M Fazal Elahi
THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) in one of its Study Report 2011 (ADB SR 2011) aptly states that having an educated workforce is vital to a country’s economic strength and well-being. Obviously, some countries have the resources and ability to turn out a more consistently educated workforce than others. It should be noted, though, that educational financing isn’t the only determining factor in how well-educated a country is; other variables like cultural norms can influence a country’s education level. However, educational spending is a good starting point to assess how well-educated a country is. In light of the foregoing inference of ADB, vis-à-vis education, it can be sagaciously concluded that education be it primary, middle, secondary, higher secondary or tertiary is a vitally significant component of national development.
The developing countries of the world, in particular, are experiencing a growing need for skilled managers and professionals in diverse fields. The foregoing fact necessitates that developing countries make adequate investment in higher education that will assist them in building high-income economies, with the novelty, knowledge, and technology needed to flourish in an–interrelated, competitive world (ADB SR 2011). Strengthening the Higher Education sector is essential to the socio-economic development of a country. The question is how close is Pakistan to this inordinately vital realization? Has Pakistan made or is making enough effort to attain its higher education goals? Has Higher Education in Pakistan been able to contribute towards national development to the extent it should have? To be able to respond to these significant questions effectively, a review of the country’s Higher Education Regulatory Authority-The HEC is important.
Transition from University Grants Commission (UGC) – a body functioning under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, to Higher Education Commission (HEC) – an independent, creative and dynamic policy-making, monitoring, evaluating, financing and regulating body, the Higher Education sector of Pakistan has taken a quantum leap forward. Established in 2002, the HEC has taken significant strides in bolstering the Higher Education sector, has not only brought about significant development in the Higher Education sector but also made marked improvement in its quality and administration. Quality assurance has always been a matter of grave concern vis-à-vis Higher Education in Pakistan. The HEC has, in the past 15 years, made concerted efforts and implemented a well developed plan of quality assurance to bolster research in the Higher Education institutions of the country. This effort was directed not only towards the public universities but also towards the duly chartered and HEC recognized private universities and degree awarding institutes. Significant advancement was made in the realm of quality assurance in Higher Education through HEC’s continuous mentoring, monitoring and evaluation of the quality assurance programs of the higher education institutions.
Some of the other praiseworthy goals achieved by HEC are: 250,000 Indigenous and Foreign scholarships awarded to outstanding students; 48% record women enrolment in higher education; 188 universities and degree awarding institutions; establishment of Pakistan Education and research network; universities making their mark in international rankings, over 12, 000 research publications annually; curriculum development at undergraduate and graduate levels; over 1.3 million student enrolment; stimulating national progress through human resource and faculty development initiatives; improving quality of higher education through scholarships and industry-academia partnerships; encouraging creation of knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship.
It is an undeniable fact that in the past 70 years, since Pakistan’s creation, not a single university of the country could attain any world ranking. However, in 2016 Pakistan achieved a remarkable milestone; seven institutions of higher learning of the country succeeded in making a place for itself in the roster of world university rankings. The 13th edition of World University Rankings issued by Times Higher Education placed seven institutions from Pakistan in its world university ranking list in 2016. Three universities made it into the top 800, including COMSATS, NUST and Quaid-i-Azam University (all in the 601-800 groups). The University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Bahauddin Zakariya University, University of Karachi and the University of Lahore were among the 801+ group.
Unambiguously, Higher Education in Pakistan has seen marked improvement, both in terms of quality and standard, since the creation of HEC 15 years ago. The phenomenal improvement in the country’s Higher Education system should, without prejudice, be attributed to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) as it clearly is HEC’s efforts that gave a turn around to Higher Education in Pakistan. While eulogizing HEC’s endeavours in raising the level of higher education to where it stands today, the name that merits special mention and recognition is that of Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, a scientist, intellectual and an educationist of international eminence and former founder Chairman of HEC. The more we talk about Prof Atta’s mammoth contribution towards reinvigorating and boosting the Higher Education sector of Pakistan, the more we feel indebted to him for all that he has done to promote the cause of higher education in the country.
Unquestionably, Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rahman’s dynamism and unparalleled academic vision and professionalism laid the foundations for a dynamic Higher Education system in the country. Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rahman’s successors’ Dr Javaid R Laghari, former Chairman HEC and Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, the incumbent Chairman of HEC too must be applauded and appreciated for not only upholding Prof. Ata’s policies and vision, vis-à-vis Higher Education in Pakistan high, but also for further bolstering the edifice of higher education in the country to make it as compatible as possible with the developed societies of the world. In their endeavours to do so, they have undoubtedly attained significant successes.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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M Fazal Elahi