By Aamir Abbas Chaudhry
An adequate volume of specifics and experiences have already been realized and expressed over the sinking standards of higher education relating to the world in general and Pakistan in particular. The out of the box thinking about a way forward is always desired, illustrating positivity and consistent with finding a ray of hope in the dark tunnel. This article is aiming to shed light on doable quality revitalization solutions intended for protagonist solidification of Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) and Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) at HEC. The leadership crisis and pervasiveness of weak institutions in Pakistan are not letting affirmative metamorphosis to happen in the education sector. The overall leadership crisis has been exposed more clearly in the recent COVID-19 pandemic, where even the basic values desired for the veneration and dignity of humankind have been beheld in total disarray. Moreover, it appears the ruling elite is content with an obsolescent education system because it is serving their doctrinaire interests. The responsible office-bearers of QAA and HEC should step forward to break this status-quo in the best interest of Pakistan by considering their role instrumental in building an educationally vivacious nation. The earnest efforts at each level including provincial HECs are obligatory for execution and only these determinations will pave the way for a pulsating higher education sector in Pakistan.
Higher education by design is different in Pakistan when it is compared with higher education in developed countries, where graduate studies are not critical for employability. The world at large, however, is still convinced that employability is an imperative gauge regarding the academic reputation of any university. As a way forward towards positivity, the strategic plan of QAA and HEC must necessitate the formation of a think tank of maximum 15-20 practitioners of quality assurance and quality enhancement on honorary basis under the title ‘National Council on Quality Assurance in Higher Education’ (NCQA HE) with Chairman, HEC as patron and Managing Director, QAA as chair. The ideal formation will be the Directors, Quality Enhancement Cell (QEC) of both public and private sector universities. The selection of NCQA HE should be free from any sort of prejudice, ensure equal opportunity with tenure system, only passion and willingness to contribute for national cause as the hallmark and not undermine the consultative process from the rest of the QECs fraternity at any stage. The NCQA HE members must be empowered with the mandate to reflect, plan, design, execute, and promote quality practices including addressing malpractices in the name of content writing services in higher education along with development of systems and procedures for meeting and exceeding the desired ends. The materialization of proposed NCQA HE will never emasculate the functioning of QAA and Quality Assurance Division (QAD) at HEC.
The other intervention that can amplify sensation and temptation in higher education is to observe and replicate the best practices of the United Kingdom’s higher education system. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) of the United Kingdom is regularly conducting university graduates surveys after fifteen months of their graduation on a variety of dimensions that are carefully designed and taken on psychometrically proven instruments. The publication of transparent results by HESA are not only compelling universities for adoption of student-centric practices but also ensuring healthy competition among universities. Moreover, such national and transparent surveys in higher education are instrumental for augmented public confidence and helpful for prospective students to choose universities according to their own value system and predilections. The HESA model, if adopted in Pakistan by QAA at HEC may prove as a path-breaking intervention that will ensure accountability, healthy competition, cradle of indisputable national rankings of universities and cessation of notorious student-parent alerts. The QAA at HEC should step forward as a custodian of the HESA model in Pakistan and take ownership of this change initiative for betterment. Furthermore, the initiation of awards on diverse parameters related to quality on achieving predefined milestones must be worked out and announced. This very action with zero or minimum financial implications can do wonders with respect to self-restraint and thrust for quality enhancement. The appearance of any Pakistani university name in QS, THE, and Shanghai World Universities Rankings must be acknowledged with the support of a national policy paper.
Moreover, the outcome-based education (OBE) model as adopted by Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) must be implemented on a countrywide basis for safeguarding academic rigor, planning, and discipline. The plausible plan of action can be devised by taking the input of all relevant stakeholders including accreditation councils formed by HEC and other discipline specific regulatory and specialized accreditation bodies. The OBE model subject to its implementation will also open the vistas of developing sample course catalogs that will be consistent with contemporary curriculum needs in the prevalence of Industry 4.0 digital conversions. The autonomy of universities for the sake of differentiation and value addition should be sheltered in case they come up with cutting-edge curriculums over and above the minimum standards as stipulated by QAA at HEC in consultation with all pertinent stakeholders.
The challenge of bringing an equilibrium between quality in the form of Yearly Progress Reports (YPRs) and quality on ground must be addressed by substituting current practices and introducing QAA, Pakistan accredited status for universities where accreditation in terms of quality assurance covering all integral components such as Institutional Performance Evaluation (IPE), program self-assessments, MS and PhD programs reviews and others be awarded to universities at national level for three years against a charge of PKR 0.5 Million. The entire process should be application based, transparent and ultimately captivating for universities to pursue in order to win prospective students and public confidence amid their admission campaigns. The QAA, Pakistan accreditation will not overshadow the significance of prevailing discipline-specific accreditations through accreditation councils at any cost. The QAA, Pakistan accredited status to any university under a well thought out disposition is the most resilient melodrama for quality in higher education.