islamabad - Higher education institutions’ rankings in the newly announced Times Higher Education survey have declined because of meagre investment in the area of quality research in the institutions, experts said on Wednesday.

Higher education has remained a priority of the government and a huge sum has been allocated to it every year. For the current fiscal year 2017-18, the government earmarked more than Rs.35billion for projects in the sector.

Times Higher Education, in its latest survey, has ranked universities around the world in terms of academic standing. The University of Oxford secured top position, while only four Pakistani universities were selected among 1000. Last year the number was seven.

Only University of Quaid-e-Azam (QAU) remained successful in securing the position in top 500 universities. The institute’s performance has improved compared to the previous year.

The university ranked 401 out of 500, while Comsats Institute of Information & Technology (CIIT) and National University of Science & Technology ranked 601 out of 800 and University of Agriculture Faisalabad on 801 out of 1000.

Pakistan lagged behind its neighbouring countries including China, India, and Iran. Experts on higher education opined that the improvement in ranking is not possible until the investment is funnelled towards right direction in the sector.

Ex-Chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) Prof. Dr. Javaid Leghari was of the view that the current ranking of Pakistani universities shows that funding does not have a direct bearing on ranking.

“During my time at HEC, funding was slashed and was hardly 40percent of that of previous years yet there were nine universities that were ranked in top 1000,” he said.

Vice Chancellor (VC) University of Agriculture Rawalpindi, Dr. Rai Niaz Talking to The Nation, said the decline in the ranking is a serious concern because the government is investing billions in this sector.

He said the “horizontal extension cannot help in improving the ranking of universities”. According to him, greater investment is required on quality of research facilities. Laboratories can also be improved.

He said that scholars from the universities in United States, United Kingdom, Europe and China are teaching in Pakistani universities but there has been no improvement in the ranking.

“This reflects that there is a big weakness somewhere in the system,” VC said.

Meanwhile, President Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) Dr. Kaleem Bareech, said that budget for the higher education sector in the country is still below the mark if compared with developed countries or other countries in Asia.

He said that after the 18th amendment, universities and HECs, including federal and provincials are indecisive on several issues.

“Though millions of rupees are allocated for the universities, the fund is not utilized properly because of tensions between universities’ management and the regulating department,” he said.

He said that hundreds of scholarships were awarded to students to study in top class universities of the world, yet they were found protesting on roads.

“Falling standard of research, quality of research journals, and lack of faculty training are all factors contributing to the downfall of Pakistani universities in the world,” he said.

VC QAU Prof Dr. Javed Ashraf said that the reason behind the boost in the university ranking is its strict emphasis on research. He said the university at all levels hired PhD faculty and set its focus on the quality of research. Other universities in the country should follow suit.

He said the university supported its scholars for publishing the research in best international journals. “Funding has a significant impact on research facilities,” he said.

President Academic Staff Association (ASA), QAU Dr. Muhammad Ishtiaq Ali said in spite of severe funding constraints, delay in approval of development plans and challenges to its very existence, the university was able to climb up in ranking and compete against better funded national, regional, and international Universities.

“This is yet another opportune moment for the Government of Pakistan and Higher Education Commission to approve a special package for Pakistan’s top varsity, as QAU has proven its ability to stand at the international level. The University’s ranking is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the faculty and students” he added.

However, Chairman HEC Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed talking to The Nation said that the ranking scales vary on different indicators.

He said that under the current circumstances, the ranking should not be a top concern for Pakistani institutions. The infrastructure of higher education and the quality of research in these institutions constitutes a more important concern.

He expressed hope for improvement in the sector in the near future.