Higher education plays a vital role in economic and social development and its importance is increasing day by day, and this will certainly continue in the future. Higher education is considered as a pivotal point when it comes to the practical application of knowledge in the modern world. It is an institution which contributes to the economic growth and development by nurturing innovation and increasing higher skills. Therefore, it improves the standard of living and the quality of life. UNESCO says “its social role provides the link between the intellectual and educational role of universities on one hand and the development of society on the other”.
In this day and age, higher education is indispensable for economic development as well as social well-being because these two are deeply interrelated. This is evident from the fact that the countries with the highest percentage of higher education degrees like Canada, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, USA and UK have the highest standard of living.
Higher education is vital for a sound and stable economy in a number of ways, amongst which the most prominent ones are:
Generating a superior labor force
Modern universities offer up-to-date programs that are specially designed for preparing the students for different economic sectors. They fashion the programs in a way to make a difference for labor market outcomes and keep pace with changes in the global economy and changes in the innovation process. This helps the students to stay and progress in the labor market for long.
Assisting business and industry
Over the last decade, business has changed a lot due to the technological advancement. There are a lot of jobs today that were not existent in the past. The requirements on employee’s skills have also changed. Higher education institutions try their best to assure the relevance of their knowledge, identify skills gaps, create special programs and build the right skills that can help countries improve economic prosperity.
Providing research and technological progress
Higher education is the key catalyst of technological progress. One of the purposes of the modern universities is finding innovative solutions to big challenges and conducting research within global priority areas. Often it is aimed at designing technologies that result in new products and supplying advanced technology for use.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has no ranking among the world higher education systems when it comes to quality. The quality of higher education depends on various factors such as favorable environment for teaching and learning, infrastructure, teachers, curriculum, effective feedback, research opportunities and administrative systems
Pakistan’s higher education system is afflicted with multifaceted problems. These problems comprise population boom, deficiency of resources, scarcity of qualified manpower, inconsistency in the policies of various governments, political instability, inefficient educational management system, wastage of resources, poor quality of intake, organizational inefficiency, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate student services, derisory material resources, non-accountability of institutions, ineptitude in teaching, poor research and lack of research opportunities and poor implementation of policies and programs. Colleges and universities are experiencing a high rate student enrolment and the number institutions has also increased rapidly. The demands of higher education have thus increased drastically. Despite quality control and consolidation, these problems will continue to grow constantly for a long time to come due to the proliferation of enrolments (the figure is projected to escalate by 2.9 percent to 1.8 million during the year 2018-19).
The fact that education is not a priority unto the government can be substantiated by the budgetary allocations. The Education budget has been reduced by 20.5% In the federal budget. The government has designated Rs. 77.262 billion for education affairs and services, against the revised allocation of Rs. 97.155b for the current fiscal year, showing a decrease of around 20.5%. Also, despite its claims of furthering the cause of higher education in the country, the government made a sweeping cut of 40% in the funding for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in the current fiscal year. Pakistan’s expenditure on education as percentage to GDP was estimated at 2.4% in fiscal year 2018-19, which was the lowest in the region. And for fiscal year 2019-20, allocations for the sector have further been lowered.
Pakistan cannot progress economically and socially until its higher education system is qualitatively strong enough. The poor quality is resulting in low employability (the ability to gain and maintain an employment), low performance of the specialized individuals, and lack of innovative and creative ideas. These are the rudiments of success and progress in the contemporary world.
On the whole, there is a need to increase the adaptive capacity and quality of the higher education system so that it is more responsive to the changing world and meets the diversified needs of economy— both domestic and global. To achieve this goal, diversification of higher education system in Pakistan must be pursued. It can be attained by having an appropriate combination of public and private, formal and non-formal institutions. Special initiatives should be undertaken to enhance employability. Curriculum and content must be constantly renewed by the authorities and skill development network must be set up. Data regarding job market trends must be collected, analyzed and disseminated. Problems mentioned above need to be dealt with and resolved, but this can only be done with strong willpower, determination and willingness to change.