From access to excess of higher education
After its establishment in 2002, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) aimed to follow the international good practices for increasing access to higher education and considering the relevance and quality of the undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
The universities in the public sector, specifically and generally in the private sector, were encouraged, supported, and facilitated through various means ie regulations, administrative and financial support, to improve access to higher education.
The universities are expected to fulfil local and international demand for qualified graduates who may lead in their respective domains.
It is only possible if these follow and implement the QA policies, processes, standards and principles in letter and in spirit.
Universities are the interface of society and organizations to intellectual capital required to solve problems.
The 20 years of the HEC journey have made it possible to increase access to higher education by establishing new universities and introducing innovative programs at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in existing disciplines of natural, physical, biological, health sciences, engineering and emerging disciplines.
According to the Annual Report 2019-2020 of HEC, enrollment at all Universities in Pakistan is around two million, whereas it was 0.28 million in 2002.
The number of universities in 2002 was around ninety (90), currently around 240. Although it shows a significant increase in the number, many stakeholders are not satisfied with the quality of the graduates produced by the universities.
It can be achieved by following the principles set by the HEC i.e. providing access to only relevant programs that meet the quality standards.
The projected data on Statista, a German Company, shows that India will be the world’s highest or leading higher education (HE) provider from 2022, and the USA will be the second largest HE provider.
Even China will be the fourth number after Indonesia. It shows the continuity of the reforms and investment in higher education introduced by India in the 1960s to develop the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management in different states.
These institutions follow merit and have earned a good reputation in the sector. The continuous reforms in the sector have helped them meet the local demand of professionals and entrepreneurs but also gained top positions in different Information Technology firms in the USA and worldwide.
At the same time, according to the United Nation’s data, Pakistan is the 5th populous country in the world, and the majority of that population is youth i.e. 64%.
It compels us to develop a robust higher education system in the country to engage them in positive and progressive activities to become professionals in IT, Business, Health Sciences, Social Sciences, etc. , to meet the local and international demand for qualified human resources.
To fulfil this objective, universities must follow Quality Assurance (QA) Criteria developed and circulated from 2002 to 2022.
Most of these guidelines are based on good international practices.The QA criteria are of two types i.e. Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) and External Quality Assurance (EQA).
The IQA aims to improve academic, administrative and research-related activities at universities without the involvement of any external stakeholders.
The self-assessment of the processes mentioned above is conducted by the Quality Enhancement Cell (QEC) of the University throughout the year.
The necessary arrangements are recommended to improve teaching, learning, and research. The QEC’s recommendations are followed up until they achieve the desired results.
On the other side, EQA assures that the University meets the main objectives of good governance in higher education, including accountability, inclusiveness or participation, reputation, sustainability and freedom of expression.
The external reviewers designated by the HEC regularly evaluate and assess each University with an interval of 3 to 4 years.
The Committee’s recommendations for improvement in the academic, administrative, financial, and research-related processes are forwarded to the universities for compliance.
The universities that follow IQA and EQA standards earn a reputation in the country and secure their place in the international ranking.
One of the examples is LUMS, where international students are given scholarships to study MBA.
It is the only university which is part of the Asian Development Bank-Japan Scholarship Program (ADB-JSP).
The degree colleges and affiliated institutions also produce a large number of graduates, which is a major source of income for the universities and institutions and provides further education at the doorstep.
These colleges provide facilities to students from far-flung areas, especially female students who cannot afford the cost of travel and living in big cities.
The affiliating universities need to improve these colleges’ teaching and learning systems. Otherwise, graduates will not be able to secure jobs and become part of the excess of education.
Being a responsible organization, Higher Education Commission provides full support to the public and private sector Universities to develop their academic and intellectual level through offering postgraduate programs.
For quality assurance purposes, the universities or Degree Awarding Institutions were asked to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the postgraduate level.
It started in 2013, and according to the HEC website, 2324 NOCs for postgraduate programs are issued.
Out of which 1617 NOCs are issued to MS/MPhil or Equivalent programs help students learn research basics, and 707 NOCs are issued for different Ph.D. programs.
All this shows that our institutions are eager to engage our youth in relevant and quality education as these NOCs are issued considering legal and quality parameters like relevant faculty members, curriculum, etc.
If any institutions violate criteria and standards set by the Government through HEC, it provides excess to education which may result in unemployability and a bad reputation. It will also raise question marks on their national and international qualifications.
—The writer is Deputy Director at Higher Education Commission, Islamabad.