Good news has recently emerged in the local and international media regarding positive improvement in education sector of Pakistan. This relates to seven Pakistani universities making it to the list of top 1,000 universities of the world. The annual ranking has been released by a credible UK-based rating agency Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). The QS ranks universities both at world and regional level, besides other ranking categories, such as subject rankings and young universities rankings, every year.

According to details, Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) has emerged as top-ranked university of Pakistan on the QS list for 2020. The agency placed PIEAS at 375th position on world ranking of universities for its student-faculty ratio, very high research output, besides other merit points.

PIEAS has been followed by National University of Science and Technology (NUST), which stood at 400 for its very high research output number of students and faculty. Similarly, Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) has been ranked 511 on criteria of 77.4 citations per faculty, while Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) has been placed at 701 for its employer reputation. Whereas COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore and University of Punjab have been ranked between 801-1000 on the global list. Among universities in the private sector, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) is the only university which has succeeded in making its name emerge in the list.

It is pertinent to mention here that PIEAS, an Islamabad-based university, being run under the aegis of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), rose straight to the top to become the highest ranked Pakistani university in the QS 2020, jumping from 397th position in 2019 to 375th slot this year by making a giant leap of 22 places and secured an overall score of 29.2, with individual scores of 96.4 in faculty-student, 5.4 in academic reputation, 4.6 in employer reputation and 36.2 in citations per faculty. The credit of this great achievement goes, indeed, to Rector and the hardworking faculty of PIEAS under whose visionary guidance PIEAS achieved this landmark.

The history of this top-notch research institute is also an interesting read. The seeds for this institution were sown in 1967, when a small training facility called ‘Reactor School’ was established at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH), to conduct some courses in nuclear technology for the young engineers and scientists of PAEC. The Reactor School was later upgraded administratively to the level of a Division of PINSTECH and was renamed the ‘Centre for Nuclear Studies’ (CNS). With its expanding activities, additional space became of paramount importance and therefore a separate building, located close to PINSTECH, was constructed, and CNS was shifted to it in 1978. The CNS introduced several new degree programs and its name was changed to “Pakistan Institute of Engineering & Applied Sciences”, (PIEAS), in 1997.

In April 2000, PIEAS was granted the status of a degree-awarding institute by Government of Pakistan to promote education and research at its highest standards. Thereafter, in a short span of less than two decades, PIEAS reached the zenith of scientific excellence in the country. For this accomplishment, the university also owes due credit to the visionary Scientist emeritus, Dr. Inam ur Rehman who was also the founding Rector of PIEAS.

His vision was further strengthened by all the Chairmen of the Commission who promoted the culture of research within the organization and strengthened PIEAS as an institute. However, it would be apt to specially mention here the contribution of sitting Chairman Board of Governors (BOG) PIEAS who is also Chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Mr. Muhammad Naeem (HI, SI). His far-sighted approach to promote and strengthen PIEAS and resolute support for its management and faculty, made this arduous task easy to accomplish.

Among other prominent position holders from Pakistan in the QS Ranking is NUST which secured the 400th position, with a slight improvement from its 2019 placement of 417th. NUST attained an overall score of 28.2, with 76.6 in faculty-student, 39.4 in employer reputation, 16.4 in academic reputation, and 9.2 in citations per faculty. Over the years, the university has ascended 128 positions in the world ranking during the last three years, which is indeed a meritorious accomplishment.

Next in the ranking is Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) that has jumped from 551-560 band in 2019 to 511-520 band in this year’s ranking, attaining 77.4 in citations per faculty category. LUMS retained 701-750 band in this year’s ranking getting 36.3 in employer reputation. UET Lahore and Punjab University have also retained their last year’s positions.

Among our neighbours, China topped the Asian region with 42 higher education institutes making a mark in the top 1000 for the year 2020 followed by Japan with 41 universities; South Korea with 30; Malaysia with 20; Taiwan with 16 and Iran with 6 universities among the list.

In comparison with India, though the number 7 still falls short of 23, which is the number of Indian universities included in the World University Ranking 2020. However, looking at the size of economy, budgetary allocation for education and current economic crisis we have been facing in recent years, it is a moment to celebrate for Pakistanis particularly our academia and the hardworking workforce related to education sector.  India’s best ranking has been secured by Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) which has jumped 10 spots by securing 152nd position.

The QS university ranking is carried out on the basis of teaching and research quality, academic performance, employer reputation, citations per paper, papers per faculty and measures taken by the university for its internationalisation. Pakistani universities have improved scores in academic reputation, citations per faculty, faculty and student ratio, and international students have helped further consolidate their positions this year.

Meanwhile the federal government has allocated Rs. 29,047 million under Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the ongoing and new schemes of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) during fiscal year 2019-20. According to details, out of total amount, around Rs. 24,887 million has been allocated for ongoing schemes, while, Rs. 4,160 million has been allocated for new schemes.

It is also encouraging that the government has rightly realized the importance of mathematics and hence a reasonable amount of Rs. 170 million has been allocated for Centre for Mathematical Science (CMS) newly established at PIEAS. This would further strengthen the position of university in the coming years and help broaden the research base of PIEAS.

Moreover, the government has allocated Rs. 350 million for the establishment of Technology Development Fund for HEC scholars returning after completion of PhD to introduce application of new technologies in Pakistan, which is a healthy sign and reflects positively on the priorities of the incumbent government. In order to bring universities established in far flung areas at par with others, an amount of Rs. 150 million has also been allocated for their upgradation.

One can hope that Pakistani universities would strive further to enhance their rankings and shine brightly in the coming years to make the nation proud.