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KARACHI: Karachi University is the only public sector varsity from Sindh that has been ranked among the top 10 institutions of higher studies across the country in the ‘overall category’ by the Higher Education Commission, it emerged on Wednesday.

However, KU’s position dropped to eighth with 70.09 score in 2015 from the previous year’s seventh place in the overall category. The privately-run Aga Khan University improved its ranking with a score of 77.28 to become one of the top five institutions in the overall category.

According to a break-up of the ranking, of the total five agricultural universities on the HEC list, the Sindh Agriculture University, Jamshoro, stands at fourth position with 46.90 score.

In the business category, only two public sector institutions secured positions in the top five. The privately-run Iqra University, Karachi, stood first (100 score) followed by the government-run Institute of Business Administration, Karachi (third, with 96 score) and IBA, Sukkur (fifth, with 75.82 score), while all other top-ranking institutions were private namely SZABIST (sixth, with 75.70 score), Institute of Business Management, Karachi (eighth, with 72.91 score), Greenwich University, Karachi (10th, with 58.75 score), COMMECS Institute of Business and Emerging Sciences (12th, with 41.79 score), Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, Karachi (13th, with 37.54 score) and Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari Institute of Technology, Karachi, (15th, with 22.16 score), all private institutions.

In the category of arts, only two institutions were mentioned: National College of Arts, Lahore (first, with 100 score) and the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture, Karachi (second, with 82.53 score).

In the medical category, of the 13 top-ranking institutions, only two were in the public sector. The AKU was on the first position, the Dow University of Health Sciences on the third and the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences was on the eighth position.

The Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical University, Larkana was ranked 11th (score 37.03) and the Peoples University of Medical and Health Sciences for Women, Nawabshah had the last number with 32.25 score.

In the engineering category, out of a total of 21 institutions, the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro, was on the sixth position with 58.88 score, the NED varsity on the 11th (51.06 score), Quaid-i-Awam University of Engineering, Science and Technology, Nawabshah, on the 13th (45.78 score) and Dawood University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, on the 20th (42.48 score).

In the 2014 ranking, the NED varsity had secured ninth position.

In the general category, out of a total of 73 institutions, the KU has secured the fourth position (score 71.424). Ironically, no other university in Sindh, both in the private and public sectors, could secure a prominent position in the general category.

The privately-run DHA Suffa University was ranked 30th (47.8 score) while in the public sector, the University of Sindh 32nd (47.4 score), the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, Karachi 38th (45.6 score), Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur 42nd (43.5 score) and the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University, Lyari, 68th (score 25).

The ranking criteria and their scores, according to the HEC website, comprise quality assurance (15), teaching quality (30), research (41), finance and facilities (10) and social integration/community development (4).

Teachers’ concerns

Teachers belonging to different universities, however, expressed concern over the criteria set for ranking universities terming it unfair.

“Firstly, there should be an independent body [to evaluate performance] and not the HEC that funds the universities. Secondly, the evaluation of university performance is a complex science and can’t be judged only through hard statistical data,” said Dr Noman Ahmed, a senior teacher at the NED University of Engineering and Technology.

He said he and his colleagues were shocked over the low rank accorded to their university. “I am receiving calls and messages from abroad over this news. I would say the HEC criteria lack other important parameters that include the acceptability of the university graduates in the job market, while often academic pursuits involve factors which are difficult to measure through conventional statistical tool,” he explained.

Dr Ahmed was of the opinion that the HEC should develop ranking criteria with the help of collective consultation and inclusive feedback from society.

“You can’t place both private sector institutions with high fee structure and public sector universities operating with limited resources in one category. They should be reviewed separately,” he argued.

Seconding his opinion, Dr Shakeel Farooqi, a senior teacher at KU, said: “The HEC has no understanding of this ranking affair and it needs to learn how it is done abroad. You can’t compare the KU having the strength of 27,000 students with an institution whose enrolment stands between 2,000 and 3,000.”

Justifying the exercise, HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed claimed that an independent HEC body was involved in the evaluation exercise and the list was open to ‘challenge’. The body, he said, was headed by Prof Qasim Jan, a world renowned scientist who remained the vice chancellor of three Pakistani universities.

“Anyone who has reservations can contact us. There are logical grounds for giving a certain position to a specific institution, which can be explained. The data forming the basis of the list is also sent to relevant institutions for verification,” he said.

The list based on more than 60 indicators, he said, should not be looked as a final verdict on the performance of varsities and people should come forward with more ideas for performance evaluation.

“One major reason why the Iqra University has got the top position in the business category is because the institution has expanded their programmes and involved in research at the PhD level. The IBA, however, is focused on undergraduate studies and producing no PhDs,” he argued.

About the NED varsity, he believed, the university had been in ‘crisis’ in recent years due to the policies of the former vice chancellor.

He disagreed with the contention that there should be a separate ranking criteria for public and private institutions and said ‘quality should be the only yardstick’. “Public sector institutions are facing governance issues and we can’t deny that. There is a lot of room for improvement,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2016