|By Dr. Javaid Leghari
Nine Pakistani universities recently made headlines when they were ranked among the best in Asia and the world. According to the UK-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World Universities Rankings 2013 – one of the world’s most renowned and prestigious ranking agency – seven Pakistani universities were placed among the top 250 Asian universities. In addition, three Pakistani universities were placed among the top 200 universities of the world in agriculture and forestry. There were none from Pakistan in 2010.
According to the Asian rankings, the Quaid-e-Azam University ranked 119, the National University of Sciences and Technology was at 120, the Aga Khan University 152, Lums 191-200, and the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, University of Karachi, and University of Punjab, all ranked between 201 and 250. The University of Agriculture Faisalabad (142), Pir Mehr Ali Shah-Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi (152), and Quaid-e-Azam University (172), are among the top 200 world universities in the discipline of agriculture and forestry.
While six Pakistani universities were among the top 300 Asian universities last year, this year seven are in the top 250. So not only have we increased the number of world ranked universities, we have also climbed up the rankings. This achievement is clearly an outcome of the revolutionary reforms introduced by the HEC and the dedication and hard work of the university faculty and researchers. It is also clear proof that the quality of universities has significantly improved, and Pakistan has now become a world player in higher education.
What are the major factors that contributed to Pakistan’s entry and recognition into world rankings? First, there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of research publications, going from 3,939 to 6,200 just in the last two years. This is the second highest increase worldwide. Today Pakistan is publishing more research papers per capita than India. Second, the number of PhD faculty at our public universities has increased by 50 percent, from 4,203 to 6,067 in the last two years.
The number of PhD students enrolled at the universities has also increased by 40 percent in just one year – from 6,937 to 9,858 students – while over 28,122 post-graduate students are registered for MPhil/MS, up from 16,960, an increase of 65 percent in just two years. The increase in the number of PhDs awarded is again very encouraging, from 628 to 927, almost a 50 percent increase in the last three years! These numbers will continue to surge exponentially in the future as more PhD faculty and students join the universities.
University rankings are very important because they are used by universities to build their reputation, branding and visibility; by students and parents to make choices; by prospective employers to be selective; and by the government and grant agencies to make a determination on funding. Ranking increases global and national competition, so that all universities around the world strive even harder to move up the scale. The competition is intense.
Rankings are conducted by the government, accreditation agencies, magazines and newspapers, NGOs and sometimes by a university itself. The more popular ones globally include the Times Higher Education (THE) and the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). The Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) ranking has also gained credibility in recent years, having been cited by The Economist as well. Each of these rankings uses different criteria for evaluation. While the SJTU gives more importance to the number of Nobel Laureates and alumni, others value research output, student-faculty ratio, number of international students and faculty, etc more.
Since 2010, the HEC has introduced its own rankings for Pakistani universities to prepare us for global competition and recognition. Certain factors used by other agencies, including the number of Nobel Laureates and alumni, number of international students and faculty, etc become irrelevant locally. Therefore the HEC developed its own ranking criteria, borrowing from THE and QS, with major emphasis on Teaching Quality and Research.
Teaching quality includes student-faculty ratio, ratio of PhD faculty to total faculty, faculty training, admission criteria, and the number of computers, books and journals, etc. Additionally there is a score for the implementation of the HEC QA criteria. Research includes the number of research publications and citations, the number of fulltime PhD faculty, PhD output, journals published, conferences organised, etc. When the first rankings were announced by the HEC, there was a lot of hue and cry particularly from universities that had not made it to the top. However, with time, HEC rankings not only became acceptable locally, but were globally appreciated as well.
The DG HEC was invited to a plenary presentation on ‘Imprints of Rankings in Pakistan’ at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Jamaica, Nov 2012, where the Pakistan model was applauded as an indigenous Asian model reflecting on the regional context without compromising on global compatibility.
Since capacity building of Pakistani universities to enhance inclusion in international rankings along with gaining global visibility was what the local rankings hoped to achieve, the HEC then started working with all universities to improve their weaker areas. Based on input from stakeholders, a new component – peer perception survey – has been introduced for the next rankings.
These reforms made the universities perform better and align themselves along the lines of global rankings parameters. So with this sense of self-awareness and realisation, while no university from Pakistan ranked globally in 2010, there were four in 2011, six in 2012, and seven in 2013 in the top 250 Asian universities.
The HEC will be announcing the 2013 rankings soon. Internal data is consistent with the results of the international ranking demonstrating the credibility of the HEC exercise. Three more universities might also join the QS 2014 Ranking. This will indeed be a reason to celebrate as we move into double digits for the first time ever.
The writer is chairperson of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. This writing originally appeared in The News International Pakistani newspaper on July 6, 2013.