The performance of global universities is generally gauged against several performance indicators for ranking purpose. The Times Higher Education (THE) has been along in years and is a reliable data provider for ranking universities across continents. THE is further considered to be a potential source for world renowned universities to devise certain yardsticks to achieve excellence in academics and research. The ranking of the universities undertaken by THE is announced every year, creating an uproar amongst global education gurus to revisit their performance if they have not been able to sustain their preceding positions in the global performance table. The performance indicators followed by THE are grouped into five areas i.e. teaching, research, research influence, international outlook and knowledge transfer. The first three parameters constitute 90 % of the whole evaluation configuration denoting that research and teaching remain to be instrumental towards institutional growth in the performance table. There has a collection of several other fundamental sub-indicators such as reputation survey, research income, international-to-domestic-student ratio, international collaboration and industry income. Global universities have focused upon these prescribed areas to achieve elite positions in international ranking.

What makes a university global is indeed intricate to appreciate without understanding the national contexts. Most of the developing countries still stand at the lowest rung of development ladder in education sector. Comparing with developed economies, resource constrained countries typically lack plenty of resources, good governance and a long term vision of the governments for developing the universities to international standards. Experts have established that transformation of higher education system is closely linked with bettering economic and social system. Well-conceived and implementable reforms in lower education system and developing higher education institutions for integrated system of teaching and cutting edge research are also considerably important to immensely add to the available human knowledge in the prevailing intensely competitive scientific arenas.

Evidence is available to suggest that most of the top ranked global universities have turned to be economically self-sustained through a sagacious financial management system examples being Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Caltech—along with Oxford, Cambridge in the U.K and University of Tokyo in Japan. For a multitude of national universities, aspiration to develop into a world-class university does not turn into a reality as these institutions fail to think and act globally. It is momentous to suggest the readers to consult the World Bank report authored in 2009 by Jamil Salmi, detailing the fundamental points on challenges of establishing world-class universities. The report presents a strategic plan and a variety of ways to nations on how to promote higher education system and to lift up their universities to international standards. The report clearly articulates and accentuates the need for expanding regional boundaries to global for grabbing talent in terms of teachers, researchers and students exemplifying how did Harvard, Cambridge, Caltech attract international students and hired foreign academicians and researchers. Unlike institutions in developing countries, global universities are financially self-reliant without even a bit of dependence upon their respective governments for funds. Research contracts with a diverse groups of public institutions, huge amount of tuition fee, government support and endowment funds remain to be the independent economic sources for western universities e.g. National University of Singapore alone collected $774 million as endowment fund through fundraising. Interestingly, Singapore hosts 90,000 international students as well as a campus of INSEAD, world’s leading and largest graduate business school coupled with collaborating four American universities. Contrasting with world class universities, most of the national universities of resource constrained economies lack leadership, competitiveness, innovation, creativity and autonomy to thrive in the realm of higher education.

Current international universities ranking- 2018 of Pakistani universities by THE paints a dismal picture of the performance of Pakistani universities as the highest position attained by Quaid-Azam university Islamabad lies between 401-500 that is far below than Indian Institute of Science being at 251-300. Likewise, the number of Pakistani universities positioned among 1000 world’s topmost universities remained to be only 04 in comparison with Indian universities tallying 30. Interestingly, 60 universities from China have been placed in the first 1000 world universities with Peking University of China being at 27th position. China indeed has been recognized as the world’s largest producer of Ph.D. scientists and engineers. Similarly, viewing at position, Pakistani universities attained in Asian universities ranking, made by THE for 2018, only three universities were placed in the top 200 Asian universities with Quide-e-Azam university Islamabad at 79th position followed by COMSATS Institute of Information Technology and National University of Sciences and Technology at 125 and 162 respectively. All three universities are based in Islamabad implying that location of a particular university might be another significant determinant for better performance.

Today, province wise break up of Pakistani universities/centers of excellence both public and private, engaged in research and academics remains to be 65, 56, 41,21,12, 08 and 02 in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan respectively corresponding to a total of 205. This appears to be a big number and Govt. of Pakistan has allocated a budget amounting to Rs. 35662.801 million in 2017-18 to Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan alone to nurture higher education in the country. With this much number of institutions of higher learning and a huge allocation of budget, the higher education system has not been thriving to the desired extent in Pakistan. Where do these abysmal gaps exist that hamper Government, HEC, Universities and relevant stakeholders to enable Pakistan to have a couple of universities placed in top 100 in global ranking? It is incontestable that improvement in higher education is by and large embedded in research and academic ambience that must be conducive for learning and research and is to be made available to the universities for a conspicuous outcome of the efforts by faculty and the researchers. Universities, being autonomous bodies too have their independent role to play by identifying the snags in indigenous system followed by downsising their dependence upon government and funding agencies for subsistence and growth. This would happen only if universities focus upon undertaking and commercialising cutting edge research, truly beneficial to cater the needs of the local industry. For example, one study determined that universities contributed nearly 60 billion pounds to the economy of the United Kingdom in 2007-08. Moreover, the government may focus on selecting a few universities for developing them into the best national universities by following international models to enter in the race of attaining better global ranking.

The central point to ponder for government of Pakistan and relevant agencies is to not abandon dedicated efforts for establishing world-class universities; instead a sense of competition to attain global reputation in higher education should remain their priority. Even the gulf states have desperately realised the role of higher education as a means to strengthen economy and they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars by establishing local campuses of western universities in middle eastern countries, example being Education City in Doha involving six American universities on 14 square kilometres of land and the united Arab Emeritus being a hub of American universities in the gulf. Leadership role and faculty’s involvement in research and academics remain to be pivotal for the upsurge of existing standards in higher education in Pakistan. It is beyond doubt that no university can earn a status of an elite institution until it is able to develop a global perception and reputation. Labelling by the Government or self-declaration by the universities do not make them the best. Its primarily the global recognition and the status conferred by the contemporary world upon universities pronounce them to be global.

To cut short, the dream of economic prosperity, transformation of the society and to turn Pakistan into a modern state will never be realised if paradigm shifting endeavours from conventional to digitized, innovative and technology based education system are not made. The intensely competitive global economy calls for serious efforts to be directed and colossal investment in higher education to be made to achieve some tangible returns. Bold initiatives and drastic reforms in higher education are desperately needed to drag Pakistan toward standing on the podium. A sense of intense competition to be a world-class university as a fundamental spirit should impregnate among leadership of the universities as a way forward for national growth and prosperity.

 

 writer is the Director of Institute of Food Science & Nutrition at Bahauddin Zakariya University Multanand is a known researcher with specialisation in Food Safety and Nutrition. He has also been working as Director ORIC at BZU Multan.

saeedakhtar@bzu.edu.pk