The current year i.e 2018 carries very significance for Pakistan as during the last week of this July, Pakistani people would elect their representatives for the tenure of five years. Youth under the age bracket of 18-35 years, which constitute 44% of total electoral roll, will also play a decisive role during electoral process. The preparations of election manifestos by the political parties are at the final stage. This year is also very important in higher education sector as well due to key appointments of chairpersons of federal/ provincial higher education commissions and vice chancellors of more than 30 public sector universities. The recent transparent and merit based appointment of internationally well reputed educationalist and development expert, Dr. Tariq Banuri has been hailed by the academicians as well as civil society circles and has been termed as good omen for the future of higher education sector in Pakistan.

The higher education sector of Pakistan is comprised of 188 public and private sector universities and more than 110 regional campuses with annual budget of more than 120 billion annual budget both at federal and provincial levels.

Despite increase in budgetary allocations for higher education sector during last few years, the recent reports issued by international and national reputed institutions have revealed sorry state of affairs in higher education and human resource development in Pakistan. World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report 2017, has ranked Pakistan as one of the worst countries for education and skills development. According to the report, Pakistan is at the 125th spot out of a total of 130 countries in a list that ranks countries on the basis of how well they perform in the education and skills development and infrastructure. Pakistan is even far behind in South Asian countries i.e Sri Lanka (70), Nepal (98), India (103) and Bangladesh (111). As per Global Competitiveness Report 2017-18, overall Pakistan was ranked at 115 position and in Higher Education and Training, Pakistan gained 120 position as compared to Sri Lanka (85), Nepal (88), India (40), Bangladesh (99), Iran (69), Bhutan (82) and Malaysia (23). In addition, according to 14th annual edition of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2017, only four Pakistani universities were able to get a place to the top 1,000, disappointing for Pakistan as 7 Pakistani universities could make a place in top 1,000 in last year’s ranking list as compared to 60 universities from China, 30 from India and 11 from Iran.

The desired results for improving the higher education in Pakistan, cannot be achieved unless our political leadership realises the importance of role of higher education for socio-economic development of country. It is high time for the political parties to agree over a joint stance and declaration for prioritising higher education and end of external interference in higher education sector.

Recently in connection with general elections 2018, Working Group on Higher Education Reforms, a think tank comprising of higher education experts, and Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences , an autonomous alliance of more than 35 Pakistani universities in collaboration with Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association and other ten organisations, prepared 18 points agenda aimed at reforming higher education sector in Pakistan for consideration of political parties.

The 18 points agenda emphasises over merit based transparent appointments of heads of universities through independent academic search committees comprising of eminent academicians, discouraging adhocism and extension culture in higher education sector, effective implementation of 18th Constitutional Amendment and decision of Council of Common Interests (CCI) regarding higher education sector, allocation of 4% of GDP for overall education sector and 25% of total allocated budget of education for higher education sector, promoting quality of teaching and research, ensuring autonomy of universities and academic freedom at university campuses, formulation of Syndicates/Senates/BOGs on modern principles of governance of universities keeping a balance between and internal and external members, restoration of Student Union at higher education institutions and ensuring effective representation of elected representatives of faculty at statutory bodies i.e University syndicate, senate, academic council etc, promoting peace, tolerance, culture of dialogue and co-existence at university campuses through strengthening student societies and paying special attention towards Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities, inclusion of stakeholders in policy formulation in higher education sector, independent assessment/evaluation of various higher education policies/programs, development of Roadmaps for Strengthening Higher Education both at national and provincial levels, initiating special program for improving ranking of Pakistani universities in international and regional university rankings through declaring top Pakistani universities as flagship institutions , separation of functions of quality assurance, funding, regulatory framework and ranking both at national and provincial levels, ensuring maximum investment over university faculty through provision of scholarships and training opportunities, extending maximum age of retirement of university faculty from 60 to 65 years and 75% tax rebate for university faculty/researchers as per joint resolution of Senate of Pakistan, strengthening federal and provincial higher education bodies as supportive and facilitator entities through ensuring autonomy and increased budget allocations, devising policy for employment/ placement of un-employed PhD holders, encouraging skill and technology based learning through establishing community colleges and technology universities through foreign collaborations, balanced development approach across academic disciplines, promoting access to higher education with optimum utilisation of public resources and expanding/supporting private sector for establishing new institutions along with strengthening the existing ones without compromising over quality and serious follow up on effective utilisation of public funds through effective monitoring and evaluation at both national and provincial levels to ensure that higher education goals are being pursued vigorously.

The inclusion of this consensus-based agenda in the election manifesto along with clear implementation roadmap, could be greatly helpful in improving state of higher education in Pakistan. The political parties also need to evolve joint strategy for strengthening federal and provincial higher education entities though increased funding, end of political interference in higher education sector as well as respecting autonomy of the higher education institutions.

 

n            The writer is a freelance columnist associated with the development

and education sector.