After being elected as 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran khan, in his maiden speech, highlighted importance of knowledge economy, youth empowerment and strengthening higher education. While chairing a high level meeting attended by senior educationists, he said every possible effort would be made to provide required resources to the universities for promotion of higher education. He termed promotion of education, uniformity in curriculum and provision of modern educational facilities to youth in the field of science & technology as foremost priorities of his government. The Prime Minister included ten senior economists attached with top ranked international and national universities as private sector members of Economic Advisory Council (EAC).
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The real empowerment and development of youth is possible through effective and vibrant higher education system that can cater growing socio-economic needs of the country. The stakeholders are expecting that newly elected federal would address the key challenges and problems being faced by the higher education sector especially ascended during the last few years.
The first and foremost challenge is to follow transparent and merit- based mechanisms for the appointment in the higher education sector following the universal principle of ““right man at the right job.” The prime body implementing policies about higher education federal Higher Education Commission was established in 2002, it was easy to manage thirty plus university at that time, but now in Pakistan, the number of recognised universities has been increased to 192 having with more than 114 additional countrywide campuses. Among these, only 19% of universities are federally charted universities while provincial governments control the majority of the universities i.e 81% (155 out of 192). The multiple challenges being faced by Pakistani higher education sector can be effectively dealt through meaningful and collaborative continuous engagement among federal and provincial governments and higher education bodies, i.e., HEC’s especially in the light of 18th constitutional amendment and the decision of 35th meeting Council of Common Interests (CCI).
The careful review of policy documents and election manifesto 2018 of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) indicates the highest priority for education and health, notably higher education. This document shows the firm resolve of the party that it has committed to making universities autonomous, increase university enrolment by establishing new universities & enlarging existing capacity. The PTI policy document even encourages collaborations with foreign universities to attract foreign university graduates from Pakistan to teach and supervise research in local universities, create partnerships with international universities to improve quality of teaching and research and remove political influence and establish an independent, transparent mechanism to select vice chancellors and senior administrators.
The appointment of Mr.Shafqat Mahmood as minister for federal education and professional training, a graduate of Harvard university (leading top- ranked higher education institution in the world), seems good omen for the higher education sector. During his maiden visit to the Higher Education Commission (HEC), he reaffirmed the governments’ commitment to supporting the higher education sector so that the Pakistani youth can succeed in the job market and play their role in the country’s socio-economic uplift
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Although, the number of Pakistani universities has increased to 192 but still low accesses to higher education ratio i.e.9.1 percent has been reported which is even less than other neighbouring countries. The ratio of PhD faculty still remains below 30 percent. All the stakeholders of higher education sector are unanimous of the view that without an increase in higher education allocations (funds) and the facilitative role both at federal and provincial levels, it seems difficult to get desired results and fulfill commitments made during recent elections. There is a dire need to increase higher education allocation from 0.26 percent to at least 1% of GDP.
Being former chancellor of the University of Bradford and chairman of the Namal College Mianwali, newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan is well aware of and recognised through his speeches importance of higher education access & its affordability for every talented Pakistani youth, equal opportunities for the marginalised rural youth, financial, academic and administrative autonomy of the universities. As an active member of Oxford University society, it is also hoped that he would also play an essential role in protecting rights of the students and ensuring active engagement of students in extra-curricular activities. Being controlling authority of federal HEC, it is also hoped that he would play a supportive role in strengthening higher education sector and especially ensuring the provision of required funding for the higher education sector.
The timely transparent and merit- based appointments of heads of four federal universities, including Quaid-e-Azam university, Allama Iqbal Open university, International Islamic University and COMSATS University Islamabad would be a first test case during the early 100 days for the federal government.
It is also expected that PTI government would also ensure effective implementation of its youth policy based on three Es: education, employment, and engagement.
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Muhammad Murtaza Noor is associated with the development and education sector for more than 18 years. He is currently working as National Coordinator with Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences Pakistan, an autonomous largest alliance of Pakistani universities.
The writer is a freelance columnist associated with the development and education sector.