Revamping Higher Education

Revamping Higher Education

By: Dr Shaukat Ali Mazari

How to make our HEIs Relevant

Today, Pakistan is going through severe social, political and especially economic crises. As an academic, I blame the higher education institutions for not playing their due role. Research on the utilization, technology development process intensification for local resources and skills upgradation of local workforce have been key for the development of the developed countries, and this is required in Pakistan as well

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have been the focal point for the societal development for centuries. Drastic changes have been observed in technical, economic, political, and social patterns in recent past and the HEIs have a lot to do with this. The number of universities and students increased at the same pace. Similarly, Pakistan followed the trend, which is not bad. The pattern of university teaching, learning and outlook changed worldwide with time, however this did not change much in Pakistan. We have focused on providing degrees and increasing the number of programmes and departments; however, industry did not grow which ultimately resulted in more unemployed of the educated youth, especially in the industrial sector, where the unemployment rate increased from 20.98% to 23.74% from 2007 to 2017. Today, as I said in the introductory paragraph, Pakistan is going through severe social, political, and especially economic crises. As an academician, I blame the higher education institutions for not playing their due role, let us find out why.

United States of America brought the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 and formed the “land-grant universities”. The act funded the HEIs by providing federally owned lands to the states so as to provide them to existing HEIs or build new ones by developing or selling the land. The purpose of sponsoring HEIs was to promote teaching in agriculture, science and engineering. Later, introduction of the Hatch Act of 1887 themed the mission of these institutions, which focused on the development of agricultural research centres and dissemination of new generated knowledge, to development of soil minerals and plant growth. Smith-Lever Act of 1914 boosted this mission by sending the research ambassadors to the rural areas to help the farmers with research findings to grow better and healthier crops. Today, The United States is one of the largest exporters of quality agri-food products and generates revenue in billions of US dollars. The agricultural research was just a beginning, which was followed by industrial research collaboration of academia with industry, which resulted the landmark innovations and technology advancements. Today almost every US university is linked with industry–two examples of current industry-academia linkages of US are the agreement between four information technology companies (IMB, Intel, Cisco and HP) and seven US universities (Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas-Austin) to accelerate collaborative research on open source software and Google-Microsoft-Sun Systems agreement with UC-Berkeley. Today, the US is the Second largest exporter of goods, which provides them with a revenue of trillions of dollars–after China, which surpassed them in 2009. Hundreds of such examples exist around the world where academic community contributed to the economic growth of the countries.

Research on utilization, technology development process intensification for local resources and skills upgradation of local workforce have been the key to the development of developed countries. The United States has been dominating in the technology in almost all sectors like advanced materials, agriculture/food, commercial aerospace, communications, energy, environmental, instrumentation, life science/healthcare, military/defence, pharmaceutical/biotech, followed by China. Moreover, automotive industry is dominated by Japan and Germany, followed by the US. Dominance of the United States in technology is because of R&D quality and productivity. Report of Industrial Research Institute (IRI) 2016 shows that 69% of China’s R&D is performed by government researchers, 21% by industrial researchers and the remaining 10% by academic researchers. Whereas for US research, the share of government is 11%, industry contributes 71%, and academia does 18%. China’s R&D is dominated by its government, while the US’s R&D is dominated by its industrial sector. This indicates that success behind the US in technology development is the industrial involvement in research. The highest spending in R&D is still by the US, followed by China and Japan. However, South Korea spends around 4.29% of its GDP on research, which is the highest by any country per capita.


Researchers have proved that knowledge and information are the basis of the economic and social development for the communities and ultimately nations. Universities are indeed hub for creation of new knowledge through research and innovation and their dissemination to the communities. There are several examples, where universities have played pivotal role in the social and economic development of communities and nations. Universities with vision of community development always engage communities through seminars, workshops, practice drills and courses to the rural communities, schools and local public servants, disseminating the newest knowledge and innovations. The role of universities in community development is well recorded through research papers, books, magazines, print media, etc. and thousands of examples can be extracted for reference. For instance, take the example of The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which founded the COPPETEC foundation. The foundation helps entrepreneurial minded poor, local residents with basic training and education for development of small businesses. They form groups, nurture their skills and ideas, develop their startups and help them to launch them in the market. So far, the Foundation has accomplished more than 13000 contracts in several technological areas relevant to societal needs and are managing more than 600 projects directly.

At present, universities have become very smart in gaining financial independence by focusing on alternative revenue generating options. Let’s talk about the partnership of Denver’s Metropolitan State University (MSU), Colorado and Sage Hospitality that founded the SpringHill Suites in the premises of the university and is run partially by students in MSU Denver’s hospitality, tourism and events department. The hotel has been reported as one of the Sage’s top performing hotels and generates millions of dollars of revenue yearly. The report of Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) exhibits that, in 2016, the capital expenditure on UK universities was amounted as £2.75 billion per annum for the improvement of the facilities, whereas the HEIs generated an additional revenue of £4.4 billion through non-traditional income sources. Harvard has generated revenue of $381 million in fiscal year 2016 from just continuing education and executive programmes. Today’s one of the billion-dollar industry for universities is provision of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and degree programmes with a minimal capital expenditure compared to on-campus courses and programmes.

