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UK's Higher Education | HEC debating contest

Loopholes in the UK's Higher Education sector
April 24: The bylaws of almost all UK universities are short of using the word 'shall' and they substitute it with the words 'will' and 'should'

For the purpose of education, the UK is divided into two halves: England (and Northern Ireland) and Scotland. Each of them has its own body that supervises quality assurance in its part of the higher education sector. For instance, in England (and Northern Ireland), the job is carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education while in Scotland it is the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).

In 2011, the UK government published a white paper, 'Students at the Heart of the System' to enhance quality assurance in higher education through the participation of students. In the light of this, the QAA is trying to find new ways of reviewing quality assurance in higher education to be implemented in the universities of England (and Northern Ireland) by September 2013. Similarly, in order to augment quality assurance at Scottish universities in the light of the Sinclair report, the SPSO issued its Model Complaints Handling Procedure (MCHP) for Higher Education in December 2012 to be adopted by all Scottish higher education institutes by September 2013. The UK government's white paper laid emphasis on the standardisation of criteria for assessing academic standards and the quality of the student learning experience at all universities and colleges; the Sinclair report recommended the adoption of a standardised MCHP in all Scottish universities and colleges.

Generally, the UK's every university is driven by two factors: first, how to meet its financial earning targets set for any given year, and second, how to improve its position on the universities' ranking table. Any incident of compromise on quality assurance affects adversely a university's ranking, and consequently, its financial targets. Though the standardisation of the assessment process and the standardisation of MCHP were long overdue, they share a common point: the emphasis of both is still on procedures. This is despite the fact that the cause of the compromise on quality assurance in the past used to be the universities' devising mechanisms to bypass the procedures but retaining their positions on any ranking table.

One of the ways to assure quality through procedures is by obtaining feedback from students. It is a common practice in the UK's universities that teachers (lecturers and professors) and graduate or post-graduate school administrators influence students, especially overseas students, either to give positive feedback or to make oneself absent from the session meant for gathering feedback from them, whether or not the feedback is obtained at the university or the supra-university level (by the QAA or the SPSO).

The question is this: can an overseas student dare refuse any such 'request' made by a teacher or administrator? The answer is in the negative because the student is told that in case of noncompliance his/her supervisor will not issue a favourable letter of reference to help him/her forward his/her career in the future. It is difficult for an overseas student to turn down such a request because his/her stakes are higher than home students. In this way, the letter of reference has become a major blackmailing instrument in the hands of supervisors (and course administrators). The threat of writing adverse remarks in the letter of reference is used to silence those students who are vocal against the delivery of low quality education and research at the UK's universities. In this regard, both the QAA and the SPSO have failed to introduce any mechanism to know why a student is absent from the feedback session or why a student has not submitted the feedback at all, especially where the name of the student is mandatory to be mentioned. Secondly, both the QAA and the SPSO have failed to make it mandatory on all students including overseas students to submit their feedback. Thirdly, both the QAA and the SPSO have failed to determine the difference between representative feedback and non-representative feedback.

The second type of students' comments on quality assurance in the UK's higher education is through the complaints they lodge against the universities in the universities. Again, both the QAA and the SPSO lay emphasis on the procedure of complaints adopted by the UK's universities. Complaints and their procedures are described in the bylaws of the UK's universities. Interestingly, in the bylaws of one university, one provision (law) is present while in the bylaws of another university another provision (law) is present. For instance, in the bylaws of several UK universities (without naming any university), the word 'complaint' has not been defined or if it is defined the word 'compensation' has been omitted. Similarly, certain universities do mention the term 'appropriate and reasonable compensation' in their bylaws but do not explain the meaning of that term. Likewise, the bylaws of almost all UK universities are short of using the word 'shall' and they substitute it with the words 'will' and 'should'. The absence of key terms prohibits students, especially overseas students, from filing a complaint and reporting their grievances. Again, the procedure is ineffective in assuring quality in the UK's higher education sector. In this regard, both the QAA and the SPSO have failed to focus on the standardisation of the bylaws of the UK's universities. Secondly, both the QAA and the SPSO have failed to notice the absence of key terms from the bylaws of the UK's universities.

At this juncture, the concern of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan should be whether the degree obtained by an overseas Pakistani student from even any top ranking UK university is the same (not by its name or caption but) in quality that the HEC had thought it would be?

