By Sammar Abbas

The reputation of an institution remains the most important factor influencing a student’s decision to choose his alma mater. Improved facilities and infrastructure, pristine academic environment, faculty development, research collaborations and career development center create greater student interest and plays a very important role in a student’s choice. Also it makes and helps improve an institutional brand image.

The Sargodha University, established in 2002, made its place among the top 10 universities of Pakistan in its early years. However, during 2007-2017 the ten years span proved dreadful for the University’s image for it gained a bad reputation for compromising on educational standards.

To win back lost glory is hard, if not impossible. This hard odyssey was undertaken by the visionary leadership of. Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, the Vice Chancellor Sargodha University who took charge in May 2017 and embraced the challenge of serving, overhauling and reinvigorating the institution. .

Dr. Ishtiaq not only rolled out intensive policy measures involving the comprehensive reform of education, but also enhanced its teaching and research profile, knowledge sharing capacity and academic linkages, along with youth engagement in leadership and bridging skills gap. It is result of these initiatives that Sargodha University gained high reputation at national and international levels during the past two years owing to the reformist agenda of Vice Chancellor, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad.

The shift can be attributed mainly to a mega development project worth over Rs.1.54 billion for strengthening University, through HEC after a long gap of 10 years – an outcome of the earnest efforts made by the current administration.

The present reform process underway in the University since the start of 2017 has helped achieve many key indicators of University Rankings such as the size of faculty, including PhD scholars, their number of research publications, and the extent of international academic collaborations.

Along with the above-mentioned, other major reforms to ensure quality education and promote University outlook include consolidating academic programs, including the merger of overlapping faculties and departments, and closure of unnecessary degree programs; increasing the frequency of national and international conferences and workshops; and initiating academic research collaborations with major international institutions, including leading Chinese universities in the field of agriculture.

The sins of the past live in the present. During 2011-15, the then administration of the University established illegal sub-campuses and affiliated well over 600 private and public sector colleges across Punjab, and hugely compromised on the quality of education, institutional reputation and the University’s rules and regulations. Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad started the University’s accountability drive over a year ago, but a major development in this regard was the release in May 2018 of the National Assembly-directed audit inquiry by the HEC, into the two successive tenures of former Vice Chancellor. This followed the start of a formal probe in February 2018 by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the ex-VC on charges of mismanagement and corruption.

Current VC of the University, who had served at Oxford University for 5 years is leaving no stone unturned to uplift the institutional image by closing its 5 Public-Private Partnership campuses and curtailed the number of affiliated colleges from 640 in 2017 to 260 at present.

It is pertinent to mention that the current administration inherited an atmosphere of confrontation and mismanagement where syndicate meetings could not be held since 2015 and only one selection board held since then. During the period 2017 onward, the University has successfully conducted 8 meetings of the syndicate, 8 selection boards and appointed almost 300 regular faculty members to improve teacher student ratio. The administration holds several advanced studies and research board meetings to resolve the pending issues and to develop the faculty profile. In fact, this was only possible due to consistent efforts and management style of the current administration.

Now, the University is promoting quality research by offering financial incentives to faculty members for research projects and publications, creating interdisciplinary research groups and revamping the office of research, innovation and commercialization (ORIC).

In order to enhance the quality education in accordance with the requirements set by the HEC, the University has updated the lists of foreign and local referees for selection of qualified faculties and fair evaluation of dissertations in advanced research. Similarly, MIT-style research groups have been created to promote interdisciplinary research amongst the most productive faculty members.

To promote core objectives of the University, several academic collaborations agreement have been concluded with national and international institutions, including with leading agriculture universities of China in precision agriculture, citrus and sugarcane research and dry land agriculture. Similarly, a series of national and international conferences and symposia has been initiated to promote the culture of research and academic learning.

The Vice-Chancellor has implemented an inclusive management style through decentralization of authority to faculty heads and staff officers and further down the line. The process of decentralization of authority has shifted the responsibility from top to bottom. In addition to this, the University employees’ service statutes have been revised in line with current market trends and official business process requirements to bring efficiency and effectiveness in the system.

The digitization process also made a huge difference. The introduction of online admissions, for example, doubled the number of applications to 44,000 for Fall 2017 Session and increased this number to 51,000 in Fall 2018. The University is also installing a University Management System to ensure efficient management and better service delivery.

Now, university has a user friendly and mobile compatible website to harness the opportunities of the digital age. The website is user friendly and international visitors can easily engage with the content having comprehensive information about admissions, examinations, student activities, academic calendar, merit lists, course outlines, and phone directory and faculty profile.

Another milestone has been introduction of ethics policy to inculcate culture, values and civic sense among students, and wean them away from extremism. Keeping in view the same an additional subject “Citizenship Education and Community Engagement” has been included in various disciplines. An Alumni Association established to engage the alumni in outreach developmental activities, including contributions to endowment fund, community work and other similar initiatives.

The University for the First Time, made its way to QS Asia University Rankings as one of the top 500 universities of Asia. In the QS Asia University Rankings 2019 released in October 2018, 23 out of 188 public and private sector universities from Pakistan were included in top 500 Asian universities.

The reforms increased fourfold, total number of notified PhDs produced by Sargodha University in 2017-18 as compared to the previous 5-year period (2012-16) was a result of the pioneer reforms introduced by the University Administration to significantly contribute towards enhancing the quality of human resources in the country for economic and social development.

The University inked maiden collaboration with UN Food and Agriculture Organization to strengthen institutional capacity in the seed sector.

Sargodha University becomes the first public sector university from Pakistan to join China’s Belt and Road/South-South Cooperation Agricultural Education, Science and Technology Innovation League.

The University of Sargodha joined GreenMetric World Universities Ranking System to promote sustainability in higher education institutions globally. This distinctive performance was an outcome of pioneering reforms initiated during the tenure of the Vice Chancellor, Sargodha University Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad.

Also, the University established vibrant Career Development Centre, three e-Rozgaar centers for free-lance entrepreneurship. It also rolled out On-campus paid Internship Program to impart on-the-job skills and much-needed experience to the students for entering into the main job market by bridging technical skills gap.

Such preliminary initiatives are expected to lead to credible progress in four areas, i.e., quality teaching, productive research, knowledge sharing and global outlook. National and international university rankings are determined on the basis of these criteria. Hence, under the visionary leadership of Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, this University is going to make exceptional ranking by moving from 18 to a single digit at national level in a couple of years, reaching among top five Pakistani universities by 2020.