It’s unfortunate that our HEIs could not progress at par with world in any of the sectors; be that the teaching quality, the quality of research or research productivity; be that the community engagement and social development or be that the financial independence by creation of sources for revenue. Especially, in the government sector universities, faculty have a very low teaching workload ranging from 3 credit hours to 12 credit hours weekly from a professor to lecturer and more unfortunate is many members of faculty have no workload, or they don’t bother if they have to teach, and ultimately classes get engaged by junior faculty members, research assistants or teaching assistants or sometimes just taking student attendance. Teaching is not audited much or even it is, that happens through HEC given pro forma(s), which are outdated and do not have much to do with the modern teaching quality key indicators. There are loopholes in quality of teaching, which may be discussed later; however, the main take in this article is that faculty is not giving much time to the students. There are a very small number of extracurricular activities that take place in the universities and there is not much student facilitation through career counselling. Unengaged and unattended students are always vulnerable for any HEI. We have seen in recent past that many students get recruited by suspicious and criminal organizations and drug addicts, which not only ruin their future but also spoil the reputation and respect of their families, HEIs and society.

Statistics of SCImago, which is a research group from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), University of Granada, Extremadura, Carlos III (Madrid) and Alcalá de Henares shows that Pakistan ranks 42nd in world research ranking by number of research documents, which are more than 125,000. Pakistan occupies a good position in research ranking; however, the main deficiency lies in the quality, relevance and productivity of those documents. As discussed earlier that the US is the leader in the productivity of research and there is no competitor to it in technological development so far, except China which is mounting at a high pace. The US research is led by industry and industrial collaborations with academia. When we talk of research in our industry or academia-industry collaboration or relations; unfortunately, there remains nothing to discuss as no such thing even exists. The formula of Triple Helix Association for Government-Industry-Academia is simple and attractive. These three cannot grow without each other and, in fact, they are naturally bound to roots. It is very sad that none of the three seemed or seems concerned for each other as no such policies have been witnessed. The ownership for sustainable economic development lacks in all three sectors. I may not blame government or industry for their roles, which was primary to them; however, as an academician, I realize that we did not make efforts to work with industry or for government. For academicians, the job is more than from incentives and benefits as deterioration or underdevelopment of industry has marginalized the options for graduates to work for the industry, and lack of governmental policies has caused misery for the community.

In Pakistan, there is a general perception about teachers that they are not respected in the society as other government servants are, and it is true. Tony Robbins says, and I quote, “Emotions come with motion,” which is scientifically proved. So far, the community knows us through their children or when they were students. Other than that, we do not see a relation between society and teachers. We have discussed in detail the examples of academia engagement with community and their outputs. Let’s talk about the farmers and our agricultural universities. There is a huge number of publications from our agriculture universities on the development of seeds, soil fertilizing, soil and crop protection and production and many other areas. Being that good in research publications and almost nothing in its dissemination to community is unjustified and same goes for industrial and technological researchers.

Except few universities, especially private or semi-government, we do not see an effort from HEIs for working on alternate resources for their sustainability. If government do not pay for salaries for faculty and staff of the HEIs, no university would be able to pay even for a single month from its own resources other than tuition fees; whereas, internationally, universities have huge endowments and revenue generation resources. This is a point to ponder for universities situated in mega cities like Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad.

If we want a better Pakistan, our HEIs must be a place of relevance. Relevance cannot come only with slogans of relevance; it needs serious efforts and leadership vision. Our HEIs must focus on research, particularly on solutions for challenges in achieving Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030. Faculty and students must actively participate in solving social and industrial problems through community and industrial outreach. Teaching quality, particularly the use of modern techniques, equipment and facilities should be the prime focus. HEIs cannot grow better if they do not gain the financial independence or at least they contribute to their annual budget. Their dependence on tuition fees and state funding cannot grow them at a rapid pace. The options are wide, especially for HEIs which are in metropolitan cities and they can go from providing industrial services to trainings to paid research to MOOCs to running YouTube Channels to opening hotels and restaurants to selling marketing materials and list goes on. Similarly, universities in small towns and underdeveloped areas may run tourism industry not just to earn but also for the cultural exchange and promotion. Even though Higher Education Commission (HEC) has taken some steps like development of Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialization (ORICs), Business Incubation Centres (BICs) and Quality Enhancement Cells (QECs), these setups are at premature stage and more importantly willingness of universities for adoption of their policies is a hurdle, in this regard. It is difficult for regulators and HEC to change the university practice unless universities themselves embrace the challenge of change. If personal philosophy of universities does not change, no external forces can change them. They cannot be a place of relevance, if they do not want to become one.

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