Vice Chancellors of Pakistani universities consulted with an academic discourse on the problems facing higher education in the country and their solutions

By: Saira Iqbal

Emerging Trends & Challenges in Higher Education is an important dilemma in today’s progressive world where everything is just a click away. Time has come now, where we need to revise our policies to face the modern world with equal on-going trends and technologies.

On April 26, one-day consultative conference of Vice Chancellors was held on Emerging Trend & Challenges in Higher Education”.

The conference was organized by Allama Iqbal Open University in collaboration with Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. The purpose of the conference was to review the current higher education policies in Pakistan and the possibilities of future education planning. The Vice Chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University, Prof. Dr. Zia-ul-Qayyum, has serious intentions to build consensus between universities and the Higher Education Commission. Educationists across the country were determined to overcome the dire situation and bring everyone under one umbrella. They believed that when educationists sit together, they can find solutions to cope up with the fast moving world. His efforts finally paid off and he along with the VC, Quaid-i-Azam university Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali managed to get the Vice Chancellors of 26 Pakistani universities under one roof for consultation at Allama Iqbal Open University

The conference was followed by four topics : Undergraduate and Postgraduate policies; Future of Higher Education; Technology driven Governance and Instructional Management; and Information Influence as a global challenge. The Chief Guest of the inaugural session was Prof. Dr. Khalid Mehmood Khan, President, Pakistan Academy of Sciences while Prof. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Former Chairman HEC, VC, QAU Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali and Prof. Dr. Masoom Yaseenzai , Rector IIUI were among the guest of honors.

Prof. Dr. Zia-ul-Qayyum, Vice Chancellor, Allama Iqbal Open University, delivered the welcome address and highlighted the objectives of the conference and the need for it in the present times.

Dr. Zia-ul-Qayyum said that higher education is going through a very difficult period in which some decisions were made in such a way that some of my colleagues had reservations about the decisions of HEC’s two higher education programs and some of the educational institutions were facing difficulties in their operation. Prof Dr. Zia Ul-Quyyum said that , our intentions are not to criticize anyone on any ground but to discuss these policies with an academic discourse. The debate and discussions should come up with a proposal , to send to the government and rest of the county’s stakeholders. He, further, said that there is an urgent need to discuss the challenges and roadmap for the future and this is the reason for which the conference has been organized. Addressing the inaugural session of the conference, the speakers , shared their views on the current state of policies and implementation.

Addressing the inaugural session of the conference, the speakers , shared their views on the current state of policies and implementation. He said that the consultation process needs to determine what kind of research the country required at the moment. Which subjects should universities focus on and how can they ensure employment for graduates?

In the first session, the keynote speaker, Prof. Dr. Mahmood Al Hassan Butt, a renowned educationist and expert in educational planning and policy, gave a detailed analysis of recent postgraduate, undergraduate and postgraduate policies. Presiding over the session, Prof. Dr. Fazal Ahmad Khalid, Chairman, Punjab Higher Education Commission, emphasized that we need to look at the field of higher education from a different perspective, keeping in view the local individual needs of a person.

The moderator of the first session was Prof. Dr. Nasir Mahmood, Dean, Faculty of Education, Open University. Among the speakers were Prof. Dr. Khalid Iraqi, Vice Chancellor, University of Karachi, Prof. Dr. Anwarul Hassan Gilani, Vice Chancellor, University of Haripur, Prof. Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Vice Chancellor, University of Shifa Ta’meer Millat, Islamabad , Vice Chancellor of Engineering and Technology Karachi, Prof. Dr. Surosh Hashmat Lodhi, Rector of University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, Prof. Dr. Syed Mansoor Sarwar and Vice Chancellor of University of Balochistan Quetta, Dr. Shafiqul Rehman.

A question and answer session was held after a constructive discussion on undergraduate and graduate policies. In his keynote address, Prof. Emeritus, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hassan Butt said that the Higher Education Commission should consult and seek feedback from universities, teachers and even students before formulating any policy on higher education.

