability is a key factor for governance, one university has been accused of issuing fake degrees and diplomas. The university failed to clarify its position and bring the offenders to justice.

Unfortunately, in most newly established universities, the managements have adopted ad hocism and does not have a regular faculty. They do not have accreditation from the Higher Education Commission, Pharmacy Council, and Bar Council. This puts many students’ futures in jeopardy as they lack proper teaching support, and their university degrees may not be recognised affecting their employability prospects.

In addition, most university vice chancellors are appointed on contracts of one to three years. This has paved the way for corruption and nepotism as employees are often recruited without merit. Once appointed, these employees cannot be laid off before their contract finishes otherwise the universities are entangled in long legal battles. The situation is worsened if the court issues a stay order because it jeopardises the university’s status and overall image. Peshawar High Court’s daily cause-list shows cases of almost all universities lingering for years.

Under the 2012 Act, the university was declared a corporate body that enjoys autonomy with the Senate and Syndicate as the supervising bodies. However, this autonomy has been completely shattered by the intrusive role of the chancellor and the Higher Education Department (HED). Inquiries carried out through bodies like the Governor’s Inspection Team, which are alien to the Act have affected the smooth functioning of universities.

Sending vice chancellors on forced leaves without due process of law has weakened this key office and sets a negative precedent for other employees as well. Incompetent officers holding important positions at the HED have added to the problem. These positions should be filled carefully by those with the highest qualifications and experience.

Considering all the reasons for the poor quality of higher education institutes, the government must not establish any new universities before reforming the existing ones. General universities should be allowed to open schools of medicine and engineering. New universities should be allowed to recruit regular faculties. Besides visiting and adjunct faculty, all other professors should be hired as regular faculty. Higher education institutes must be attributed adequate resources to improve their research and innovation. Pending court cases should be adjudicated. No disciplinary proceedings shall be taken against any institution or individual without giving them a chance to explain themselves before the Senate. Lastly, performance indicators should be set for both the teaching and the administrative staff either by the Syndicate or the Senate.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2022.

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