The Asian University Ranking 2019 by the Times Higher Education Ranking (THE) released in the first week of May revealed a steep decline in the ranking of higher education institutions of Pakistan. Among ten universities in the Asian University Ranking 2018, only eight sustained their position without any significant improvements. Out of these eight only two the University of Agriculture Faisalabad and University of Lahore have been able to retain its ranking status the other seven met with an unfortunate steep decline. Alas, the country’ elite Federal higher education institute the Quaid-i-Azam University is no more in the Asian list, and neither is the University of Peshawar- first time getting ranked in the year 2018. Congratulations to the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, the new member of the Asian universities elite group in 2019 ranking.

It is being presumed that everyone involved in the education system of the country might have noticed this depressing result card for the Pakistani higher education system; however, no one uttered a single word – a complete silence. This silence might have several meanings like i) we accept this decline, ii) the decline is horrific, and we resolve to improve or iii) disagree with this ranking. Accepting the first proposition is too much pessimistic. The only plausible and possible option is the second one; however, prevailing circumstances may or may not be able to support “resolve to improve.” As we are in the midst of the most challenging era as far as the higher education system of the country is concerned. Unavoidable budget cuts will be diverting academic leaders’ attention towards coping with fiscal/survival challenges. Moreover, the intended bachelor’s degree program reforms, temporary halt on funding support for scholarly activities and visits is already hampering interactions/collaborations with international partners. The third option “disagree with this ranking” also quite impossible, as we live in an interconnected ranked world and whether we like it or not, university ranking will remain the desired goal.

If we do not recognize the current educational decline seriously, it will ensue minimal efforts directed towards achieving better ranking in the years ahead. As an educationist who has served in academic leadership positions in the country with vast international experience mainly in the domain of universities ranking, I believe, there is an urgent need to initiate an awareness program related to ranking mainly for all academic leaders of the country. Universities achieving better ranking should be rewarded that will create a highly competitive environment. Sharing from personal experience, on my arrival at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur in the year 2010, besides several awareness sessions related to university ranking, I introduced research productivity award and its public recognition in a mega-ceremony each year. The outcome was the Islamia University Bahawalpur stayed on the top of the list in Southern Punjab during my tenure. Moreover, the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology recognized this institution as the second best in the country besides international recognition by the Ranking Web of Universities as the leading university.

Our homeland is a beautiful country and the people living here are smart. First, and foremost it is time that all academic leaders should stand up, accept the reality that fault lies on our shoulders and none others. I can echo with the academic leaders that external influences sometimes hamper excellence in academic and scholarly activities; however, if you are smart can find your ways to keep progressing. Here is an interesting example to quote that majority of the Vice Chancellor/Rectors are faced with, i.e., disruption of statutory bodies meetings. During my time as Vice Chancellor efforts were directed toward halt/stop scheduled syndicate meetings; however, not even one got hampered. I was also serving as Vice Chancellor for two newly emerging universities on an additional charge. The statutory bodies were effectively established, scheduled meetings held in timely fashion irrespective of external and sometimes internal resistance in all.

Although funds are scarce, however, there is firm resolve and support by the government to improve higher education in the country. We the educationists should come with innovative survival strategies that can put our nation on the passage to educational excellence. In a recent meeting of Vice Chancellors/Rectors of both private and public higher education institutes an academic leader mentioned that President of Pakistan is very keen to support excellence in education and he held five hours long meeting with federal higher education institutes Vice Chancellors towards bringing academic excellence in the country. On similar lines, the Governor/Chancellor of Punjab including minister of education held a meeting with all academic leaders of the province with a promise to implement real-time support and solutions of issues for all universities in their jurisdiction. I am sure, same passion exists across the country. In the current scenario, nothing is stopping the academic leaders from steering their institution towards academic excellence. Let’s we all Vice Chancellors/Rectors resolve to get our universities globally recognized and those having recognition should never face a decline in future. Of course, this needs appropriate university governance and implementation of proper contemporary academic practices. May Allah bless us in this resolve.