Universities in Pakistan are suffering a great setback in the face of sweeping budget cuts by the federal government. Slashing of the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) budget has hit the universities’ potential base. Do we realise that higher education institutions, research and innovations are prominent pillars of national development? If prudently governed, universities are durable and distinctive entities for the progression of any society. They are totally impartial, hub of knowledge, and centres of innovation where the passion, creativity, and idealism of great minds is nurtured to resolve complex societal problems while advancing the national growth. Universities worldwide supply great minds that are vital engines and powerful drivers of global innovation and development. In the 21st century, space for an unskilled workforce, informal economy and mediocre minds seems to be shrinking substantially in developing societies. Knowledge economy, technological growth and a digital lifestyle has outpaced the outdated paradigms to paddle through in a competitive world. New socio-economic dynamics of the world have made education institutions more relevant to societies than ever before. With that said, we cannot grapple with our national problem unless we net the state structure to scientific approaches and philosophical paradigms of statecraft.
The fundamental question arises of how to stimulate institutional transformation to reorient the potential base of universities, and the role of knowledge production and scientific research productivity in that. We need to adopt the habits and culture of a progressive nation. For this, a combination of top-down and bottom-up organisational approaches, dynamic personalities, pro-active policies, multidimensional notions of excellence and transparent governance are needed.
The ruling government should consider reshaping the mission of the HEC thereby aligning it to the national vision. The government should create a special cell that identifies challenging areas, directing the HEC to generate adoptable and impactful scientific solutions. The HEC can partner with private organisations to promote scientific excellence and maximise its resource base. Universities, think tanks and and industry linkages are significant as they should work together as partners to achieve shared national goals. Similarly, research and higher education needs to be reframed, thus incorporating them in one unit to contribute to the country’s policy and society.
For this the ruling government has to upsurge the budget for research and development in order to create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish. This will fortify the universities’ capacity, reorient the teaching and research culture and implement an efficient administrative structure across campuses. Notably, a good campus culture and environment can powerfully impact the thought process of the faculty and students, and at the same time can indigenously generate the impactful human resource to push the country forward. To achieve this, universities will have to initiate bold measures with a bigger appetite to absorb risks in order to foster national development. Contemporary universities have a responsibility to pursue scholarly fusion and develop a culture of academic rigour and cutting-edge knowledge entrepreneurship. They should not be considered as mere self-indulgent degree awarding factories but as valuable sources of knowledge with a wider influence and the potential to manifest technologies and ideas that can contribute to national growth. A skilled workforce, leadership growth and scientific output to meet today’s national demands should be a priority. Their mission should be focused on delivering in a manner that they achieve the breadth of impact on tangible grounds by pushing the country forward.
Within this, the teaching style should be taken as the core focus on the guiding role of campus-culture activities. The universities must discard outdated teaching and learning paradigms while adhering to the modern pedagogical practices. New technologies have given rise to new methods of transforming students’ minds. Our focus should be on creating master thinkers and problem solvers by injecting a wide array of skills, including entrepreneurship, team spirit, collective ideology, sense of responsibility and mission, self-confidence and motivation. Universities also need to be socially entrenched and perform their role within the socio-cultural fabric. Within this they have to take on the responsibility of inculcating moral, intellectual, physical and creative education in order to nurture students’ thought process and feelings while redirecting their moral realm.
Many organisations report that the graduates they hire are deficient in basic skills such as writing, problem solving and critical thinking. More emphasis is needed to develop healthier ways for universities to measure students’ learning, not only for critical thinking and writing but to apply those at a practical level. Notably, due to manpower shortage, many departments are offering optional courses based not on the demand of students, but on the availability of the faculty. Thus many students do not feel that the courses, reading and classroom learning impacts a lot on their practical lives. Such sentiments suggest either that the courses do not in fact contribute much to the ultimate goals that universities propagate or that an unskilled or overburdened faculty is not taking sufficient care to explain the larger aims of their courses thereby connecting it to the practice.
Major emphasis should be placed on hiring, grooming and training the young faculty as organic leaders who will lead to serve the nation for rest of their lives. Instead of placing the PhD faculty chiefly devoted to teaching, their work should be reduced and they should be expected to do scientific research to grapple with the alarming challenges. All the universities should prepare graduate students to assist senior research professors in their teaching workload where these students can get help to become better instructors. Change is hard to achieve but innovation and adaptation are needed now more than ever.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2019.