Recently, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan rolled in the Undergraduate Education Policy 2020. It is mandatory for all public and private sector educational institutions to adopt this policy through their statutory bodies like academic councils, etc. by January 2021 and implement it in Fall during the same year. This policy is a gigantic step in taking undergraduate education to a different flight mode; however, silence prevails about this policy across academia and even at the HEC towards its future. The crux of the Undergraduate Education Policy 2020 is broadening the horizon for Pakistani youth entering undergraduate programmes across the country. Moreover, this policy adds flexibility for the youth to opt for studies that match their aptitudes. Students entering the engineering technologies or any other education domains will have the initial four semesters to decide which discipline aligns with their aptitudes. To make my point clear in the earlier version of the bachelor’s degree, if you get admission in automotive engineering technology, you are bound to stay there. However, the new undergraduate education policy adds flexibility. A student has initial two years studying general education courses and meets with peers and mentors to decide the ultimate choice. During this time frame, a student can adapt any of the engineering disciplines like aviation, bioengineering, biomedical, electrical, electronics, garments, or material technologies provided that the higher education institute is offering these programmes.
Looking at the global perspective of “general education,” there is no specific or ideal model to follow. The prevailing perception is that general education courses are not directly related to the student’s major; however, they are considered a prerequisite to obtain a degree. A comparative of North American and European Universities suggests that the American undergraduate education system stresses general education more than the European.
The assimilation of the general education component in the United Arab Emirates higher education institutes undergraduate programmes is very well pronounced and worth appreciating. It could be the best example to follow. Pertinent to mention here is the neighbouring India’s National Education Policy 2020 released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The Indian education policy completely ignores general education; however, it adds flexibility for the learners in their undergraduate degree in multiple exits. One year’s completion entitles students for a certificate, diploma after two years, bachelor’s degree after three years, followed by a 4-year multidisciplinary bachelor’s programme.
The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan team involved in the Undergraduate Education Policy 2020 accomplishment is worth appreciating, irrespective of unanticipated challenges that might come up and not being perceived currently. Adding an element of flexibility in the general education component or developing a digital academic bank might be an option in strengthening the undergraduate education policy. It is essential to mention here that, in earlier days, the HEC mantra used to be university building communities and vice versa. It is time that the HEC should apprise the common public, government officials at federal and provincial levels, and getting onboard the provincial higher education commissions to avert any resistance for the upcoming undergraduate education policy 2020. Sometimes, very well-designed perfect programmes fail due to a lack of their appropriate popularisation strategies. Besides, adding a flexibility and portability element, the digitised credit system will add value to the new policy. Certain specialised programmes will be doing more than what HEC demands. For example, in medical education, students spend most of their time acquiring skills to interact and treat patients. The same goes for universities like the National Skills University Islamabad, where the primary focus will be on strengthening physical expertise than cognitive enrichments.
Finally, it will be essential to explore why India has ignored general education, China has different versions, and in Pakistan, we are implementing specified general education. The UAE general education is considered a luxury by critics. Hoping, Pakistan’s Undergraduate Education Policy 2020, having a general education component will be the most successful experience; however, the outcome and impact will be evident after a few years.