He said that for the last two to three years, the key stakeholders of the country’s higher education have been kept away from the consultative process which has caused great loss to the country in general and higher education in particular.

The keynote speakers of the second session were Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali, Vice Chancellor, Quaid-e-Azam University, and Dr. Shahid Mehmood, CEO  Interactive System, Islamabad presented his views on the future of higher education in Pakistan keeping in view the requirements of the 21st century.

The session was chaired by Prof. Dr. Talat Naseer Pasha, Vice Chancellor, University of Education Lahore. Among the panelists were Chairman Punjab Higher Education Commission, Prof. Dr. Fazal Ahmad Khalid, Rector of International Islamic University, Prof. Dr. Masoom Yaseenzai, Vice Chancellor of Peshawar Agriculture University, Prof. Dr. Jahan Bakht, Vice Chancellor of Islamia University Bahawalpur, Dr. Athar Mehboob, Vice Chancellor, Bahauddin Zakaria University Multan, Prof. Dr. Mansoor Akbar Kundi, Vice Chancellor of Women’s University Multan, Prof. Dr. Uzma Qureshi, Vice Chancellor of Karakoram International University Gilgit, Dr. Ataullah Shah and Vice Chancellor of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, Prof. Dr. Sajida Noreen . The panelist said that we need to improve our future building based upon what has already done and we need a paradigm shift for higher education, that should be the source of providing leadership to the country in all the social and economic fields.

The third session on Technology driven Governance and Instructional Management was chaired by the Vice Chancellor of University of Haripur, Prof. Dr. Anwarul Hassan Gilani while the Vice Chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University, Prof. Dr. Zia ul-Qayyum was the keynote speaker of the session. Among the panelists were Dr. Athar Mehboob, Vice Chancellor of Islamia University Bahawalpur, Dr. Ataullah Shah, Vice Chancellor of Karakoram International University, Prof. Dr. Sajida Noreen, Vice Chancellor of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University , Prof. Dr. Jamil Ahmed Vice Chancellor of Hazara University, and Prof. Dr. Surosh Hashmat Lodhi, Vice Chancellor, NED University of Engineering and Technology Karachi.

Prof. Dr. Zia-ul-Qayyum shared his views on digital governance. Dr. Zia-ul-Qayyum said that digitization is essential for success in today’s world. He said that now people are unable to stand without technology so educationists have to pay special attention to the use of technology.

 The fourth session was on Information Influence as a global challenge. The keynote speaker of this session was Prof. Dr. Wasim Qazi and renowned Professor and Media analyst Dr Riffat Hussain. The panelist of this session explain how digital change has led to the inherent controversy of bringing the western culture dominance. This has created another sort of digital divide. This influences our higher education as well. On the one hand how digitalization could make information accessible and on the other hand how search engines can be our friends or our enemies. The techniques of marketing brings various pages on top in search and this is how information is manipulated. We need to teach our students how to share, analyze and interpret the information being poured. Critical thinking and analytical reasoning is to be inculcated to enable the students. We need to make sure that the students read books instead of using presentations and short text notes.

Prof. Dr. Mansoor Akbar Kundi, Vice Chancellor, Bahauddin Zakaria University presided over the fourth session. The Vice Chancellors congratulated the Vice Chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University, Prof. Dr. Ziaul Qayoom and the Vice Chancellor of Quaid-e-Azam University, Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali for convening the conference despite the current dire situation of Covid-19.

Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali, Prof. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed and Prof. Dr. Khalid Mehmood Khan delivered concluding remarks while the Vice Chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University thanked all the Vice Chancellors for their participation.

After a productive discussion on selected topics at the conference, recommendations were made which will be forwarded to the Government later.

At the end of the day long discussion it was concluded that we need to bring in voices of multiple stakeholders from sciences, social sciences, community, industry market and media to design a futuristic educational policy.