Prof. Dr Gul Zaman
Voice Chancellor, University of Malakand
JWT: Please educate our readers on the new Undergraduate Education Policy 2020 announced recently by the Higher Education Commission.
Hon. VC: The new Undergraduate Education Policy, 2020, (hereinafter UEP) of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) focuses on revamping the education programmes leading to the BS, Professional Degrees, and the Associate Degree (AD). The overall objective of the policy is to enhance the likelihood of students’ success. The specific objectives of UEP include:
Competency-based Learning: The approach adopted here recognizes the complex outcomes of the learning process, often divided into four components: knowledge (disciplinary, interdisciplinary, epistemic, and procedural), skills (writing, oral communication, ICT-related, quantitative analysis, analytical and problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and learning to learn), professional behaviour (self-regulation, time management, integrity, intellectual curiosity, intellectual openness), and interpersonal attributes (empathy, self-efficacy, collaboration).
Balance between Breadth and Depth: To ensure that the study is neither too narrowly focused nor too diffused. On the one hand, those who fail to develop broader skills at an early stage in their lives unknowingly limit their futures. On the other hand, focus is essential for developing intellectual discipline and rigour.
Specialization: To enable students to have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the area of specialization. However, the purpose is not to force them prematurely into particular occupations or to foreclose their options. So, focus on specialization will start later in their educational streams.
Applied Knowledge: To prepare students to apply the acquired knowledge and skills to life’s challenges, rather than merely acquiring narrow skills or pieces of information.
Emphasis on Creativity: To foster exploration, curiosity, discovery, and creativity amongst students.
JWT: Why HEC has abandoned BA/BSc and MA/MSc programmes?
Hon. VC: The objective of phasing out two-year BA/BSc and MA/MSc degree programmes, replacing those with AD and subsequent alignment with the four-year BS programme, is to ensure that students pass out after acquiring a broad-based education and have practical skills to compete in the field, and contribute in socio-economic development in the country.
JWT: What factors have led you to prepare the new curriculum for AD programme?
Hon. VC: The HEC on July 11, 2019, after 17 years of consultation, phased out two-year BA/BSc and MA/MSc programmes. To provide an alternate degree with same equivalency, the HEC provided the UEP that was thought to be implemented by Fall 2021, but we were facing serious problems from our affiliated non-BS colleges, and they were in a hanging position, as no efforts were made for the implementation of AD programme by any university.
To save the precious academic year of students, University of Malakand (UoP) took a leading step and worked out for the AD programme according to the UEP, that will be implemented in all the non-BS affiliated colleges.
JWT: What difficulties did you face during the preparation of the syllabus?
Hon. VC: The importance of preparing effective course outline or syllabus is mostly overlooked by teachers and administrators, as well as by the higher authorities. The preparation of curriculum and syllabus for different disciplines or subjects is the responsibility of HEC. Universities also prepare and modify their syllabi as per the HEC guidelines. The members of Board of Studies prepare and approve it. Its approval goes through a long process of passing from Board of Faculty, then from Academic Council. UoM followed the same standardized procedure for AD curriculum design and its approval.
We constituted a high-level committee which designed curricula for the AD programme that was approved with minor comments/suggestions to improve the document. Meanwhile, we also conducted meetings with the principals of respective affiliated colleges to know about their readiness for launch of the AD programme.
With the grace of Almighty Allah, we succeeded to deliver something better and that was in line with the UEP.
JWT: How did you manage to persuade the HED and the HEC to approve the said syllabus for Associate Degree?
Hon. VC: The non-uniform syllabi, designed by different public-sector universities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, were not acceptable to HEC and HED, due to some potential serious repercussions in near future. To reach a pragmatic solution and provide a uniform scheme of study to the students of the whole province, I arranged a meeting on October 20, 2020, at the UoM, in which the Vice Chancellors of all public-sector universities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or their representatives, principals of affiliated colleges from the province, Director Colleges, and members of HED and HEC participated. The matter was discussed at length and different schemes of studies for the AD programme were presented by representatives of several universities. But the scheme of study designed by the UoM was accepted and endorsed by the participants as it was designed in line with the UEP. Also, they agreed to implement the same from the first semester of the AD program to save the precious time of students. It was also suggested to present the designed curriculum to the HEC for further necessary review and approval.
