Peshawar: A recent ranking of universities reveals that not a single university of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province is among the top ten universities in Pakistan.
The ranking is done by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) – an institution responsible for primary funding, overseeing, regulating, and accrediting the higher education efforts in the country.
The 5th annual ranking of Pakistan’s Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) for 2015 shows an overall slump in the ranking of the universities in the border province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa when compared to 2014.
The HEC ranking comprised 129 universities in Pakistan, including 22 public and private sector universities of KP in technical, business, agriculture, medical and general categories. The ranking has led to questions about the performance of HEC and KP universities.
“Financial constraints and political interference in the affairs of universities by successive and current government has adversely affected the performance of KP universities,” Dr Khadim Hussain, Managing Director Bacha Khan Trust Education Foundation (BKTEF), told News Lens Pakistan on telephone.
He said that the amendment in 2012 Universities Act by the current provincial government was among reasons for the decline in performance of KP universities. The amendment included reducing tenure of vice chancellors of universities, said Hussain. “All one needs is simply a nod from syndicate majority for their removal.”
This, he said, has led to frequent disruption of academic and administrative affairs and decision.
Others, like the renowned academic Dr. Pervez Hoodbhouy, blame HEC for the less than salutary performance of higher education institutions.
“The HEC, as a government organization, bears primary responsibility for the collapse of quality higher education in Pakistan.” said Pervez Hoodbhouy, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, academic and political activist who is mainly concerned with promotion of education in Pakistan. “The numbers game has massively increased incentives for “academic corruption” in universities.”
Performance, according to Dr. Hoodbhouy, gets hinged to financial incentives because ranking brings more funding for universities, makes students seek admission and employers prefer graduates.
He remarked if HEC said a university was good – it could be equally good or bad because, according to him, “wrong or irrelevant criteria are used in assessing universities.”
“In HEC’s view, a university is rated well if its faculty produces a large number of research publications, or gives out large numbers of PhD degrees when there are individuals who have produced many research papers and yet are unable to answer simple field-related questions,” said Hoodbhouy.
Dr. Hoodbhouy said the HEC ranking has zero credibility. “It means nothing and in the age of the internet. It has become a fraudulent [degree-providing] industry like Axact. This nonsensical ranking business only gives primacy to meaningless numbers. It must be stopped.”
He feared all top posts at universities would be filled by those “who had managed to score hundreds of publications, ending up guiding PhDs who end up knowing nothing.”
“For the next 50 years,” he said, “we will be stuck with such people who will become heads of departments, deans, and vice-chancellors.”
He said the HEC and universities must concentrate on teaching to make sure that their faculty members are capable of understanding as well as teaching subjects they specialize in.
The latest HEC ranking shows that the largest public sector university of KP, the University of Peshawar (UoP), was ranked 5th in 2014 in general category while in 2015 it is ranked 8th in the same category.
The Abasyn University in Peshawar and Qurtaba University D.I Khan fell from 25th position to 47th (22 points) and 26th to 40th (14 points) respectively over the year in the general category.
“Abolishing the evening shift in UoP resulted in reduction of number of students and ultimately reduction in number of research publications – a main factor affecting the ranking of UoP in HEC’s list,” Vice Chancellor of UoP, Dr. Rasool Jan, told News Lens.
Among the universities in KP whose ranking rose over the year is Gomal University in Dera Ismail Khan. It climbed up to 26th position from 38th last year.
Assistant Director Quality Assurance for Gomal University, Asad Ali Khan, cited more research publications in 2015 compared to 2014 as the main reason for improvement of the university’s position.
A senior official at Abasyn University in Peshawar, who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media, said that the HEC’s ranking was biased as officials from two provinces of Punjab and Sind dominated the institution. “Impartiality could not be expected in such a situation.”
Khadim Hussain also suggested a bias in HEC ranking. He said that the ranking was not on a par with international standards.
News Lens tried to contact HEC chairman Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed several times to get his perspective on the matter but he refused to comment.
Aayesha Ikram, Director Media HEC, said in a telephone interview that it was totally unfair to say that HEC ranking was biased towards any province or university. She impugned the perception that the ranking was not based on quality because “various components for judging performance of universities include Quality Assurance, Teaching Quality, Research, Social Integration and Community Development” were involved in the process.
“The purpose of ranking universities is to create a culture of competition among the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and encourage them to compete at international level,” said Ayesha.
As a first step, she said, HEC had increased interaction among universities to create awareness about quality assurance. “Recently different Quality Assurance Committees of HEC visited all the universities of the country for this purpose. The HEC closely monitors the international best practices for university ranking and also considers suggestions by stakeholders.”
However, she said, there is always room for improvement. “The HEC always welcomes suggestions from stakeholders for further strengthening the ranking process.”