Starting with a population of about 35 million in 1947, the estimated population of Pakistan in 2012 was around 180 million. Out of this, the rough estimate of the university going cohort (ages 18 to 25) is about estimated to be around 25 million.
Higher Education is generally recognized as education beyond 12 years of schooling. The enrolment in the higher education sector in Pakistan is barely 6% of the above age group. In absolute numbers, the enrolment is quite large but when the size of the age cohort is looked at, we find that a large number of students never get to higher education.
In a globalized world, science and technology is the determining factor for whether a country can provide a high level of living. Obviously, Pakistan has a lot of youth in the age group who can benefit from higher education.
In the last few years, Pakistan has shown considerable progress in the higher education sector. There are now almost 150 universities both in the public and private sectors in the country. The government has also accelerated its spending on the university sector. Many initiatives have been introduced to improve higher education. Standards have been set by the Higher Education Commission and accrediting bodies have been established to ensure a uniform and quality education in both public and private universities. While considerable progress is visible, a lot still needs to be done, both in terms of expanding the enrolment and improving the quality to meet the international standards.
In the future, the financing of higher education is going to be a serious issue as the limited funds earmarked for education are likely to be pre-empted by the higher education sector being better organized and more vocal than the lower level of education. Under these circumstances, the private sector in higher education should be encouraged to play a more dynamic role to cater for the large number of young people of the higher education age group.
One of the major issues is as to how to ensure equity in private sector universities. Since the private sector universities do not receive any direct assistance from the government, they have to exist only on the fees and other earnings or donations. To meet this situation, the private sector universities must create Endowment Funds for needy students.
The cost of higher education in Pakistan is much lower than the cost in other countries. For instance, an average private sector university is offering a 4 years accredited Engineering Degree programme for around $ 4,000. If the law and order situation in the country were to improve, a lot of foreign students would come to Pakistan for their higher education at very reasonable costs. The other advantage of the higher education system in Pakistan is that the medium of instruction is English. At the same time, the highly qualified teachers coming back with Doctorate Degrees from advanced countries are also helping produce local teachers with Ph.D. Degrees. This trend will further serve to improve the standards of higher education in Pakistan.
Gender equity has been a cause of great debate and anxiety among the policy makers in Pakistan. The number of female students now completing the 12 years of education which will entitle them to admissions in the institutions of higher learning, is now almost at par with the males. With this continuing trend, the disparity in admissions into institutions of higher learning will also disappear.
The higher education sector in Pakistan presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the country. If properly organized it has the potential of equipping the nation with the high technical and scientific knowledge necessary for its progress in the 21st Century.
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