Rethinking Higher Education In Pakistan: Bridging The Gap Between Knowledge And Employability

Public universities in Pakistan should focus on imparting graduates with practical skills, and instilling the value of lifelong learning. Greater funding towards R&D is also needed to resolve systemic deficiencies in the country's higher education system.

Rethinking Higher Education In Pakistan: Bridging The Gap Between Knowledge And Employability

In an era where knowledge is increasingly seen as a commodity readily accessible at the click of a button, universities play a pivotal role in shaping students for an uncertain future. This role has never been more crucial, especially in the context of the majority of universities in Pakistan. Higher education institutions have long promised to be the gateway to expertise in chosen fields, but it's high time we ask ourselves a pressing question. Are universities truly delivering on their promise, or are they falling short, much like our government often does?

As an undergraduate student, I've encountered a prevalent issue: a heavy emphasis on theoretical knowledge over practical skills. Take, for example, my experience as an economics student grappling with the complexities of regression analysis on a software. The fundamental issue here is whether universities adequately equip students with the practical skills demanded by the workforce. While theoretical knowledge undeniably holds value, its real-world application often proves challenging. Theoretical foundations must be complemented by hands-on experiences, internships, software proficiency, and opportunities for real-world problem-solving. 

Graduates should not find themselves trapped between the realms of theory and practice; instead, they should possess the versatile skill set needed to tackle complex issues at a professional level. Are universities providing us with the up-to-date skills and knowledge required in this rapidly advancing world? The concept of lifelong learning is gaining prominence, and it's crucial for universities to adapt accordingly. New industries and technologies continually emerge, necessitating a constant update of curricula to meet market demands. 

Universities should encourage the growth of students in their careers and instill the value of lifelong learning. In a world plagued by economic, political, and environmental uncertainties, universities must foster critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Graduates may need to pivot their careers or confront unexpected challenges, and universities should prepare them for the dynamism they will need to demonstrate in their professional lives. 

Universities are not merely places of education; they are also hubs of research and innovation. Government funding should support research initiatives that drive technological advancement and economic growth. In 2020, Pakistan allocated 0.26% of its GDP to research and development, highlighting the potential for increased investment in research and innovation. In the context of Pakistan, where conditions can be challenging, it is imperative for academia, policymakers, and industry to collaborate closely. Graduates exposed to cutting-edge research can bring innovative solutions to both the government and job market, thereby benefiting the entire economy. 

The relationship between universities and the economy is undeniably influenced by economic conditions. Economic recessions can limit job availability, regardless of how well universities prepare graduates. Consequently, the skills possessed by graduates can significantly impact technological change. 

Government-funded universities should serve as valuable assets to the economy, contingent on factors such as program alignment with economic needs, research and innovation, workforce development, and the accountability of both universities and the government. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report ranks Pakistan 118th out of 140 countries in terms of the quality of its education system, emphasizing the need for improved alignment with economic needs. Continuous collaboration among academia, government policymakers, and industry stakeholders is essential to ensure that higher education plays a meaningful role in the economy, rather than merely functioning as a business. This collaborative effort is not only vital for the prosperity of individuals but also for the progress of the nation as a whole, and it is particularly pertinent to the context of universities in Pakistan. 

Aleeha Ghazanfar is an intern at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Lahore