LAHORE: In order to encourage healthy competition and boost the standard of education at public sector universities, Government of the Punjab has launched an annual contest ‘University of the Year Award’ in the province.
For this purpose, Punjab Higher Education Department in collaboration with Punjab Higher Education Commission, for the first time, has developed objective criteria for assessing the academic and administrative excellence of public sector universities located in Punjab. A total of 30 Universities will be assessed annually by the experts in the field and the best performing university will be declared as ‘University of the Year’ on the basis of securing the highest marks in the scoring grid.
As per the contest evaluation criteria crafted, there will be two different categories of competition, i.e. Category I – universities established before 2010 and Category II – universities established after 2010. Innovations, new start ups, and product development have been given a major share in the score pie. Secondly, faculty development, internationalization, and fund generation has also been prioritized. In total, these universities shall be graded on the basis of 10 different parameters which will not only enhance the quality of education but also promote entrepreneurship among students and boost employability skills of those who prefer to seek reasonable jobs after completion of their degree.
Speaking about the rationale behind this initiative, the provincial minister for higher education in Punjab, Raja Yasir Humayun Sarfraz said, “Practical steps have been taken for establishing at least one state-of-the-art university in every district of Punjab with which we are improving youth’s access to education. In order to ensure the quality of the education being imparted, the University of the Year contest designed by the department shall encourage, motivate, and guide universities in attaining educational excellence. In return, these universities shall be recognized provincially and pepped up for global representation. Higher Education Department Punjab reckons ‘University of the Year’ contest as a strategic initiative to facilitate in understanding global challenges and presenting innovative solutions.”
He further added that during the last three years, the Government has made great strides in the education sector, our QS ranking has increased manifolds. Punjab University made a jump of 54 points in the year 2020 as compared to the year 2018. As per the latest QS Ranking for Asia, 11 universities from Punjab surfaced on the prestigious QS ranking charts, previously Punjab had only 6 universities recognized by QS rankings back in 2018. In the QS World Rankings, Punjab has now 5 universities, previously there were only 3 universities on the charts till 2018. Therefore, the criteria designed integrates QS Rankings for universities as one of the key performance indicators.
Commenting on financial issues being faced by the universities, the minister said that an increase in funding for the higher education sector was on the card in the upcoming budgets. “Due to the corona pandemic, our priority, for a short span of time, remained on public health; now we re-focusing higher education sector and increasing its funds” the minister said.
He maintained that the fee structures of the universities are needed to be rationalized to meet the operational cost of the universities. The minister appreciated the efforts of the Punjab Higher Education Commission saying, “PHEC is working in accordance with the reform agenda of the government in the higher education sector. The government is fully supportive to the PHEC and will increase its funding in the budget” he maintained. The minister desired the vice-chancellors to deliberate over the criteria and suggest PHEC and HED to make the parameters for the award more robust and practical.
Chairman PHEC Prof. Dr. Fazal Ahmad Khalid, while briefing about the project, said that the objective of the award was to enhance the visibility of provincial universities on global ranking radars -Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) also known as Shanghai Rankings- through raising the international standing of provincial universities, promoting healthy competition among HEIs and rewarding the best performing universities.
Dr. Fazal called for increased funding for PHEC and universities saying that PHEC, despite limited resources, had started a number of projects to ameliorate the quality and standards of higher education and research. “PHEC is obliged to the minister for higher education for his patronage, in order to sustain our initiatives and start new ones, the chunk of budgets for PHEC should be increased” he demanded.
Earlier, DG PHEC Dr. Muhammad Ramzan gave a presentation on the parameters and indicators for the award. He said that Punjab Higher Education Commission would facilitate the select universities to collaborate with leading global ranking agencies to work on ranking indicators that are relevant to the higher education sector. To this end, PHEC would organize meetings with the vice-chancellors and the universities’ ranking committees to orientate them about improving the performance against those indicators and assess their requirements/needs in this regard. PHEC would also support universities in improving their visibility of ranking radars through funding of conferences, seminars, and imparting training to the universities by inviting local and international experts and organizations.
A follow-up monitoring and evaluation mechanism would then be opted to evaluate the progress on these indicators. PHEC would prepare an online data collection system for universities and would announce the best universities of the year in overall and emerging categories. The universities selected thereby would be rewarded with recognition certificates and associated benefits based on their performance. Vice chancellors thoroughly deliberated on the criteria and gave their suggestions in this regard.