Professor Dr Talat Naseer Pasha (SI) recently joined the University of Education as its vice chancellor after a highly successful 8-year stint at University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) as its VC. He is well known as an academic and educationist of international stature in educational circles of Pakistan and known to promote quality research. Arsalan Haider caught up with the professor to find out about his plans in his new role
Academia: What are the main challenges you have faced after joining University of Education (UoE) and what strategy have you evolved to cope with these challenges?
Dr Pasha: University of Education (UoE) has become a university from a college, therefore, the major challenge is a shortage of senior faculty members. We only have two full professors working at the university. There is a lot that needs to be done in the field of research. The labs available at the university are hardly worthy of being called labs.
However, the great thing about UoE is that the people here are exceptional and motivated to do better. This is our real strength.
Academia: How do you plan to run the affairs at UoE? How would you apply your experience to take the varsity to new heights?
Dr Pasha: At UVAS, we made the university very open. There was not a single day when we did not have meetings, conferences, seminars and policy discussions. We did community work, engaged faculty the faculty and encouraged them to work outside the university. When a professor works out of a university as consultant or advisor, his teaching skills excel. Now UoE should be open like UVAS. There is no summer semester here, while at UVAS it was the busiest time of the academic year.
First of all, we have engaged the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) on how we can improve teachers’ training. At UVAS, I formed a veterinary academy which trained veterinary teachers across Punjab. Completing a PhD doesn’t make a professor a good teacher; he needs training on how to use his talent and skills in teaching.
Academia: What do you think is the reason that UoE has not achieved success similar to GCU, LCWU and other public universities?
Dr Pasha: I won’t say the previous VCs did not make an effort, because they certainly did a great job. The question is: what has been the investment in UoE? I had a meeting with teachers of special education today, and asked about labs. I was informed there are no labs here. We plan to turn the varsity around so that students look up to us in subjects of education, mathematics, physics and special education.
Academia: What are some of the new programs you think UoE should introduce?
Dr Pasha: At the moment, my entire focus is on quality and on ways we can we add value to our students. Unfortunately, there is not a single person appointed for sports here. We do not have a sports complex for any indoor or outdoor games or coaching, training etc. We must add value to students beyond academics, for which co-curricular activities are important. We have engaged students of various societies and formed a system in this regard. I have delegated powers in 37 items to various campuses and colleges so work can be sped up. I have asked all employees for improvement and have received excellent suggestions.
Academia: Tell us about some of the steps you took to enhance the standard and quality of education at UVAS?
Dr Pasha: At UVAS, we had an independent Quality Enhancement Cell (QEC). The QEC chair sits in selection boards and even conducts surprise visits on his own. I also appointed pro-vice chancellors and empowered them. I constituted 40 students’ societies that led to daily activities for students. Twelve of our students went to the US for undergraduate programs. In sports, UVAS got third position in HEC competitions.
Now, I am focusing on the same things at UoE, for I want to improve its ranking, its sports culture, co-curricular activities and services.
Academia: What is your opinion regarding budget cuts by the government and how did you manage the reduced funds while at UVAS?
Dr Pasha: There will be serious consequences of government’s decision to cut higher education budget. We have been demanding for years now that the government allocate at least 4 percent of GDP to education. Education is the only thing that can bring development in any country. It’s the responsibility of the government to provide affordable education.
At UVAS, we called a meeting of all section heads, deans and directors and had a workshop about the budget cuts. We asked all to initiate austerity measures and the austerity began from my office.
Academia: You have worked with both the current and previous government. Your thoughts?
Dr Pasha: Talking about political pressure, there has been none in the current as well as the previous government. The most critical thing at a university is admissions, which are now totally tech based. So there is no chance of out-of-merit selection.
However, I must say we had a lot of expectations from this government of investing more in education than previous regimes. Things have turned out to be quite the contrary. But I must mention that Punjab Higher Education Minister Raja Yassir Hamayun has assured us that a reasonable budget would be allocated for the education sector in the next fiscal year.
Academia: What are your expectations from the incumbent government?
Dr Pasha: The plus point of this government is that all recently appointed VCs have been selected on merit. I asked the minister for education of setting us targets and evaluating our performance on how well we do on those targets. I assured him of giving a 100 percent result. The minister has given me the task of strengthening two to three institutions.
Academia: What do you think are the changes needed in Pakistan’s education sector?
Dr Pasha: UVAS got the third position in sports when I left, but it was on the 26th spot when I first joined the varsity. All this has been achieved through promotion of merit. If we uphold merit, things will move in the right direction.
Academia: Where do you see UoE in the next five years?
Dr Pasha: I really wish that when I complete my tenure after four years, our ranking has improved, we have better laboratory facilities, a lot of research has been churned out and at least 50 senior faculty members are working at UoE.