Academics slam controversial new university ranking

A new university ranking by Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission, announced on 23 February, has stirred controversy in academic circles. Many critics have rejected the criteria, declaring the ranking system faulty and contradictory to international standards and practices.

According to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) ranking, Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University tops 136 public and private sector institutions, followed by the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with Karachi’s Agha Khan University in third place.

Academics from the University of Karachi and the University of Peshawar have rejected the ranking, which does not place either institution in the top 10.

They have accused the HEC of tampering with the standard formula to favour some institutions and have demanded that their vice-chancellors formally convey their disapproval to HEC bosses.

Faculty members of Hyderabad’s Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences have even warned that they will take the matter to the court if the ranking is not revoked. They said in a statement on 29 February: “The HEC announced the rankings in haste and caused chaos in both public and private higher education institutions.”

Other universities have also reacted negatively to the this year’s HEC announcement, although its rankings last year did not draw any criticism.

The university standings in Pakistan were decided in line with the London-based QS World University Rankings. But HEC Chairman Javaid Laghari said the formula had been modified to suit local conditions. This added weight to the criticisms of academics.

“Yes, we made some amendments to the basic QS rankings criteria based on feedback and study of local higher education conditions,” Laghari told University World News. “But it was not aimed at favouring any institution.

“The HEC does not derive any benefit from ranking.”

But Professor Abdul Nabi, vice-chancellor of Quetta’s Balochistan University, said: “We strongly reject the recent ranking by the HEC, which aims to please few people and has jeopardised the entire higher education system in the country.

“There are many faults in the yardstick the HEC has used to determine the standing of universities and one of the many is that they have given more weight to the number of students than to research output,” Nabi told University World News.

“This issue is not going to die down very soon as we are planning to raise the matter at the appropriate level.”

Haris Shoaib, secretary of the Karachi university teachers’ association, told University World News: “How is it possible that the QS world ranking itself has ranked Karachi University at 601+ position in the world and the same method used here does not place it even in the top 10 universities?”

There are many flaws in the modification of the QS ranking method, critics have claimed.

For instance, there should not have been marks given for using HEC research grants as there are many academics at universities performing research without financial support from the HEC, said Peshawar University’s Vice-Chancellor Qibla Ayaz.

“Similarly, the number of journals is not a standard criterion as many journals by different universities do not match international standards,” he told University World News.

The HEC allotted 60 marks for quality assurance, 18 for quality assurance implementation, 42 for teaching quality and 40 marks for research.

But academics have argued that the HEC has not taken into account the differences between research universities and teaching universities, and has mapped institutions’ performances in the latest ranking using a yardstick that is fundamentally flawed.