Future of higher education

Dr Hazir Ullah

HIGHER Education in Pakistan has expanded greatly in the last fifteen years. The numbers of universities, faculty members and students have ballooned. There are more than 177 universities and degree awarding institutions across Pakistan. There is an unjustified competition among universities for increasing the number of students and degree programmes. The continuing expansion of higher education has produced many policy and practical challenges. One of the several challenges is the availability of appropriate number and qualified teachers to teach the ever increasing number of students at the under-graduate and postgraduate level. Regular teaching positions are becoming scarce commodities. The situation has compelled universities to hire more and more visiting teachers. This is not the case with one or two universities. The entire Pakistani higher education system is moving in the same cynical direction- having few regular and more visiting faculty members. This trend, I believe, is watering down higher education in the country. I confess that very few of the visiting faculty may be contributing to quality of higher education. Nevertheless, the majority of them have damaged the quality.
Let me argue that running programmes with visiting faculty is a serious challenge, deserving the serious attention of those of us responsible for hiring and engaging teachers. People at the helm of affair need to know what the meaning of ‘visiting teacher’ is. Who are they? How are they appointed? Why do universities appoint visiting teachers? Do they have pedagogical training? Do they own students? There was a time when the “visiting” title was carrying unique status and prestige. It signified a certain degree and level of caliber and status (someone was good enough in his/her field to leave his/her own institution and grace another with his/her teaching and research skills). S/he was a specialist and highly talented teacher. Drawing on this meaning of visiting teacher, finding visiting professors was/is not an easy job. Unfortunately, in Pakistani context, this is no longer the case and valid definition of visiting teacher. In Pakistan, hiring visiting teachers are like hiring unskilled daily labour.
Universities hire visiting teachers without taking into consideration their teaching zeal and pedagogical skills. They are appointed from the university administration, relative and friends of the regular faculty members, MS & Ph. D scholars and jobless graduates who either fail to get a regular job or trying to entre some reasonable career job. I am cognizant of the fact that many, not all, universities have devised committees and procedures for the appointment of visiting faculty members. Nevertheless, these committees and procedures are limited to the official records and documents. These observations are not a reflection of any particular institution but exist across the country. It will not be a sweeping statement to assert that the problem is country-wide.
Let me turn to the reasons that have been compelling universities to hire visiting faculty. There are many different and varied reasons for hiring visiting faculty. Departments /universities have started programmes without proper preparation and appointments of regular faculty members. They might need to fill in a short term gap created by regular faculty members who are on leave and other faculty members may not be willing to teach courses more than his/her official workload. They may want to cover courses every semester but have no prospects of hiring for a regular position. The Chairpersons/ Deans/ Head of institutions may be using it for building social capital. The people at the helm of affairs forget that the core aim of teaching and learning is the wellbeing and intellectual growth of students. Students need to connect with their faculty members outside the classroom. Informal conversations outside the classroom contribute to their intellectual growth, social capital and job opportunities. Engaging more and more visiting teachers deprives students from the aforementioned benefits and may have serious consequences for students.
Greater reliance on contingent or visiting faculty members seriously impacts the intellectual life and experience of graduate and postgraduate students. Visiting teachers tend to be less connected to campus resources and are often unable to serve as advisors and mentors due to lack of time and their tenuous relationship with the institution. Visiting teachers may be cobbling together several jobs to enhance their income and may not be able to commit to students’ counseling and mentoring. Similarly, there are few expectations placed on visiting professors in terms of faculty governance, student advising, or other intellectual endeavours.
Thus, it is one of the factors for the loss of intellectual and personal development of students. When students want to discuss difficult reading, any academic issue, it is impossible for the visiting teachers to commit. If the visiting teachers are from the administration of the same university or any ministry etc, it also affects their official duty at principal positions. One of the key evil of visiting faculty is the award of high grade to the majority students without judging students knowledge. They do this to keep students happy and increase their chances of contract in the next semester. The voice that I am trying to raise here is that the universities should decide to appoint the visiting faculty members who are the best in the field of education, and who can really contribute to the intellectual growth and development of students.
— The writer is Deputy Dean Faculty of Social Sciences & Chairman Department of Sociology, International Islamic University Islamabad.

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