Quality of education is an unending debate in Pakistan. Almost everybody in Pakistan talks about it and show their deep concerns regarding the deteriorating conditions of educational institutions. When such people are asked about the meaning of “Quality of Education”; resources and teaching at LUMS, FAST, NUST, Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford are being quoted as a yardstick. Nothing about the culture and environment of these institutions are being discussed. It would be a false claim that one could offer same quality of education without appreciating the importance of culture and environment. Because “quality of education” is a vague term which may has different meanings to different people. Nevertheless, it is directly relate to four factors: (i) the vision & leadership style of the head of the institution; (ii) the mindset of students, faculty, and administration; (iii) learning environment and (iv) research culture. These four important factors differentiate an ordinary institution from a world class institution.
In Pakistan many vice chancellor always talked about shortage of funding. Shortage of funding as a major hurdle in imparting quality education is a lame excuse of those vice chancellors who never accepted their incompetency. Shortage of funding is a global issue. Universities of developed nation are devising strategies regarding their sustainability. Particularly in today’s knowledge revolution, where education sector has emerged as a potential business industry, finances should never be considered as an issue. This issue can be resolved through optimum utilization of available resources, introducing the concept of branding in higher education and adopting latest practices of internationalization of higher education. In addition, establishing effective linkage with industry and research organizations are some other valuable sources. I strongly believe that it should be one of the key responsibilities of the vice chancellor to explore new ventures to meet the expenses of the institutions. Personally, I have never faced any such problem. I always overcome this problem through devising effective financial management strategies and starting new income generation activities.
The quality of education also depends on the smooth functioning and progress of the university. In this regard the vision, mindset and role of the vice chancellor is very important. His/her leadership style and the way he/she brings culture change without disturbing the legacy of the organization are equally important. These aspects have to be considered in the selection of a vice chancellor. Unfortunately, in my recent experience, no such aspects were discussed by the members of the selection committee during the interview of candidates for vice chancellorship.
I strongly believe that a good vice chancellor should be a role model for his/her ‘community’. He/she must be focused, flexible, agile and able to manage equality & diversity. His/her vision must be in line with the goals & objectives of the organization and must be shared at all level. He/she has to be a visionary leader, caring manager, unbiased facilitator and a strong believer of good governance. He/she has to be a source of inspiration, energy and motivation for his/her colleagues and positively work for their professional development. He/ she should be able to connect strategic vision with day-to-day affairs and promote collaborations/partnerships culture within the organization. He/she must be aware of internal and external pressures and have the capacity to handle such pressure without disturbing the performance of the organization. He/she must be aware of his/her university’s market position and devise strategies to get better position in the market. In this regard he/she should adopt a futuristic approach and make appropriate plans regarding the expansion of the university; nevertheless, strategic goals must be in line with the operational capacity of the organization.
It is very important for a thriving vice chancellor to build a strong management team of right persons who should be well aware of organizational processes. These persons must also be equipped with innovative ideas and have the capacity to improve the existing processes for organizational improvement. It is commonly observed that many of university employees, including faculty and staff, are unaware of university’s rules & regulation, organizational processes; even they are unaware of their job description. In parallel, no induction training or induction pack is available for them. Every new employee has to learn through his/her own experience; causing many complications which badly affects the quality of services and productivity of the organization. Every new employee must be given an induction training encompassing topics like vision, objectives and goals of the organization, culture of the organization, expectations of the organization; his/her job description, organizational processes and university rules and regulations, etc. It is equally important to devise an appropriate strategy to gain maximum output form a new employee after conducting his/her SWOT analysis.
Although it is a wearying task, but a successful vice chancellor has to be aware of organization politics and has the aptitude to resolve conflict among different segments of the organization. His decision should be transparent and based on merit. He should also make strategic decision timely, keeping in view the Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats to his/her university. Once a decision is being made it should be communicated across the board. It is commonly observed that in case of any change it is not communicated properly which cause unnecessary problems. This could be avoided through establishing an ICT based transparent communication system.
Unavailability of competent faculty & professionals is the most commonly quoted problem. Being a head of the institution, first and the most important task for a vice chancellor is to produce a critical mass of highly competent faculty & professionals who could impart high quality education through establishing a congenial learning environment for teaching, learning and research. They should also be able to build strong intellectual/research networks with national & international agencies. Many vice chancellors made excuse they are unable to find competent faculty. I totally disagree with their point of view. There is no shortage of talent in Pakistan. The problem is with such vice chancellors who are unable to appreciate available talent. Majority of such talented people are either unemployed or working on jobs which are not relevant to their competency. Normally, faculty and staff in universities are hired through a selection board in which five or ten questions are being asked; political pressure, personal interests and inner jealousy towards competent people make the whole selection process faulty. The selection of an incompetent employee badly affects the performance of the whole organization and promotes a culture of dirty politics. To make the selection process more transparent, a due consideration has to be given to the candidates’ knowledge, skills, competency, expertise, and their performance and the evaluation of students, faculty and staff.
Pakistani institutions are in dire need of an effective learning environment and encouraging research culture. In parallel, the rapidly changing canvas of the employment market demands for special skills which could not be inculcated through conventional degree programs. Universities need to offer flexible degrees programs which allow students to choose courses of their own interest keeping in view the trends of the employment market. For establishing an effective learning environment, a culture of regular seminars, workshops and discussion forums must be promoted. Faculty & students should be provided ample opportunities for such activities. Similarly, special training sessions must be conducted to promote research activities. Students and faculty must be forced to join international research forums so that their communication skills could improve. They should also be forced to attend online lectures, workshops and conferences so that they should know about the current trends in research. Attendance of such activities should be made compulsory and be a part of their curricular activities.
The idea of internship is not new. In many institutions it is an integral part of their degree programs. Unfortunately the outcome of such programs is not what is expected. During internship period students just spend time in organization or produce fake certificates. The universities can devise fool proof procedures to monitor the internship programs to make it more productive through the use of ICT and establishing a good liaison with corporate sector with a clear line of action. Each internship program should have a clearly defined targets and every internee has to meet those targets. These targets could be set with a mutual understanding of the organizations and the university. Daily and final evaluation reports could be maintained through an online system. This way students and organizations will be forced to achieve the targets of the internship program. The organizations who fail to provide effective opportunities should be blacklisted from the program and the students who fail to achieve required targets should be penalized through putting adverse remarks on their transcripts. Such measures will make the internship program more valuable and effective.
An effective ICT infrastructure is an essential requirement of 21st century University. A good vice chancellor has to concentrate on this aspect and arranges appropriate resources and training for staff, faculty and students to utilize ICT infrastructure for the improvement of teaching-learning process, research activities and quality of university services. E-Learning and the use of educational technology in teaching learning process are important opportunities to improve quality of education and to reduce expenses. However, proper planning and training is required to achieve required results. Audit & Accountability are two other important aspects which may portray a negative image of a vice chancellor. The use of ICT could help to overcome such negativity. Providing details of financial aspects on university website can make the whole financial management process transparent.
Alumni are the best ambassadors of any educational institution. For a world class institution it is very important to utilize the invaluable experience of their Alumni. Through offering special lifelong learning opportunities and professional development opportunities the confidence of Alumina could be gained. They should also be invited in future planning sessions. Such activities will get the word of mouth market of the corporate sector which will bring good name to the university.
Future planning should not be done in isolation. Every member of the organization should be taken on board and their suggestion should be consider seriously irrespective of their job positions.
There are many other aspects which I will discuss in another post. However, I finish this article with these words which were concluded in International Leadership Development programme that excellence in leadership in higher education attracting the same esteem as excellence in research, teaching and learning.