There are other loopholes in the UK's higher education sector, which have not been mentioned here owing to the limitation of words. If the British Council (which speaks on behalf of the British High Commission) considers it appropriate, the challenge of debate given to it by this writer on the topic on April 10 this year is still open.

Dr Qaisar Rashid (The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at Daily times

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Universities gear up for HEC's 15th debating contest
Islamabad: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) will organise 15th National Inter University Debate Contest for the Allama Iqbal Shield on April 24.

About 30 contestants from public and private sector higher education institutions from all over the country are participating.

Dr Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Information Technology and Education & Training will be the chief guest on the occasion, said a news release issued here on Monday.

HEC chairperson, Dr Javaid Laghari and HEC executive director, Prof Dr Mukhtar Ahmed will also speak on the occasion.

The Higher Education Commission has been successfully organising All Pakistan Inter-University Debate Contest for many years.

The aim is to enhance communication skills and understanding abilities of the students.

The contest is first organised at the universities level wherein students from all the departments and constituted colleges take part.

Second round is organised at regional level in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Rawalpindi (for Federal, AJK, FATA/Gilgit-Baltistan Universities).

The final round is organised at HEC Islamabad where top scoring teams (consisting of two students) and one individual top scoring student (other than the team) is selected for the second round of English and Urdu debates.

The winners of first, second and third positions at final round both in English and Urdu debates are awarded Cash Prizes.

The Allama Iqbal Shield is also awarded to each winning university on the basis of highest cumulative score in English and Urdu debates.

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Punjab University wins inter-university drama competition
Islamabad: Punjab University on Monday secured first position in the inter-university drama competition organised by Preston University. Preston University organised the event as part of its ongoing Spring Splash 2013, said a press release here.

The Institute of Space Studies (IST), Islamabad was awarded second position, third position in the drama competition was awarded to the team of Preston University, Islamabad. Quaid-e-Azam University, Air University, Islamabad, Punjab University, Lahore, University of Peshawar, Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad, Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi and Preston University, Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore campuses participated in the competition. Shakil Imran Badar, eminent media consultant, coordinator and producer was the chief guest on the occasion. Shakil Badar profoundly eulogised the acting prowess of the young students who participated in the competition. He particularly lauded the brilliant performances of the students of the winning teams of Punjab University, Institute of Space Studies and Preston University.

Chancellor Preston University, Dr. Abdul Basit also immensely appreciated the extraordinary talent of the students who performed in the drama competition. Dr. Abdul Basit heartily congratulated the winners and distributed prizes among the first, second and third position holders.

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PU holds inter-university singing competition
Islamabad: Preston University (PU), Islamabad organised an inter-university "Singing Competition at Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai Auditorium on Tuesday as part of 'Spring Splash 2013'.

The competition was split into two categories male and female. University of Peshawar, Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad, and Preston University Islamabad and Karachi participated in the female competition. Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, University of Peshawar, Federal Urdu University, Islamabad, Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad, and Preston University, Islamabad, Kohat and Lahore campuses participated in the male category of singing competition.

In the female category, Nosheen Qayyum of PU, Islamabad beat her competitors from other universities out by her brilliant singing skills. app

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Interim govt issues notification for formation of HEC Task Force
Islamabad: Notification of the Higher Education Commission (HEC)'s Task Force by the interim government can be a big step forward in further defining the role of the HEC for safeguarding development of higher education and research in Pakistan and in the provinces parallel to the national strategic interests and global competitive levels.

The views were shared by HEC Chairperson Dr. Javaid R Laghari in an exclusive talk with 'The News'. He said that if the Task Force is notified during interim set-up, the HEC would be able to start the consultative process and do the homework before the new government takes the charge.

The task force titled 'Task Force on Higher Education and Research 2012' was a consultative forum formed in the year 2011 to review HEC Act 2002 in the post 18th Amendment constitutional scenario based on analysis of HEC performance and achievements since its establishment (2002-12), observance of global trends, requirements of national development and, wide-ranging consultations with the provinces and the stakeholders.

