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Need to develop a world class higher education system

Pakistan has a large higher education system with over 190 recognized private and public sector universities. Unfortunately, no Pakistani university is among the top 600 universities in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019. This is an indication that there is a definite need to improve Pakistan’s higher education system. The need is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the over 200 million people in the country are young.
According to official figures, 64 percent of Pakistanis are below the age of 30. Any higher educational reform must be designed to take this significant age cohort into account.
With the new government of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) in Islamabad which placed a great emphasis on human development in its election manifesto, the country appears to be poised to address the higher education challenge. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI has promised to put in place “the most ambitious education agenda in Pakistan’s history, spanning reform of primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational, and special education.”
It remains to be determined whether his government will be able to walk the talk. That’s because there are many areas that must be addressed in order to develop Pakistan’s higher educational system. Three are at the top of the list. First is quality improvement. As noted, Pakistan higher educational institutions were not ranked in the top 600 on Times Higher Education Ranking. Only three Pakistani universities — COMSATS Institute of Information Technology University of Agriculture, Faisalabad and National University of Sciences and Technology ranked in the top 1000 universities in the world. In comparison, five universities in neighboring India made it to top 500 and 33 made it to top 1000 global institutions in the Times ranking. Pakistan’s poor performance comes in spite of the fact that successive governments launched a variety of measures to improve higher education two decades since the inception of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) in 2002.
Second is access. The number of Pakistani universities has increased to 192but the ratio of higher education institutions to the eligible population is still significantly lower than that of other neighboring countries. The ratio of PhD members of the total faculty is below 30 per cent. Poor Pakistanis are unable to afford to private sector universities. Thus, there is need to increase public sector universities. The higher education allocation in the budget is woefully insufficient at only 0.26 percent of GDP.
Third, is Pakistan’s regulatory body the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Last month, the second most senior official of the body, the Executive Director had to resign over plagiarism charges. A former HEC Chairman is facing similar charges. Merit-based appointment in the HEC and all the universities has been a major challenge over the past several years. Under the 18th constitutional amendment, the provincial governments were supposed to establish their own higher education commissions (HECs). Until now, only the Punjab and Sindh provinces have set up their own HECs, while Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir have failed to make any substantial progress on this front.
Given the foregoing conditions, all eyes are on the newly elected government to address the key challenges and problems faced by the higher education sector. In his first speech after being elected as the Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the importance of a knowledge economy, youth empowerment and strengthening higher education. While chairing a high-level meeting attended by senior educationists, he said every possible effort would be made to provide required resources to the universities for promotion of higher education.



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