Home Opinion Op-Ed Doing more with less: The challenge of higher education in Pakistan

Doing more with less: The challenge of higher education in Pakistan

It is important to remember that increasing students’ intake in universities beyond their capacities will lead to “institutional massification” and will result in a significant deterioration of quality.

higher education

Public Sector Universities are grappling with diminishing resources, largely because of significant declines in state funding in the current (2019-20) budget and poor management of resources. There is no doubt in accepting the fact that 2019-20 is an intensely challenging year for higher education in Pakistan.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has advised public sector universities to cut down their administrative expenses. It has also directed the universities to impose a ban on hiring non-teaching administrative staff and procurement of equipment (i.e., computer, machinery etc.) to deal with the budgetary cuts. The Commission also recommended a “Fund-raising Programme” so that industrialists, alumni and other relevant people can donate funds.

I think the notion of “Fund-raising Programme” in today Pakistan may be a nice thought for those in leadership positions, but it is not a realistic thought. The decline in state funding to the public sector universities has come to a point where universities, I believe, will not able to manage the shortfall with fund raising from industrialists and alumni. Knowing the impossibility of fund raising from industrialists and alumni, universities have started to increase tuition fee, enrollment and teaching load while considering other ways to raise revenue.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, from the very inception of its up-gradation from University Grant Commission (UGC) to HEC in 2002, held, besides other aims, quality teaching and research as its priority agenda.

It will not be a sweeping statement to argue that almost all public sector universities in the country are under increasing pressure to increase enrollment at BS, MS and Ph. D levels to meet their financial needs. To increase the number of students, many universities have started separate undergraduate batches in morning and evening. MS/M. Phil Morning with thesis and MS/M. Phil evening without thesis have also been initiated. In addition to these initiatives, a number of public and private sector universities have started MS/M. Phil on weekend.

Increasing enrollment also compels universities to relax their admissions criteria. Lowering admissions requirements and standards to admit more and more students is no more than a compromise on the standard and quality education. Similarly, a considerable number of universities have also increased tuition fee from fall 2019 semester. Increasing tuition fee means education is becoming a private good in public sector universities. Increased tuition fee will shut the door of higher education to students from low and middle-income families. Many universities have increased the faculty teaching load without bothering about its impact on the quality of teaching and learning.

It is important to remember that increasing students’ intake in universities beyond their capacities will lead to “institutional massification” and will result in a significant deterioration of quality. The authorities should not shut their eyes to the fact that increase in enrollment without a commensurate increase in qualified faculty is causing a deterioration in the quality of teaching and learning.

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Heavy teaching load also leaves no time for independent research and guidance/supervision of students. The increased enrollment and teaching load seriously questions the very aim of higher education and quality teaching-leaning as majority of the qualified faculty members are heavily into administration tasks i.e., admission, coordination etc. Also, the proportion of staff with PhDs is low to supervise the number of MS and Ph. D students.

In a nut shell, all these measures adopted by universities to meet their financial needs are increasing the strain on faculty and students. The increase in enrollment and teaching load places heavy burden on the teachers how to manage the quality in their teaching and fulfill their research missions.

I am cognizant to the fact that when you run a public sector university, you’re always struggling to do more with less. But we should understand that at a certain point, you don’t do more with less; you have to do less with less.

I think the enrollment needs to be kept in line with the capacities of our universities. Doing more with less will, in fact, further deteriorate the already haggard standards of higher education. There is no point in denying the fact that there has been an erosion of the public mission of higher education in this country. Universities have become divorced from their missions outlined by HEC.

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The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, from the very inception of its up-gradation from University Grant Commission (UGC) to HEC in 2002, held, besides other aims, quality teaching and research as its priority agenda. HEC committed to initiate all kinds of steps guaranteeing quality education/research and realization of the concept of knowledge economy in true sense. I appeal to the chairman higher education commission to defend the real aim of higher education and communicate a strong message to the top political leadership of the country to fulfill their commitment regarding higher education in Pakistan.

Similarly, the universities, instead of increasing enrollment, tuition fee and teaching load, should undertake a very extensive review of their existing operational processes and resources in their respective universities. They should look at such things as centralizing I.T., being strategic in our sourcing, sharing service centers, changing the ways maintenance and purchasing are done in our universities.

Dr. Hazirullah is an Associate Professor and Chairman Department of Sociology, International Islamic University Islamabad. He is an expert in the study of Gender and Education. He can be reached at hazir.ullah@iiu.edu.pk. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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