Higher education institutions and leadership challenges | Pakistan Today

Higher education institutions and leadership challenges

The availability of high quality and talented human resources is the necessary condition for the socio-economic development of a country. In this context Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) plays a pivotal role. However, if HEIs aren’t cognizant of this connectivity focus on quality education will be amiss. Because of his lack of awareness HEIs had failed to put in place robust Quality Assurance Systems in their institutions. Thus, the graduates being churned out of the academic programs of many of these institutionswouldn’t be of the desired quality. Instead of becoming mass production factories, they’d better be institutions they produced branded graduates to enhance their chances of seeking premium jobs not only within but outside of Pakistan as well.

Why aren’t our HEIs focusing on quality education? Unfortunately, I have to say that most of these institutions are intothe number game and expansion mode.Their focus on quality education, if anything, is rather fuzzyand misty. One could cite many examples to substantiate the preceding claim but one case should suffice. This will help sharpen our focus why quality education is of critical importance. It was rather distressing to learn about the performance of examineesfrom the Federal Public Service Commission results regarding the last competitive examinations for recruitment into the superior services of Pakistan. It was reported that about 12000 individuals took this examination and that the pass percentage was in the vicinity of 2 percent. This was one clear indicator of the state of quality education in our HEIs.

The above sorry state of affairs poses serious challenges for the leadership and governance system in vogue in our HEIs. The first challenge is to benchmark out tertiary education against internationally recognized standards.This would require installing a well thought out Quality Assurance System in each of our HEIs. The HEC of Pakistan had designed a Quality Assurance System comprising eleven standards which periodically every HEI is supposed to complete. These eleven standards or criteria had been adapted from the Accreditation System used in the developed world. Their implementation or enforcement is rather lax. There is no serious follow up from the HEC to collect this information and then to collate the same to draw some conclusions to share with a wider stakeholders audience. Also, the award of “W” category to HEIs is done in a very soft fashion.Resultantly our HEIs fail to be on the map of world ranking of universities.Even the best- in- class in the private sector where there had been mushroom growth had not acquired this stature.

World ranking and quality education surely is a function of multiple factors. But one of the key factors remains to be the role of top leadership of these institutions. Therefore, the selection of top leaders of HEIs becomes vital.In the case of public sector universities, at least, the mode of selection and appointment at the top leadership had been a subject of critical discussion and continues to raise many an eyebrow. Supposedly, the HEC had evolved a method of selection of top leadership in the public sector universities through the formation of search committees.  While this may appear to be the right step, the questions raised pertain to the membership of search committees and their credentials to assess through a vigorous processthe most suitable candidates for the top slots.

The recent change of guardat HEC continues to be a subject of public debate and criticism. The credentials of the current chairperson and the messiness with which the selection process was managed and then selection made had raised many questions about those responsible for this decision. A lot of confusion was created in completing the process and even after a lot of dilly dallying the selection according to many sources was not all that transparent. One would hate to say this but there are indications that the way the appointment at the top was handled, HEC instead of acting as apolicy making Think Tank might be reduced to the statusof becoming a carrier of directions of the power that be. This isn’t the reputation that HEC should enjoy in the public eye.

This brings us to the point of leadership appointments in HEIs and the kind of challenges that these leaders will have to confront and the kind of profile they ought to possess to steer these institutions in the direction which will raise their stature in the world ranking.

Let me start with the last point first. To achieve world ranking our universities must create a culture of quality both in teaching as well as research. Teaching quality will manifest itself in the way the job market would respond to absorb the graduates being produced by our universities. The salary these graduates can command in the job market will be yet another indicator of quality. There is an urgent need to adopt quality benchmarks from some of the best universities in the world. Another step in this direction can be to seek international accreditation either for individual academic programs or for the entire institution. This will force our HEIs to periodically engage themselves in internal assessment- a necessary condition for quality assurance.

As far as research output of our HEIs was concerned, they needed to develop at least three years research agenda which first and foremost focuses on usable research to solve developmental problems of the country. Intimate linkages with industry needed to be pursued vigorously. Esoteric research from purely academic or publish or perish standpoint can be judged by the impact factor of the professional journals in which it is published. One of the sore areas of such research, however, had been the incidence of plagiarism. Luckily because of the cases reported in this category, the academic community had become conscious as not to indulge in such a practice. In spite of this it was imperative to develop rather stringent standards to ensure ethics in all research.

What should be the profile of leadership of HEIs? The leadership of HEIs first has to be visionary. This characteristic is essential to take an institution to a higher plane of performance. Second, instead of being internal focus, the leadership must cultivate external relationship especially with the industry and the alumni. Thirds, it is imperative to galvanize the support of HEIs alumni. This can help build strong network with past graduateswho can be a major source of resource mobilization. Public sector HEIs need to pay special attention to this to improve their revenue base which currently is exclusively contingent upon government grants. These leaders, given the present financial crunch which public sector HEIs face, must have sufficient understanding of their managing their financial systems more prudently. Multiple streams of revenue would have to be developed to make HEIs financially sustainable.

Fourth, the top leadership of HEIs doesn’t necessarily have to be from within the academiaand that too from within the same institution.Sometime these institutions can be led by outstanding individuals drawn from others institutions such as industry. Fifth, HEIs leaders must possess a strong value system so as to be acceptable as role models by the academic community, by the students’ body and even by stakeholders outside of the academia.

The selections of such leaders must be subjected to a rigorous process. The idea of a search committee is right but the members of the search committee for the purpose should be those who can employ a rigorous process of screening the candidates. HEIs are at different stages of evolution and growth and each stage requires different sets of skills and attributes.Thus, an alignment between the candidate selected and the compulsion of the institution is a must. This can hardly be achieved through a five minutes interview. The selection of top leaders for HEIs has to be a more serious exercise. This exercise is essential since our HEIs needed leaders who would earn respect not because of their positional authority but because of they being the role models in the pursuit of excellence.

The writer is a Professor at LUMS. His email address is [email protected]

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