The College of Home Economics has recently been converted into University of Home Economics. That has created a number of opportunities as well as challenges for the institution. Sehrish Khan talked to UHE VC Kanwal Ameen about what lies ahead for this young university in the years to come.
What challenges did you face after taking charge of University of Home Economics (UHE)?
I joined on May 31, 2019 as the first VC of UHE, which has a long and rich history as a subject specific college. The transition in the status of an academic institution from a college to a university includes changing the philosophy and mindset of its academicians and staff who have worked as college functionaries for decades. It includes working on quality of academic programs, faculty development, enriching research culture and infrastructure, and generating funds to name a few. Hence, the need to expand horizons, enhance quality, promoting strengths and streamlining the work patterns are being addressed to raise its value as a university.
The foremost agenda is hiring of PhD faculty in all areas and introducing specialized degrees in allied subjects keeping in view the market needs for women graduates
UHE is a newly chartered university, what is your plan to make it one of the leading universities in Pakistan and where do you see it in the next 5 years?
As I have mentioned, a lot needs to be accomplished to become a leading university for women in Pakistan. I am working hard in every direction with the support of the existing faculty. We still have not received any government grants for this year and financial stability is urgently required for recruiting the desired faculty and staff. Foremost agenda is hiring of PhD faculty in all areas and introducing specialized degrees in the allied subjects keeping in view the market needs for women graduates.
What new programs or disciplines do you intend to introduce in the university?
There has been a six-year long generic degree of Home Economics with or without mention of any one of five specializations. I made extensive deliberation with the heads and faculty members of all departments on the future programs and also sought feedback from the market. As a result, we are developing our courses as BS four-year programs in specialized areas such as Home Economics, Food and Nutrition; Art & Design; Textile and Fashion; Interior Design; Hospitality Management and Tourism; Human Development and Family Studies; Sociology, and so on. The faculty is working on giving them final shape to present in the Academic Council.
Students depend on teachers for learning, and teachers generally take the textbook-based learning method. As a result, we hardly nurture independent lifelong learning skills
What are your views about the current teaching methods considering the fact these methods have changed in developed and developing countries of the world?
In the developed world, the term teacher has been replaced by the term ‘instructor’. We are generally still using non-participative and non-creative methods. Creative and analytical thinking is not induced by our system right from the early years of education. Students depend on teachers for learning, and teachers generally take the textbook-based learning method. As a result, we hardly nurture independent lifelong learning skills from the early school years right up to college/university level. However, the situation is different among some private sector and public sector institutions regarding availability of the prerequisites for implementing modern sophisticated learning methods. Our youngsters do well in taking international examinations.
Artificial intelligence and virtual reality have been adopted by universities all over the world. What is your take in this regard?
I would say that these have not been ‘adopted all over the world’. Again, the economic and digital divide among the rich and the poor countries, intuitions, and individuals plays a major role in adopting high tech environment.
Infrastructure of educational institutions and especially your university needs to be upgraded. Are these positive things in the pipeline?
Very much of course! The building of the college is almost 70 years old, it needs renovation. We need to build more blocks including academic research center for research students. First priority of my tenure is to improve the present condition of the university. There are a lot of dimensions to convert a college in to a university; infrastructure, faculty, workshops and training for existing faculty and hiring new competent faculty.
Does your university have an outreach program to facilitate students who are good in studies but not financially strong? Do you offer scholarships and fee discounts to deserving students?
We do help students who can not pay their fee and are good in studies. However, more need-based scholarships will be offered once we get our grants from the government.
What are your plans to develop your university? For example many varsities have opened sub campuses in other cities, do you have any such plan?
As I said, there is an immediate need to develop this institution into a good university first. We would like to get colleges affiliated with us at this stage instead of opening sub campuses of our own.
Libraries in developing countries are affected by the ongoing information and communication technology (ICT) developments. How do you think Pakistan is managing the challenges and opportunities in this changing scenario?
There is a lot of awareness among the library and information professionals in this regard. University libraries are at the forefront of adopting the ICT infrastructure and services. The information and library professionals are upgrading their ICT skills and the curriculum has also incorporated the emerging technologies. Still, a lot needs to be accomplished in all kind of libraries, specifically college, school and public libraries. The ICT needs to be incorporated not as a vogue but in order to provide outreach knowledge services and 24/7 access beyond walls.
The big issues are lack of infrastructure and competent faculty in emerging areas such as digital archiving, research data management services, and information and knowledge management in a hybrid environment
In your opinion, what is the present scenario of Library Information Study programs in Pakistan and what are the basic issues regarding quality library and information studies education. Suggest some possible measures for quality assurance in this regard?
That’s a long question, but a pertinent one. Education programs have grown in quantity and quality compared to the past. The big issues are the lack of infrastructure and competent faculty in emerging areas, such as digital archiving, research data management services, information and knowledge management in a hybrid environment, and so on.However, the growth in international quality research has gone considerably up since 2005. The post-graduate research program started in 2005 at the Department of Information Management, University of the Punjab, is highly acclaimed in Pakistan. I headed that department for nine years and during that time all faculty got PhDs, and three got post-docs in the US. I have a record of producing 12 PhDs, and still supervising eight students. The department has had the highest number of publications in Impact Factor Journals in areas of social sciences. Nevertheless, universities need to focus more on producing quality graduates than on quantity. The consideration of mere quantity measures for allocation of grants and other facilities is not appropriate. It is affecting the quality. The education system lacks imparting social, communication and lifelong learning skills. They must be included in every subject.
According to Vision 2025 plan, the Pakistani government aims to improve Pakistan’s score on the World Bank Institute’s Knowledge Economy Index from 2.2 to 4.0. Why is it that we are lagging so far behind?
The score obviously will improve when we improve on those parameters of Knowledge Economy Index pillars: Economic Incentive and Institutional Regime, Education, Innovation, and Information and Communications Technologies. Nothing grows in isolation but in harmony with related parameters. Pakistan is struggling in all directions, from the war on peace to economic to educational reforms and many more challenges. Our focus on the aims, sound planning, sincere commitment, honesty, innovative mindset and facilitation in all directions can make us reach whatever realistic score we set for ourselves.
Prime Minister Imran Khan recently met founders and CEOs of both local and international tech giants to discuss digitization and technology transfer in the country. What is your take on this plan?
As I said, harmony of our people and systems with the innovative thinking, provision of the desired digital skills is a must. Digital literacy is far more important than it seems, otherwise implementation would bring more hurdles and chaos than efficiency and effectiveness in performance.
What are your expectations from current government? Do you think they can bring “Real Tabdeeli” in education sector?
It depends how one defines Tabdeeli. There are many great things about Pakistan as a country which we must cherish and love. As a nation, we have grown into a complicated society with several dichotomies at national, economic, religious, socio-cultural and political level. At the individual level, we don’t practice those good deeds which we expect from our fellows. So, to bring Real Tabdeeli in a short span of time is quite hard. If we get delivered merely 30% of the promises we were made, I would like to call it a success of the PTI.