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Why Higher Education is missing the mark?

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Dr Ifra Iftikhar

Universities play a key part in society’s development. The issues that plague universities have an effect on society. From 2002 to 2019, Pakistan added 142 universities, or one every 1.5 months. This is astounding growth, but educational institutions have been lacking in many aspects such as university personnel and physical resources not grow at the same rate, shortages of teachers, skilled non-teaching personnel, research facilities, university buildings/infrastructure, state-of-the-art labs and libraries, etc. These deficiencies in our education system lead to brain drain and force our brightest students to prefer foreign countries for their higher education rather than to stay in their own country.
From 2002 to 2019, research publications by Pakistan-based scholars rose from 1000 to
12,000. However, there were apprehensions about the quality of publications and concerns that they were published merely for sake of publishing. As a natural evolutionary process, quality follows quantity. In Pakistan, researchers are not very conscious of research purpose and value.
‘Increasing the publishing count’ remains the mantra. The solution is to foster local problem-
solving research by giving incentives, such as promotion or monetary rewards. Moreover,
research-focused faculty members’ teaching burdens should be reduced. Higher teaching loads reduce research output.

In Pakistan, an instructor is expected to teach (at least 9 credit hours per semester), do impactful research and publish in great places, and play an active and effective role in academic administration (deans, chairs, committee, etc.) all at the same time. All of these things are different from each other and require different skills.

In Pakistan, there should be two different paths for the two types of faculty, one with
more research and less teaching, and the other with more teaching and more administrative work and less research, keeping research mandatory for all. Each path should be judged based on its own strengths. So, under the current TTS, there should be two tracks; TTS-TAT (teaching/management track) and TTS-ART (advance research track) for faculty who want to focus on teaching or research. In some of the best international universities, this splitting of roles is already built in, while in others it is just starting to happen. Universities in the UK like Cambridge and Oxford have strong tutorial systems with research faculty and PhDs and post-docs who help teach. Some of the other universities have fewer classes for undergraduates and
more supervision of graduate research and theses following REF (research evaluation framework under UK HEC in 2021).
In addition, universities should provide training for teachers in areas to which they may
not have been exposed earlier in their careers. Teachers need to be given required training in a variety of areas, including: semester regulations; relative and curve grading; curriculum updates; the art of exam questions; Bloom’s taxonomy; proposal writing for grant and transdisciplinary research; etc. Though they may seem minor and obvious, many academic members at our colleges stay confused or unaware of them for years.
Some universities in big cities like Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad do better in teaching
and research, whereas universities in remote areas are especially lacking. There is a scarcity of PhD research active professors, these institutions established PhD programs without first solidifying their MS research programs, MS students teach MS, course curricula (particularly electives) are outdated or not taught with the necessary rigor, etc. Since many national colleges encounter the same difficulties, sharing experiences can help address them. National institutions
should have dedicated faculty exchange programs (minimum one semester) to share best practices. Though faculty members meet at national meetings or conferences, these encounters are brief. We need to encourage and support more formal long-term national faculty exchanges through co-teaching, research groups/collaborations, sharing research lab facilities, PhD co-supervisions, etc.

Also, academia – industry linkage should be strengthened. Undergrads need to take part
in co-op programs. Even though this is becoming more and more important in undergraduate education around the world, it is not currently suggested in the HEC-recommended curriculum.

Our universities need offices that work with industries to help them get national and international research funds and industry-led projects. University syndicates often take people from industry.
They promote industry-academia collaboration. As part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), Pakistan’s industries should help improve education. Each industry’s technical boards or associations must have a university representative. HEC can help with the coop programme, corporate social responsibility, and putting academics on technical boards in industry by working
with the Ministry of Science and Technology and industries.

The write is associate professor at Lahore Garrison University, Department of Media Studies. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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