Dr. Shaukat Ali Khattak
Revelation of recent results of Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking 2020, announced on September 10, 2020, where Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM), Mardan, stood first nationally, at 510th position worldwide and at 200th in Citation World Ranking, took breath of many away. This is a monumental progress as few years back, according to the University Rankings carried out by Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan, for the year 2014, it was ranked 12th in Pakistan and 2nd in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Similarly, in the last year, earning 21 projects under the National Research Program for Universities (NRPU) for the year of 2017-18, AWKUM got Ist position in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and 15th all over Pakistan.
Since AWKUM had been in news for dejected reasons such as mismanagement, illegal appointments, massive layoff of workforce, financial crisis and lynching of Mashal Khan, a student of its Department of Journalism, by a mob of his fellow students, for instance, its name flashing as a first-rated university on TV screens and making to the headlines of newspapers made many skeptical to believe in.
Let’s have a closer look into some of the facts about the ranking system and the journey AWKUM has made so far. In the list of more than 1500 universities across 93 countries, only 17 Pakistani universities took part in the recent ranking: those who hadn’t applied for the ranking are out of the list. Persuaded by Dr. Khurshid Khan, its former Vice Chancellor, AWKUM has participated for the first time in such international ranking.
Measuring a university’s performance across various areas such as research, international outlook, teaching and knowledge transfer, 13 carefully-calibrated performance indicators have established the ranking. Although, there are a number of parameters used for the purpose such as citations, number of publications, teachers-to-students ratio and teachers’ qualifications, the first one, citations, i.e., how many times a published research paper has been cited as a reference, and, hence, describing its quality, outweighed all others.
Universities across the world are ranked, periodically, by different organizations such as QS World University Ranking and THE World University Ranking, two well-known universities ranking bodies. These rankings help guide the students while selecting their next alma mater for their higher education. Thanks to these rankings, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Stanford University and the likes are known as top universities of the world, i.e., otherwise one would have been clueless about the list of reputed universities.
How did AWKUM make to such a position in an international ranking? Established in 2009, by the then provincial government of Awami National Party (ANP), AWKUM grew horizontally on its onset with many campuses in various districts of KP: Swabi, Chrarsadda, Buner, Timergera, Pabbi and Chitral, in addition to three campuses in Mardan. Some of its sub-campuses have evolved now into independent universities such as University of Swabi, Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, and University of Buner, while others still exist, led by its central campus, the Garden, with an area of 2000 kanals.
Thanks to its founding Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ihsan Ali, a famous archeologist, AWKUM started growing vertically, after its horizontal growth, as he appointed numerous PhD degree holders and sent a significant number of existing faculty members abroad for their doctoral studies under the Faculty Development Program. AWKUM, despite being in its infancy, has a vibrant faculty that has established collaborations with international research groups of high prestige and the research papers it published have widely been cited. This placed AWKUM at a commendable position in the list of the competing universities.
There has been a dearth of basic infrastructures due to the discontinued financial support by the previous provincial government that halted the developmental work on incomplete buildings, whereas cutting-edge research requires well-established laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. It is not hard to imagine, had the AWKUM been backed sufficiently by the government, it would have taken over more international universities and been in a much better position in the ranking.
During the outbreak of contagious Covid-19, which brought all educational activities to a standstill all over the world, AWKUM sponsored more than 4000 online courses encompassing numerous disciplines from Coursera, a US-based leading platform for online courses, under the Coursera for Campus program for its faculty, students and staff. A course costs, otherwise, $49. Thousands of students and staff of AWKUM registered in the program and enrolled in and completed wide-ranged courses.
AWKUM is revered for its indigenously-developed Learning Management System (LMS), where students are taught online, study materials uploaded, assignment and quizzes taken and attendance of the students recorded. More than 9000 students registered in the LMS and the system will be continued and updated further in due course. In the same line, AWKUM has successfully conducted its entrance tests for M.Phil. and Ph.D. programs online which brought more ease to the applicants. The tests were checked digitally in an automated way.
With around 200 PhDs, where more than 70 % have earned their doctorate degrees from prestigious universities of the developed world and others from the leading national universities while a few of them, Prof. Dr. Gul Rooh, Chairman, Department of Physics, for instance, have patented their potential inventions, AWKUM has been growing exponentially. It has also provided two Vice Chancellors to other universities of the province: Prof. Dr. Aurangzeb Khan, the incumbent Vice Chancellor of University of Lakki Marwat and Prof. Dr. Khanzadi Fatima Khattak, the former Vice Chancellor of Women University Swabi. With its vibrant and talented faculty, it is very much likely that AWKUM will sustain and improve its position in a ranking conducted by any agency in the years to come.
With that said, one of my students innocently posed a query, ‘what did this good position in the ranking bring good to the students?’ He kept stating that students have been deprived of clean drinking water, proper sanitations facilities, working fans and illuminated and ventilated classrooms despite paying high tuition fees. Feeling sympathy for the student as well as holding his concerns legitimate, I argued that universities are financially strained as more than 70 percent expenditure is borne by themselves. AWKUM is no exception, needless to say.
The government needs to spend more on educational institutions in general and on universities in particular as there is a huge potential in its academicians to bring a good name to the country as well as boost its economy up.