Vice Chancellor University of Gujrat
We are always in a quest to achieve the highest standards in learning and research in all subjects and fields.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): How do you see the future of higher education in Pakistan?
Prof Dr Zia ul Qayyum (PDZQ): I can say with certitude that higher education in Pakistan has a very bright future. Only some years ago, our students had to move to big cities for their higher studies but with the education-friendly policies of the government, it is quite encouraging that now students have ample opportunities to acquire higher education in their nearby cities. I believe the expanding network of universities is playing a key role in this regard. However, let me be very clear: we will have to be keen on improving the standards; which usually get compromised on when the number of universities increases. We will have to say no to making such compromises.
JWT: Since the University of Gujrat (UoG), too, makes a part of this network-expansion approach, did you ever face a situation where you had to make a compromise?
PDZQ: Not at all! Our basic purpose at the University is to educate and train our students in domains like economy, social policy and research so as to enable them to compete at the international level. We are always in a quest to achieve the highest standards in learning and research in all subjects and fields. We are also planning to establish a world-level centre in Gujranwala-Gujrat-Sialkot industrial triangle where large-scale research activities will be promoted which would, in turn, give an impetus to providing basic amenities to the people of the region and would also spur development here. We are on the right track to achieve these objectives.
Since the very inception of the UoG in 2004, the process of enhancing the number of its students, programmes offered, campuses, buildings, courses and research activities is successfully on. And, given the quality of education we provide, this is all natural because in this age of competition, the only thing that helps you survive is strict adherence to quality and standards. This is what attracts people towards you. This is due to our resolve to achieve the highest standards that within a span of only 14 years, the UoG is the fourteenth largest university in Pakistan in terms of enrolment. Besides, an ever-growing number of students speaks volumes about their trust in us as well as our commitment to give only the best. This also mirrors the thinking under which the network of universities is being expanded. Our strictly merit-based admission policy endows us with an unshakable confidence in our skills to foster research and innovation.
JWT: Your thoughts on merit sound good. But, is the higher education the right of only the best and intelligent students? Where would the other students, especially having second or third division, go?
PDZQ: Actually, we need to keep a few things before us in this regard. First, the number of universities, especially of those in public sector, is too limited to fulfil our needs, and so is the number of seats available in their different departments. And, to grant admission for those, following a robust policy is inevitable. That is where the element of merit comes into play.
Secondly, the Constitution of Pakistan also enunciates that the admission to institutions of higher education be granted purely on the basis of merit. We need to also comprehend that universities are not meant only to produce degree-holders; they are supposed to give such men and women to the society who would in the future run the institutions of this state. So, that is why only the intelligent students are preferred.
As regards the second part of your question, no doubt such students also have an inalienable right to education but a better way to accommodate them is to establish institutions where technical education and skills are imparted to them so that there remains a balance among the university graduates who go out to the job market. This will also help us in mitigating the woes of unemployment.
JWT: You just talked about the rising number of universities but of what use to students is this increase when most of these institutions are found in major cities only?
PDZQ: Indeed, there was a time when opportunities for higher education were found in big cities only and students had to move there to avail themselves of those. But, those who couldn’t bear the expenses were forced to abandon their pursuit of education, ergo limiting their role in national development. However, after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission, the principal focus was on establishing more and more universities in public as well as private sector not only in cities but also in rural areas that previously had no such facility. Gujrat was also among the cities where there was no university and students of the area had to go to Lahore, Faisalabad or Rawalpindi to acquire higher education. But, there was also a pressing need to have a university here especially because Gujrat is an industrial city. So, keeping in view all these factors, the UoG was founded in 2004. And, during the 14 years of its journey, the UoG has proved to be an epitome of success of this policy of expanding the network of universities.
JWT: No doubt, it is good to establish more and more universities in smaller cities of the country. But, it will, obviously, take time. What policy should we adopt to cope with the situation till then?
