University rankings in a quandary


Ranking of universities in Pakistan may be studied, observed or analyzed through a variety of perspectives: First, the set, standard or stereotype notions. Secondly, the criteria based on individual or institutional interest or inclination. Thirdly, a logical, revealing and challenging approach to university, rankings or ratings. Whatever, the modus operandi in ratings of institutions, the fact remains that it affects or influences the mindsets and feelings of the public in terms of student registration, quality of education, standard of lifestyles and socio-economic conditions of a nation.
The set and standard criteria is based on rating institutions on the number of highly qualified and labeled, especially the ceremoniously accredited PhD Faculty, which, barring exceptions, have been more attuned to PR and promotional activities rather than academic or research excellence, resulting in social, economic and technological stagnation and reflective of a dim, dull and dreary developmental perspective of a nation. Unless logic prevails the tendency to evaluate institutions of higher learning is generally based on the numerical strength of the highly qualified rather than assessing whether the latter serves the specific purpose of higher education and research. In other words, they would count on the PhDs, no matter those are Pak Studies or Literature PhDs in a business school! Sometimes institutions earn higher ratings on the basis of number of Ph.Ds they advertise without the fact being realized that such faculty is not on regular payroll and that it is merely visiting for an hour or two in a week.
Among the set and standard criteria of ranking universities may be the infrastructure or facilities the glamorous institutions tend to depict indeed. It is quite another thing that sometimes within all the glamour is merely routine catering faculty, fun seeking spoiled child of the opulent, money minting proprietorship and brand worshipping trends. The net result is indicative not just in the sugarcoated PR values of our rosy corporate sector but the pathetic condition of the country’s masses and the deteriorating national economy. Included in the set and standard criteria of assessing universities for ratings is the quick formation of opinion based on such students and teachers interviews who complain more out of frustration or vengeance on being penalized for their own failures or shortcomings. As such, ratings may basically and largely be influenced there and then by whatever the institution presents on face value as well as on crafty paperwork prepared for and presented on the occasion.
The fact remains that inspectors and evaluators of universities for rankings or ratings are themselves part and parcel of the same system. This criteria is characterized less by such education that’s attuned to blending our value system, objective conditions and contemporary demands. It is largely influenced by a wild goose chase or the rat race for colonially entrenched psyche reflective of ego, bureaucracy and sycophancy. Such terms as ‘trendy, contemporary, modern’ so fashionably linked to education are, in fact, so beautifully mixed up with illusion or fantasy. This leads to mass production of graduates without pertinent vision and practical value towards specific social and technological transformation.
The litmus test of our educational gurus reflect in their being bewitched or bewildered by too ambitious a criteria in vying for international standards. However, there is hardly any evaluation on such human factors as creativity, character and commitment in what is called quality education.
Many educational evaluators and inspectors, who, despite being academic, research and professional celebrities, are attuned to or acclimatized with such commonalties as personal ego, whims and fancies, likes and dislikes which tend to influence if not mar rating or ranking of institutions. On the one hand, individual inclinations on rating institutions may be affected by evaluators’ prevalent state of mind or mood, good or bad, depending on the personal, social, financial and emotional factors. On the other, institutional interests compel institutions to cover discrepancies and shortcomings through overwhelming hospitality: VIP welcome, luscious lunch, captivating gifts and showers of praise for the evaluators. What was meant to be professional evaluation and inspection towards educational excellence of institutions may gradually turn out to be a conspiracy of silence in Public Relations towards non-tangible benefits of both the evaluator or inspector and the evaluated or inspected.
A logical, revealing and challenging approach to the inspection and evaluation of institutions of higher education and research as regard their ratings or rankings towards educational and professional credibility would depend on the emotional maturity, sincerity of purpose, penetrative thinking and level of commitment of the evaluators or inspectors themselves over and above ego, self-interests and personal likes and dislikes. The entire system of evaluation needs to be embodied in a broader framework of checks and balances or accountability and the whole process of inspection calls for such fool proof monitoring, reporting, briefing and debriefing beyond the set, standard and stereotype formalities to a more efficient and effective strategy that positively and harmoniously influence the quality content in what is called higher education and research.
Such quality content in higher education and research is the secret of success of civilized societies that we merely emulate through lip-service. Unless and until the results of inspection and evaluation of education and research are not seen in the quality of life of a people in terms of social, economic and technological advancement and in such disciplines as social, environmental, biological, medical, physical or pure sciences, which is in fact, such hallmarks of civilized societies that we merely continue to cherish in principle, any ritualistic exercise in inspection and evaluation of education shall continue to be the same exercise in futility that we have been undergoing for well over six decades as a nation. What would remain of paramount significance is our illustrious intelligentsia, Ph.D prodigies and educational gurus learning, devising and experiencing such positive, pertinent and practical aspects of what we call international standards that are not only in consonance with our value system but also cater to contemporary trends and demands in the same able, noble, humble and gentle reputation expected of them.
The benchmark rests with the creative potential blending student, faculty, management, public or national interest into pertinent course outlines. That means transforming immobilization to innovation in arts, humanities and social sciences and in science and technology with IT oriented overtones. Research and Development must suit our objective conditions in fields pertaining to arts, sports, culture, travel, business industry, shipping, aviation, banking, insurance, trade, commerce, science, technology, education, health, environment, law, civic and community development. Education and training need to focus on demonstrating or inculcating tolerance, ‘give and take’ and learning to co-exist with conflicting viewpoints. Education is supposed to be a suitable blend of devising and developing image, crises, conflict, time and priorities management skills indeed. If such practical idealism is upheld by our worthy educational inspectors, sky shall remain the limit in individual and institutional excellence.

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