Recent remarks by an honourable judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan about the status of higher education in the country present a challenge to all academia. This concern of the national supreme judiciary is echoed by every citizen of the country. People have a right to ask questions about higher education contributions in ameliorating the national economy, to bring positive changes in the social, cultural and overall architectural landscape of the country. The current scenario is quite puzzling; either the higher education system of the country is being portrayed negatively, or it is not healthy. This ideological dichotomy can very well be sorted out through evaluating the available data accumulated by the global ranking agencies - a well-informed audit serving as guidance for academic leaders and the lawmakers of the country to define the future direction of education.

Here is a short comparative analysis of neighbouring India with Pakistan based on the QS World University ranking 2019. Nine higher education institutes in India were recognized in the top 500 list whereas Pakistan has only two- the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) and the National University of Sciences & Technology, both located in the capital city of Islamabad. There are six metrics used for the QS World University ranking including i) academic reputation, ii) employer reputation, iii) faculty-student ratio, iv) citations per faculty, v) international faculty ratio, and vi) international student ratio. Sometimes doubts are created among the people of Pakistan that global ranking parameters are not relevant to Pakistani higher education system; however, I will strongly disagree as the first four criteria of the QS world university ranking are most relevant contributing overall 90% scores towards ranking. International faculty ratio and the student ratio overall contribute 10% towards ranking; however, it can be very well improved through the prudent measure of bringing students from the Muslim world with student exchange programs.

Nowadays there is a prevailing belief and firm commitments with cognizance from the government also that education is the only passage to salvation from all the existing evils in the society. A healthy, smart contemporary higher education system is the backbone of almost every nation. What is needed is a group of top academicians having experience of serving international universities with the best education systems in the world to formulate education policies and curriculum that can strengthen the Prime Minister’s vision of the knowledge economy. Based on the meagre knowledge that I accumulated through serving in the world best education systems like Brazil, Malaysia, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, the United States of America, I have few submissions for the uplifting of the national education system:

First and foremost, there is an urgent need to harmonise the provincial and federal higher education entities. The Punjab Government decision to implement uniform curriculum through harmonising curriculum with the same course numbers in all higher education institutes will have a far-reaching impact. I think federal higher education should jump on the bandwagon and implement this policy at the national level.

The national education system should develop a tripartite policy with three significant elements. i) linking primary, secondary and college education with the tertiary education, ii) evaluating existing and future 20 years demands of the trained and skilled workforce required in various domains/disciplines, followed by establishing targeted training of future human resource, iii) Implementing a highly transparent and healthy competitive environment rewarding the achievers. Furthermore, defining targeted outcomes and required time frames should be part and parcel of every initiative.

It is fascinating to hear the vision of the Provincial Minister for Higher Education from the Punjab province for implementing teaching/research assistant culture like the United States of America. For sure, this will bring a highly trained workforce having job-related practical experience with minimal pressure on the national exchequer. There are hundreds of success stories by implementing such strategies; worth quoting is my personal experience while serving the Islamia University of Bahawalpur as Vice Chancellor. During my tenure as Vice-Chancellor (2010- 2014), we used to hire above 100 visiting faculty members for different courses. I introduced a competitive screening model through an annual test. Over the course of three years, we accumulated almost 30 visiting faculty members majority of them gold/silver medalist. Intriguingly girls outnumbered boys. I was given an additional charge for the newly announced university the Government Sadiq College Women University Bahawalpur. Majority of achievers and gold medalists completed the highly competitive selection process, and almost everyone is now serving the Government Sadiq College Women University Bahawalpur. Selectees were mainly from the pool of meritorious graduates including gold medalists. This young workforce helped the university in ferrying through initial tough days.

Under the prevailing circumstances and educational priorities - there is a need for transparent and fast actions. The federal and provincial higher educations, and recently constituted task forces, could jointly come up with a plan, widely disseminate it in the public domain for comments and critiques. We should never underestimate our education system; however, proper policies and their implementation are prerequisites to unleash the intellect and talent of the budding youth we possess.