PDZQ: In this context, I would say that there should be quota for students belonging to backward areas where there are no, or only a few, universities. For instance, in the UoG, we have launched special initiatives for such students. See, the real backwardness is that in the realm of education. Most people in resource-rich regions of Balochistan and FATA cannot afford to provide higher education to their kids and that’s the reason why the number of civil servants or federal secretaries hailing from these regions is limited; owing to which the problems faced by Balochistan and FATA people are not adequately resolved. Moreover, education facilities there are also too limited to fulfil the needs of the people. We encourage the people of Balochistan and FATA to come forward and play their role in the development of their respective areas. So, for that purpose, we have not only dedicated one seat in every faculty and every college of the UoG for the students hailing from Balochistan and FATA, but have also adopted a policy of mitigating, as much as we can, their financial woes. In accordance with the government policy, the UoG has waived tuition fee and hostel charges of these students; they have to pay for the mess only. The UoG has 37 departments and five colleges in which we have dedicated one seat each for the students of Balochistan and FATA, as well as Gilgit-Baltistan.
JWT: There is a suggestion that we can accommodate more and more students by starting second shift in public sector universities. What’s your take on that?
PDZQ: I think it is good if the purpose is to mint money, but doing so would be detrimental to the quality of education. Actually, quantity and quality are two exactly opposite phenomena; if quantity or number will be more, the quality will get compromised, and vice versa. Teachers at any university are supposed to provide quality education to their students but when you will overburden them, how would you maintain the standards? Let’s see it from another angle; in fact, universities are supposed to foster research that is a lengthy and time-consuming job and also requires patronage and guidance. But, would a mentor be able to give his best when (s)he will have to work for double the time (s)he is supposed to work? So, I do not, at all, buy this idea. However, if it is started for only some subjects in order to fulfil the market demand, then it can be a pragmatic idea but the basic precondition is always the same: quality should never get compromised.
JWT: It’s a logical stance. But, a new trend being witnessed in public sector universities nowadays is that admissions to the second shift are granted on self-finance basis. Would these universities also get involved in the race of making more and more money?
PDZQ: This is absolutely a dangerous trend and must be discouraged at all costs.
JWT: In your university days, you know, fees were nominal. But, now exorbitant fees are being charged. In this situation, how the difference between public and private sectors could be maintained?
PDZQ: When you talk about the research-based education, you know that needs investment which universities finance from their own resources. So, raising fees is a routine, and not an extraordinary thing. And, that is why university education is a bit expensive all over the world. I have told you the basic reason behind this earlier. As regards your concern on the difference between the fees charged by public sector and private sector institutions, I would say the fees charged by the former are still far less than those by the latter. Since the government funding to universities remains subject to financial constraints, they sometimes are compelled to raise fees. However, disproportionate rise is always uncalled for.
JWT: So, it means university education cannot be provided free of cost like the school education.
PDZQ: It is actually not possible. However, one thing that can be done is the provision of interest-free loans and grants to students by the government. In addition, there is a pressing need to reinvigorate the private sector for providing more and more scholarships to our university students. Donors and welfare organizations can also be engaged for that purpose. Every year, our universities spend huge amounts on their own to provide scholarships to their students. The UoG is providing scholarships worth Rs 60 million from its own resources. We have been, till now, providing scholarships only to BS and MA level; however, the facility has been extended to MPhil and PhD levels also. Today, a student entering the UoG will not be compelled to abandon his/her education only because (s)he cannot pay university dues.
JWT: How the right to university education of the eligible students can be provided in such a way that their parents or guardians are not burdened financially?
PDZQ: For that, establishing more and more universities in public and private sectors is almost indispensable. And, in this regard, we need to focus on rural areas. It has a number of benefits; for instance, when you establish a university in a small city, the burden on those functional in nearby big cities is relieved. With this, the availability of opportunities for the students of those big cities to get university education increases. The fee-raises which are caused by the growing demand of university education are also reversed. In addition, the expenses incurred by the students coming from other cities on transport and accommodation would also be cut. Another added benefit is the mainstreaming of girl students as most of the parents do not prefer to send their daughters to other cities for higher education.