Separating myth from reality
With the expansion of higher education across the globe we have seen a sudden spurt in the ranking phenomenon. A whole new regime of ranking organisations has come into existing, using different criteria for ranking of the higher education institutions of universities. Some of these organisations use stringent criteria and rigorous methodology and mechanism to evaluate performance of the universities, while other only take into consideration a specific aspect. Similarly, some ranking organisations are more local in their outlook while others try to rank the universities across the globe and to provide data and information to help facilitate the international mobility of the student population.
Although in North America there has been a practice of evaluating performance of the institute of higher education in the region, particularly since early eighties, but the first international ranking was carried out by China based Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2003 and is known as The Academic Ranking of World Universities’ (ARWU). The second international ranking was by Times Higher Education (THE) published in 2004, in response or reaction to ARWU.
The third international ranking was carried out by a multinational company Quacquarelli-Symonds, headquartered in London, England, which originally provided the data for the ranking, but subsequently started its own publication known as QS World Ranking. As a matter of fact THE and QS ranking are the most valued and widely accepted by the academic world. Other rankings are either local, regional or are as much recognised as the above three. For example, Holland based Leiden Ranking selects only 500 universities around the world based on its own criteria. Similarly, the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities launched in 2004 by Cybernetics Laboratory of the National Research Council of Spain takes into consideration the Web Impact Factor for ranking.
There have been claims by different universities in Pakistan regarding their top position in Pakistan or prominent position in the world or Asia. Such claims are not only far from reality but tantamount to a deliberate attempt on part of the universities to deceive the general public, stakeholders and decision makers to meet their personal ends. For example, a few years ago one university issued a statement to the media claiming its tenth position in the world. The HEC, feeling proud of the achievement, tried to collect detailed information when it surfaced that the claim was totally baseless. Similarly, another university specialising in a particular discipline claimed its visibility among world universities. On investigation by the HEC it was revealed that the university was mentioned in a particular list as being the only university worth mentioning in Pakistan pertaining to the particular discipline and having nothing to do with any kind of ranking.
Recently, another large public sector university in Punjab has claimed itself amongst the top ten universities in South Asia and being first in Pakistan. Without prejudice to any institution or personality, the purpose of this article to dispel myths and depict a clear picture of universities’ performance for the benefit of the general public. Firstly, the position of that university is not tenth, rather 24th, in South Asia and undoubtedly first in Pakistan. Secondly, such kind of ranking which is called “Ranking Web of Universities” has nothing to do with the quality, rather is based on the volume, visibility and impact of the institutions on the web without considering the number of accesses or the navigability of sites as an indicator of the performance of the institutions.
The key factors influencing the quality of higher education are the quality of faculty, curriculum standards, available technological infrastructure, research environment, accreditation regime and the administrative policies and procedures adopted by the institutions of higher learning. Despite the fact that HEC has invested a lot of money and energy in improving the infrastructure and faculty development of universities but the same has not resulted in safeguarding the quality of teaching and learning in HE institutions. Results of competitive examinations held by the Federal and Punjab Public Service Commission and annual reports prepared by these bodies speak volumes about the quality of teaching and learning in HEIs in the country.
Referring back to the ranking, none of the universities in Pakistan has been included among the top 500 universities by QS ranking. The only one university that was in the list in 2011-2014 has been relegated to a lower position. The largest and the oldest university of the country, the University of the Punjab, unfortunately could not find its place in that list.
However, in Asian ranking done by the same organisation but using slightly different criteria, ten universities from Pakistan have been included in a list of 300 universities. Name and position of these universities in Asian ranking is given in the table.
It can be seen that the first five universities included in the list have improved their position from the previous ranking, UET, Lahore and the University of Karachi could not retain their positions of 2013. University of the Punjab, which is the largest university in terms of faculty, tradition and history, has not been able to improve its ranking from 2013. The second most relevant indicator is the research publications by the universities. Recently collected data for the 3rd Vice Chancellor’s Forum “Universities in the Islamic World: Facing Global Challenges (Islamabad, 2015)” shows that in 2014 COMSAT published 3534 papers, while QAU and University of the Punjab published 2,015 and 3,012 papers respectively. It is relevant to see what faculty strength each university has. COMSAT has 757 faculty members on its payroll while QAU and University of the Punjab have 483 and 1,109 respectively. Thus, per faculty publication by these top publishing universities come out to be 4.66 by COMSAT, 4.17 by QAU and 2.17 by the PU faculty. However, when research papers published by the PU faculty in ISI indexed journals are counted, a very dismal picture emerges. About 600 research papers were published by more than 1,100 faculty members of PU, resulting in less than half a paper per member.
Last but not least, most of the research produced by the University of the Punjab falls into four categories: Physics and allied fields, Chemistry (multidisciplinary), Zoology and Plant sciences. Very little contribution into the field of social sciences and very negligible in the area of arts and humanities has been noticed over a period of the last decade or so. Keeping in view the history, infrastructure, available financial resources, faculty strength and strategic location in a culture reach and most attractive city of Punjab, contribution of the Punjab University to the field of education, research and scholarship is far from satisfactory.