THE state of higher education sector and universities is routinely analysed in two distinct phases; what it was like before the establishment of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and what happened afterwards. Starting 2008, a large number of public-sector universities were established throughout the country. The common elements in the higher education institutions in this phase have been field-specific programmes offered, smaller geographical area of reach, inadequate funding and shortage of competent faculty and administrators. This being so, the potential to add anything to the overall national academic excellence has been at best debatable.

Unfortunately, industry as well as academia in the country have historically remained poorly connected, neither understanding nor fulfilling requirements of each other. As such, this has made the universities heavily dependent on government funding. This dependence has compromised the already limited academic and administrative autonomy of the universities.

Further, among the stakeholders, administration, faculty and staff are represented either through contacts or associations. The only stakeholder with no voice is the body of students. The loser, of course, is the country because ill-directed, mismanaged education can only lead to an equally ill-directed and mismanaged nation.

In essence, universities without due academic freedom, and with a body of disenfranchised students suit the agents of status quo. This surely is not a sudden or accidental happening. Persistent political, economic, security and climate crises have diverted whatever little attention governments, media and civil society ever paid to the state of higher education in the country.

A domain that should have in the long run become a source to find solutions to various crises has ended up being in a crisis of its own.

As things stand, there is a complete disconnection between society and the universities. The faculty is focussing on ‘research’ publications to secure career promotions, and the students have no idea what their journey is about.

If it continues this way for long, the day is not far when our universities will join the fast growing list of redundant organisations burdening the exchequer.

Ghulam Abbas Junejo
Hyderabad

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

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