Realising the precarious conditions of the universities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Governor Haji Ghulam Ali, who is the ex-officio chancellor, held a marathon conference of the Vice Chancellors spanning two days. I also had the privilege of attending the conference which provided an opportunity to the VCs to highlight the issues facing the universities in the province. The Chancellor vowed to resolve the problems by involving standing committees of the National Assembly, Senate and K-P Assembly as well as Higher Education Commission and Federal Education Ministry. The formation of a committee to monitor implementation on the decisions was the final outcome of the conference.
Unveiling his vision, the Chancellor stated that he would work to bring the local universities on a par with international standards, with a focus on learning, research, innovation and invention. He decided that market-orientated disciplines would be developed further, with linkages created with chambers of commerce and industry. Also, the gap between the farmer and the manufacture would be bridge to share the fruits of research.
In this backdrop, comparative analysis of universities in the private and public sector revealed that while the former met their expenditures from their own sources and were making profits, the latter were heavily dependent on grants from federal and provincial governments, but were still suffering from lack of funds.
Other issues in the context ranged from lifting of ban on recruitment of teachers and administrative staff, composition of the Senate and Syndicate, amendments to the University Act and standardisation of the statutes, distant learning and online examinations, BS Programmes, community colleges, undue interference, cut in expenditure, focus on research and co-curricular activities.
The intent and purpose of the Chancellor was to reconstitute and reorganise the universities, to further improve their governance and management, by ensuring transparency and giving due representation to all stakeholders in decision-making so as to enhance the quality of education.
For this to achieve, the VC, being the Chief Executives, and Principal Accounting officers are responsible for administrative, academic and financial functions of the universities and for ensuring that the provisions of the University Act 2012, statutes, regulation and rules are faithfully observed in order to promote the general efficiency and good order of the university.
While analysing the aforementioned context, questions arise: where do we stand? Why and where do we want to go? And how? Unfortunately, our planning in this regard within the universities and government is elite (political) driven and not in accordance with the guidelines of planning and development as well as financial space of federal and provincial governments.
The mushroom growth of new public-sector universities, while the old face financial crunch, cannot be described as a sound planning. In view of the shrinking federal and provincial government revenues, there is all the likelihood of suspension of official grants. Therefore, the universities have to find their own means to sustain.
In order to achieve global standards, the universities are required to approve annual plan and strategic plan; ensure appointments of pro-VCs, deans, professors and other teaching staff as well as registrar, treasurer and controller of examination; and set key performance indicators (KPI) for all including VCs.
In this connection, the Chancellor believes that mere lectures and provision of notes to students are not enough for universities to rank among the best, and that there is also the need for effective research papers and co-curricular activities. And research and inventions cannot be carried out without funds.
The conference also agreed that since both federal and provincial governments lack funds and resources, establishing separate universities for different disciplines such as medical, engineering, agriculture, law, etc, should be avoided, as it is against the principle of optimum utilisation of resources.
Other issues most of the newly established universities are suffering from include ad hocism. Since most of these universities are without regular faculty, thus they do not earn accreditation from relevant authorities, thus putting the students’ future in jeopardy.
Under the Universities Act 2012, the university as a corporate body enjoys autonomy with the Senate and Syndicate as their supervising bodies. However, a majority of the Senate and Syndicate members are not independent, which is adversely affecting governance.
In view of the poor quality of higher education, the government must not establish any new university 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 on a regular basis. Adequate resources should be provided to improve research and innovation. Pending court cases should be adjudicated. The new discoveries and inventions should be patented and registered under a trademark to ensure source of earning and benefit to society. Last but not least, performance indicators should be set for both the teaching and the administrative staff either by the Syndicate or Senate.
The crux of the whole discussion is that quality of education can be ensured by adherence to rule of law, transparency and accountability and research, innovation and invention. The autonomy of a university can only be ensured if it is self-sustaining. It should be ensured that no new universities are opened and universities operating within a certain radius are merged. Distant learning education and examination should also be adopted. Grants must also be linked with research and/or other achievements. KPI must also be set for all.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2023.
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