In this regard, I, along with Prof. Dr M. Jamal Khan, Vice Chancellor, University of Swat; Dr Nasir Rashid, Coordinator Affiliated Colleges, UoM, and Muhammad Roz, Additional Director HED, attended a meeting with Dr Zulfiqar Gilani and Dr Nasir Shah, Academic Section, HEC, on October 27, 2020. Our proposed layout for the AD programme was highly appreciated and duly recommended with some modifications. They also suggested submitting the same for approval of the Honorable Chairman HEC, Prof. Dr Tariq Banuri.
To move one step further, I, along with Prof. Dr Zulfiqar Gilani, Consultant Academics HEC, attended a meeting on October 29, 2020, with Chairman HEC, who after detailed discussion, approved the AD programme designed by the UoM for its implementation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from Fall 2020 Semester, followed by the HEC notification regarding its approval and implementation through an email on November 6, 2020, to all VCs of universities in KP.
To add, the HED, on 23rd Nov. 2020, requested all the VCs of public-sector universities in KP to coordinate with UoM to solicit a copy of AD programme for its possible adoption and implementation to ensure uniform structure. I think, this reflects the acknowledgement and appreciation of the hard work put in by the committed and enthusiastic team of the UoM.
Obviously, it was teamwork, and I appreciate the valuable inputs and efforts of respected members of faculty in designing the scheme of study and curriculum for the AD programme, especially the extra-ordinary contribution of Dr Nasir Rashid, Coordinator Affiliated Colleges, for designing the overall AD programme according to the HEC UEP in a very short time. The outstanding performance and devotion displayed by him in this regard is highly commendable.
JWT. What are the prospects of the success of the said programme?
Hon. VC: The two-year Associate Degree offers high-quality education with technical expertise at a low cost to produce skilful and employable graduates. It has been implemented with great success in the developed world. The AD programmes prepare students for future-oriented career or to transfer into a bachelor’s degree programme offered at university level. Associate degree is designed to be a first step toward a bachelor’s degree. Like other developed countries, where associate degree programmes have been launched a decade ago, we will have the same success in different aspects such as, increased access to job market, preparation for a specialized career, increased marketability, increased earning potential, economic stability and a pathway to advancements.
Another determinant of AD’s success is practical knowledge of the environment our students will face, regardless of whether they choose to join the job market, enter into or start a business, engage in social or political activism, or take up sports or other recreational or competitive activities. The Practical Learning Requirement is aimed at equipping students with skills they will need to succeed in such roles. The AD programme will provide students with a menu of activities that can equip them with such skills, and in order to graduate, every student will have to participate in one or more of such activities.
JWT. Do you feel that the universities in Pakistan are imparting quality education?
Hon. VC: For quality education, we need adequate funding, good infrastructure, autonomy and academic freedom. Despite these challenges, our universities try their level best to impart quality education to their students. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement and same is the case with Pakistani universities and they will always remain committed to achieving excellence.
JWT: What are your suggestions for uplifting the quality of education?
Hon. VC: For uplifting the quality of education, we need to refine our curriculum, train the faculty, use quality books, ensure availability of friendly environment, restrict student politics, allocate ample funds in budgets and encourage the students to think critically and share their views and ideas openly.
JWT: Your advice for the youth of Pakistan.
Hon. VC: My advice for the talented and enthusiastic youth of Pakistan is that you should avoid misusing of technology and spending your precious time in indecent activities. Don’t put all your efforts behind obtaining marks in your academics, rather develop your expertise, skills and conceptual outlook, along with obtaining higher grades. Parents must also time with their kids for developing their aptitude to follow the norms, values and traditions of our society, that is our proud legacy. Pakistan will grow only if the youth realize their responsibilities, capabilities, and potentials, and work with full commitment to uplift themselves, society and the country ultimately.