The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2021, made public last week by the prestigious London-based publication, provided the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government with an opportunity to brag to the opposition parties about its performance in the higher education sector, though the picture is not as brighter as is painted by Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood.
Thirty-six universities in the public and private sector across the country featured in the ranking of the higher education institutions (HEIs) for the year under consideration, and educationists believe Pakistan could have performed much better had the sector been provided with required budgetary allocations during the past years.
According to the data provided by the Times, one Pakistani university featured in the 201-300 rank band, two in the 301-400, five in the 401-600, nine in the 601-800, 10 in the 801-1,000 and nine in the 1,001+ rank band. The Times rankings is a global performance index that considers universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The organisers judge the universities across the globe on the basis of different indicators, including their learning environment, research, citations, international outlook, and knowledge transfer, etc. The 2021 Impact Rankings was the third edition and the overall ranking included 1,117 universities from 94 countries and regions. The results, Times said, were generated after reviewing 108 million citations and 430,000 data-points from participating institutions from all over the world.
“While the UK has 101 higher education institutes and China 97 among top all 1,600 universities ranked, Pakistan has 21 universities in the list,” read a statement. Like in other parts of the world, education too suffered immensely in Pakistan due to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The lockdowns and the constant back and forth change of arrangements between online and in-person classes made things difficult for the sector during the period. However, despite the challenges, the country managed to achieve a milestone.
The Times also recognised and appreciated Pakistani universities performance. In the overall rankings for the year, Times said that Pakistani universities climbed the ladder much faster than expected – particularly over the past three years. Data recorded by the London-based publication since 2016 shows significant progress in the areas of publications, teaching reputation, international co-authorship, research, and other indicators. “The average score changes for 2021-22 is even better than that of India,” said Times Higher Education.
In a series of tweets, Shafqat Mahmood remarked that for the first time, seven Pakistani universities made it to the top-800 (up from 2), 11 in the top-1000, and 21 in the top 1600. Sharing a link to the report on Twitter, the minister said: “Pakistan is one of the world’s fastest-improving nations on key metrics for universities. We are among the top five nations for improvements in research citations and industry links. Last three years have seen the greatest upward movement of Pakistani universities in global rankings. We still have ways to go, but the direction is right, and the pace is good. Credit goes to the PTI government and the universities that made us proud.”
According to the ranking, the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) featured in the 300 rank band, while University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and COMSATS University Islamabad featured in the 400 rank band. University of Lahore and NED University of Engineering and Technology were listed in the 401-600 rank band.
The publication listed the Fatima Jinnah Women University, Jinnah Sindh Medical University, and the University of Sargodha in the 601-800 rank band. The Iqra University, Dow University of Health Sciences and Quaid-e-Azam University were included in the 801-1,000 rank band.
According to the rankings, five more universities from Pakistan have secured a spot in the Times University Rankings including Government College University Faisalabad, Hazara University Mansehra, International Islamic University, Islamabad University of Malakand and the University of Peshawar.
“In line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision, for the first time ever, a Pakistani university (University of Agriculture Faisalabad) is now ranked top 24th globally for Climate Action. Similarly, NUST is the 67th leading university working on Affordable and Clean Energy,” said Times.
Subject-wise, Times said, significant improvement was recorded in Business and Economics, Life Sciences, and Physical Sciences. “The results generated (in Pakistan) are the outcome of continued institutional reforms and incentives introduced by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), under the leadership of the Prime Minister and Shafqat Mahmood, who serves as the Education Minister,” the London-based publication commented.
The praises heaped by Times and the bragging uttered by the minister aside, there is no denying the fact that the higher education sector is afflicted with gigantic issues. The faculty, administration and students are found complaining whenever asked about the status of the higher education sector. The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association protested ‘meagre’ allocations for the sector soon after the announcement of the annual budget for financial year 2021-22. The association said it had demanded a Rs150b non-development budget, but the government set aside only Rs66.25 billion, which was almost negligible. It said allocations were made in the budget for setting up new universities and opening new campuses, but nothing was done for providing facilities to old universities. The non-development budget is meant for salaries, but equipping science laboratories is also part of spending of the allocations. For FY2021-22, the government allocated Rs66.25b for non-development budget, compared to Rs. 64.1b for the same head in fiscal year 2020-21. The Higher Education Commission’s recurring budget was Rs63.1 billion in 2017-18, Rs65.02 billion in 2018-19, Rs64.1 billion in 2019-20, and the same allocation, Rs64.1 billion, was made in 2020-21, showing that the recurring budget had remained almost stagnant during the past years. However, no mentionable funds are ever allocated for improving the quality of education, faculty or research laboratories. People attached with the sector believe Pakistan’s rankings could go up significantly if more attention is paid to the sector, especially in the form of more budgetary allocations.