In support of a multilevel university system

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The author is a technical advisor to MoFEPT. The opinions are his.

The seeds of the California public university system – as it is today – were sown in 1960, with the California Master Plan. The plan aimed to combine exceptional quality with broad access to post-secondary education.

Like Pakistan today, before that, its colleges and universities operated in isolation and in competition with each other. The plan introduced a framework which created a three-tier system in which institutions at different levels were given different responsibilities.

Initially at least, according to the plan, the first eighth of high school graduates would be guaranteed a place on a campus in the University of California (UC) system. The top third could enter the California State University (CalState) system. Community colleges would serve all other students.

Only schools in the UC system were given the task of conducting research and organizing master’s and doctoral programs. Schools in the CalState system could offer master’s programs but would award doctorates jointly with UC. Community college graduates enrolled in associate bachelor’s programs would have the option of transferring to a CalState or UC school to continue their path to a four-year bachelor’s program if they were qualified.

As a result, for the past few decades, the state of California has arguably been home to one of the best, if not the best, public university systems, not only in the United States but in the world. California’s economy, the world’s fifth-largest and home to the tech hubs of Silicon Valley, SIlicon Beach, and San Diego, and many of the world’s top universities, is a testament to the success of its master plan.

Meanwhile, here at her home in a big city, “A” University has managed to recruit (and retain) faculty members trained in some of the best universities in the world. Whenever there is a call for proposals, the agencies issuing the call must find creative ways to maintain a facade of fairness, lest A University and others like it gut them all. Its graduates are so sought after that many employers have written or unwritten rules for only hiring from A University and a few others like it. Over the years, its graduates have developed an alumni network that spans the globe, meaning that between zero and five years after graduation, they can find themselves working anywhere in the world. the world, if they wish. Their reputation has enabled them to build pipelines to graduate schools at some of the world’s top universities, as the names of its professors appear in research papers published in respected conferences and journals in their fields.

In another corner of the country, ‘Z’ University faces its own challenges. He is struggling to find enough qualified teachers ready to settle in a rural area of ​​the country. He’s trying to get his masters and doctoral programs off the ground, but is challenged by the small number of graduate students. Faculty members can put graduate students to work, publish and produce research papers which are the academic motto that allows professors to be promoted. University A and University Z both have their own challenges, albeit different.

A few years ago, both were given the same goals, were asked to meet the same KPIs, and were assessed against the same criteria. Does this make sense?

In 2017, HEC developed an ambitious and forward-looking plan called HEC Vision 2025. Among its many elements was the introduction of a framework for classifying postsecondary institutes into three levels, namely levels I, II and III. .

Level I institutes, also known as research universities, are the highest seat of learning and must attract the best and brightest faculty and students from across the country. They have been given a mission that resembles that of UC under the California Blueprint – “to be global centers of transdisciplinary scholarship and collaborative discovery of foundational and applied knowledge to develop solutions to real-life challenges.” . In this way, Level I universities serve as centers for building critical masses of excellence.

Level II universities address the issue of access to higher education, providing “qualified masses in various disciplines and professions to prepare creative, competent and accredited specialists to meet the multiple service needs of society”.

Level III consists of affiliated colleges connected to Level I or II universities and offers two-year post-secondary programs, now referred to as associate bachelor’s programs.

The original plan was that these Tier I universities were supposed to have around 30, or about 15 percent of Pakistan’s 200 universities. Obviously, given the differences between the missions of institutes belonging to different levels, those in level I can expect to receive more resources (per student) than those in levels II and III.

It is also important to understand that this multi-level framework is not a ranking, it is a classification based on differences in objectives. Being at Level I does not make a university inherently ‘better’ than all universities in Levels II and III – it just means that it pursues different goals.

When ranking institutes, HEC took a liberal approach and left university leaders to decide for themselves what level they wanted their respective institute to fit into. HEC also developed a basic, clerical, qualification criterion for level membership, which was found to be so lenient that most institutes could justify level I membership. This approach is to let each institute decide. for itself its place could only work if everyone was prepared to make an honest and realistic self-assessment.

Indeed, it was hardly enough to make a declaration to belong to one level or another. Whether it was a misunderstanding of level classification as a meta-classification or a fear of squeezing budgets, most universities have rushed to declare themselves Level I universities.

In the absence of more concrete preconditions, such as the allocation of inputs / resources and the commitments of results / deliverables (the definition of which is a challenge in itself), becoming a Level I institution requires little more than to wish.

The grouping of universities by level will put an end to the obligation for all colleges and universities to fit into the mold of research universities. Not all students who go to college want to get a PhD (or even a Masters / Masters) and a research career. We’ve tried that, and the result has been doctoral programs across the country. Forcing universities to do research, spending on labs, equipment and other resources can lead to financial waste and even mismanagement. This means using student-focused metrics, rather than research-related productivity metrics, for colleges and universities (professors). Last week I published a detailed editorial in these pages (“Transparency Matters”, The News, September 19) which explains in detail what these measures should be.

When universities with the necessary talents, both faculty and students, capable of conducting research are tasked with generating knowledge, the allocation of resources can be targeted where it will do the most good, rather than focusing on them. sprinkle in all universities to ensure a measure of ‘justice’. Loading only the subset of universities that have the necessary critical mass of research talent means that the long-standing problem of promotion criteria can be resolved, by creating a promotion criterion for level I institutions. carrying out teaching and research activities other than levels II and II. III institutions that focus only on education.

In the long run, this arrangement will allow new institutions to be added at any level required by the economy. HEC Vision 2025 had the right idea by creating a tiered framework for higher education institutions, but it needs to be fine-tuned for effective implementation. Steps taken to address faculty issues, quality issues, and financial management issues address the symptoms of this deeper issue, but have limited effect on long-standing issues.

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