Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) Islamabad, one of the top ranked Pakistani university is going to compete its 50 years on June 21, 2017 as its foundation stone was laid down on the same date in 1967. Quaid-i-Azam University (once named Islamabad University) was established as Research University under the Act of National Assembly and initially, started teaching and research programmes for PhD and MPhil students. It was, however, gradually and later decided to offer Master’s, graduate, and now undergraduate programmes.
Despite being financially strapped and suffering from a persistent budget deficit in the range of Rs500-600 million rupees for several years, Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad has been ranked at 95 in the list of top Asian universities, being sole Pakistani university, as per Global Education University Rankings released for the year 2017.
Since its inception, Quaid-i-Azam University as an international seat of higher, advancement and academic learning served Pakistani nation. During last fifty years, the university, for its international repute, qualified faculty and unique academic programmes attracted a number of students from all regions of the country. Being a federal public sector university, admission in the university is offered as per federal government quota policy. Due to this unique characteristic, it is not only a dynamic place of learning but also reflects social diversity and rich culture of Pakistan through syncretic nature of students coming from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. That is why; the university is considered a mirror of Pakistan at microcosmic level. The top-notch faculty is a real asset of this top ranked university of Pakistan who are alumni of top ranked universities of the world. More than 90% of the teaching faculty possesses PhD degree even from the top ranked universities of academically advanced countries. Moreover, a reasonable size of the faculty members of the university have been working in the international universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Heidelberg etc. earning applause and awards each year such as International Peace Award and civil awards from government of Pakistan. Recently two faculty members have been nominated for these accolades—another feather in its cap. So far, QAU has produced 1,221 PhDs, 8,464 MPhil and 27,793 MSc students both in natural and social sciences. Most of the alumni of QAU are rendering valuable services at top notch positions in various spheres of life at national, regional and international levels. The old graduates still state their experience of stay at QAU campus and their interaction with the best faculty of the country as the best part of their life.
As this leading federal higher education institution is celebrating its golden jubilee celebrations, it is currently facing a number of problems which need immediate attention by the concerned quarters and government authorities. Due to limited financial resources and annual deficit of more than five hundred million rupees, QAU is unable to hire qualified faculty & staff, improve existing facilities and meet growing needs of the university. Adding fuel to fire, owing to financial constraints it is unable to meet essential day to day expenditures. The hostel residents are facing a number of problems due to lack of development and expansion of hostel vicinities. The decades’ old infrastructure and labs needs exigent focus to be addressed. Although as per signed MOU, QAU administration and the Alumni Association are working closely to involve old QAU students to cope with the situation.
Another important problem being faced by QAU is non-demarcation, illegal occupation of varsity land and the shrinking of its estate on all sides by influential land mafia. Land adjacent to QAU, along 3rd Avenue and Diplomatic Enclave Islamabad, has been illegally occupied, despite repeatedly requesting proper action against land grabbing elements. In addition, within QAU estate, there are small illegal settlements that are slowly growing. QAU administration simply does not have the capacity to remove these elements and it appeals to the ICT and CDA, from time to time, for practical action in this regard. According to the QAU administration fresh encroachments were discovered and verified as about 200 acres of QAU land worth of hundreds of million rupees are under the occupation of various land grabbers. The university administration appealed to the federal government to help QAU retain possession of its precious land. According to the university officials, in spite of payment for 1,709 acres of land, only 1,507 have been handed over to the varsity in spite of repeated reminders. It is more misfortunate that this tragedy is going to happen on the eve of 50th Year celebrations of QAU and instead of announcing special package for QAU, the federal government is being requested to save the precious university land. It is also misfortunate that due non-demarcation of land to lack of required funds, the university could not construct boundary wall around the university.
We need to learn from the best international experiences and best practices from Asian nations that how they are giving importance to their top universities. Their continuous efforts are aimed at building world-class universities including new schemes concentrating government funding support to develop a few selected universities to compete globally. For instance, China has undertaken Project 985 which aims to transform China’s most elite universities: Peking University and Tsinghua University into “super-elite” world-class institutions. South Korea has recently launched its World Class University initiative to bring higher education institutions in line with international trends to make a significant contribution in knowledge economy. The Singapore city state has established a World Class Universities programme. Instead of announcement of new universities, we need to strengthen existing universities.
On eve of golden jubilee celebrations and as per unanimous demand of all stakeholders, QAU should be declared a flagship institution along with announcement of special bailout package in terms of endowment fund to overcome its financial constraints and raise the position of university among top 300 global universities. With provision of required funding and support from the government and the alumni, this prestigious higher education institution could win more laurels for the country and meet the growing human resources needs.
The writer is a freelance columnist associated with the development and education sector.