How sustainable are our higher education institutes?
The importance of public sector Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) for any country cannot be denied. In all the developed countries these institutes are strongly independent and sustainable bodies functioning and producing quality education and research in all the fields of knowledge.
In Pakistan, public and private sector HEIs are providing education facility with a different approach. Most of the private institutes are working as business entities which are causing the downfall in the quality of education in the country. In order to address the quality of higher education needs of the lower and lower-middle class segment of the society, several public sector HEIs were established. However, the sustainability of these HEIs is becoming a huge concern with the rapidly rising cost of education.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) was replaced by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in September 2002 by a presidential order. The prime mandate of the HEC is the provision of funds along with monitoring and control of the higher education in Pakistan. Higher Education has obtained international visible status with the efforts of former Chairman HEC Dr Atta-ur-Rehman and his team. The HEC has established and developed several public sector HEIs in the 16 years of its inception but the institutes, with increasing tuition fees and allied charges are still dependent on HEC funding for all major infrastructure development.
Although, HEC has worked a lot on ensuring a proper mechanism for productive and efficient industry-academia linkage especially the establishment of the Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialization at all institutes was a welcome step. But we are yet to see a curriculum, fully-coordinated, with practical inputs from relevant industry professionals. This eventually puts a barrier on the revenue generation opportunities created by mutual research.
Secondly, the institutes also lack efficient project management. The project development (from concept till operations) is being designed and coordinated at the top management level. This is resulting in a change in the scope of various projects, halting of projects after a certain level of completion and also, lack of ability to properly utilize funds after getting approval. This shows lack of capacity, ineffective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) both at HEIs and HEC level. In a recent informal talk with a project director of a public sector HEI, the author was told that the M&E team has never visited the site.
Thirdly, there is an increase in administrative staff members in the public sector HEIs which is also resulting in an unreasonably long chain of commands, causing unnecessary delays in all relevant approvals. Surprisingly, some of the faculty members are found to be involved in administrative duties. This misuse of resources also results in loss to the institute, and its students, both in terms of quality and efficiency of education.
The increasing number of administrative staff members in educational institutions is creating an unreasonably wrong chain of command
Keeping above mentioned realities in view, the author will like to recommend the following amendments to HEC and the management of public sector HEIs to ensure sustainability:
First, the model which is being followed throughout the world involves the relevant faculty to engage with industry and/or development partners through academic research in topics of mutual interest. By this, they can generate funds that can be used for the sustainability and growth of HEIs. This practice can also include curriculum consultations with the industry and utilization of visiting faculty members. This may lead to having a fundraising revenue targets for the faculty members. In this regard, the model being followed by research institutes such as Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) can be studied, tailored and adapted by these HEIs. The top management of the HEIs and the HEC, in this regard, needs to come up with a relevant strategy to implement this at the earliest. This will improve the quality of action-oriented research as well as a sustainable way of earning for the HEIs without overburdening the students with excessive fees.
Secondly, empowerment of Monitoring and Evaluation unit has a very important role in making any project transparent and successful as per the agreed standards. HEC needs to strengthen the M&E Unit which must ensure that, in addition to the funds disbursed, the physical progress is reported, monitored and evaluated as per the ministry of planning, development and reforms’ project cycle. The proper procedure should be followed for change management. Audit and inspections on regular basis of particular activities can also ensure the success of development projects at HEIs.
HEC and other sectorial accreditation agencies like Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) are keenly monitoring the faculty-student ratios which are a due indication of educational quality. There should be some mechanism to ensure a balanced ratio of staff-student or faculty-staff in universities. HEC may also have a research and development exercise where HEC can simulate all the major activities performed by an HEI and this can also ensure optimal staff-student or faculty-staff ratios.
The higher education can play a vital role in order to avail the potential opportunities like China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In this regard, HEC and public sector HEIs must play their due role to ensure that the majority youth of our lower and lower-middle class and ready to face the challenges that this opportunity brings with it.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.