The task force in view of the 18th Amendment was assigned to put forward its recommendations to the Prime Ministers' High Powered Committee for structure, autonomy and role of the HEC that will safeguard development of higher education and research in Pakistan and in the provinces parallel to the national strategic interests and global competitive levels and in full compliance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

It was formed by the high-powered committee constituted by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to resolve the post devolution issues of various ministries and divisions including the HEC.

The high-powered committee comprised the then federal minister for religious affairs Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah, federal minister for communications Dr. Arbab Alamgir Khan, federal minister for science and technology Mir Changez Khan Jamali, federal minister for inter- provincial coordination Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, secretary establishment division, secretary cabinet division, secretary finance division, secretary planning and development division and secretary inter provincial coordination division.

The first meeting of the high-powered committee was held on October 27, 2011 in which, among other agenda items, the post devolution role of Higher Education Commission (HEC) was discussed.

Dr. Javaid R Laghari, chairperson who represented HEC in the meeting briefed the committee on the formation and the functions of the HEC, and its performance over the last 10 years.

Dr. Laghari stated that the Implementation Commission had recommended amendments in the Higher Education Ordinance, 2002, aimed at retention of eight functions of the HEC. He stressed upon the importance of the role of Higher Education Commission in the promotion of higher education in the country. His assertion was that the above-proposed changes would render the HEC ineffective.

He suggested that before any restructuring was undertaken, there is a need to study models in other countries like Malaysia, India, Turkey, etc. He also suggested that there was a requirement to revisit the Higher Education Ordinance, 2002, and after an independent study through a task force decide which function to continue and which functions to devolve.

Upon his proposal, the high powered committee decided that 'The Higher Education Commission may suggest a national committee of experts which shall constitute the task force. This task force shall submit its recommendations to be placed before the high powered committee and subsequently submitted to the prime minister and the cabinet.'

Accordingly, the composition and Terms of Reference for the Task Force were discussed in 25th and 26th meetings of the Commission (the 18-member Governing Body of HEC) held on March 8, 2012 and May 3, 2012. The commission, after detailed deliberations, proposed TORs and composition of the Task Force on Higher Education and Research.

The task force had representation form HEC, public sector universities, provincial governments, business community, parliament, planning division, finance division, educationists and scholars and economists.

The task force on Higher Education and Research had to make recommendations to Prime Minister's High Powered Committee on the status, structure, and level of autonomy of the federal HEC and the proposed provincial HECs so that new legislations in uniformity can take place at the Federal and Provincial levels.

The task force had to finalise and present its recommendation within a period not exceeding six months of notification of the Task Force by the Prime Minister's High Powered Committee.

Laghari said that amendments can only be made after consultation with the national and provincial legislators. "The notification of Task Force at this stage will give time to the HEC for preparation and homework for the consultative process."

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Research institute discusses collaboration with UVAS
Lahore: University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) Lahore and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) discussed possibilities of collaboration in research, training and value chain activities for the development of livestock sector.

According to a press release issued on Monday, a two-member ILRI delegation, comprising its Agricultural Economist Mils Teufel and Regional Project Coordinator Sri Lanka Prof MNM Ibrahim, called on Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Talat Naseer Pasha and discussed areas of collaboration between the two institutes. Dean Animal Production Technology Prof Dr Muhmmad Abdullah, Prof Dr Nasim Ahmad and UVAS Business Incubation Centre Director Dr Arshad H Hashmi were also present.

Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Talat Naseer Pasha briefed the delegation on academic, research, extension and advisory services of UVAS. He said that UVAS was actively involved in development-oriented applied research and other activities besides imparting education and training to students, professionals, paraprofessionals and farmers. He said that university was running Rs 355. 68 million research projects which university faculty had won from national and international funding agencies.

Prof Pasha told the delegation that UVAS had the largest DNA bank of different species of animals while University Diagnostic Laboratory conducted the highest number of ISO-certified conventional and molecular diagnostic tests for livestock and poultry.

UVAS Quality Operation Lab was also producing vaccines by using local strains against foot and mouth disease and hemorrhagic septicemia, which was quite effective in both diseases at the same time, he said, adding that UVAS 24/7 Extension Service was providing services to farmers on their doorsteps around the clock.

The delegation members said the ILRI was working on improving food security and reducing poverty in developing countries through research for better and more sustainable use of livestock. They desired collaboration with UVAS in research, training and value chain activities in livestock sector. The news

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