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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Universities in Pakistan and the UK: a comparison

The following is a comparison of universities in Pakistan and the UK based on the views of Pakistani students studying at Master’s and PhD level in UK universities. The views came in response to two questions: “What makes the universities they are studying at, in the UK, better (if that actually is the case) as compared to the universities that they studied at in Pakistan?” and “What is the most important thing that they would like to take back and introduce in Pakistan?”

Two themes came out as a result of the analysis of responses of five PhD and two Master’s students. One, which seems obvious, was that a number of students mentioned the substantially better infrastructure in the UK universities such as better computer access, up-to-date and state-of-the-art library facilities and well-equipped laboratories. These are things that play a very significant role in the quality of education that they receive.

Better computer and Internet access results in faster communication between teachers and students on the one hand and on the other increases interaction among students besides keeping them abreast with the latest developments in their respective fields of study. A number of students pointed out the extremely central role of the library in a university and the significant role that it plays making research more viable and useful. One PhD student at the University of Leicester for instance mentioned the excellent state-of-the art library at the university. The library is not only a central source of up-to-date books and journals, it also serves as the nervous centre of the university with a Student Development Zone where all kinds of guidance and counselling and research seminars and training sessions are arranged for students by the university departments.

The library has facilities such as “silent zones”, “groups study rooms”, “post-graduate study centre” and computer labs besides automatic book issues and return facilities and access to countless journals and up-to-date online books from around the world.

Another student mentioned the excellent student support system that the university provides through the Student Welfare office. One student from another UK university mentioned numerous opportunities that her university provides to its students for sharing their knowledge and experiences in a friendly but competitive environment.

That the UK universities are far ahead in terms of infrastructural facility is obvious but the second theme is even more important. This theme highlights the attitude and professionalism of the professors and other staff of the universities and their admirably high level of commitment to the cause of education and research. A number of students expressed the view that both teaching and administrative staff at the UK universities show genuine commitment and professionalism in their work and in their dealings with students.

“Professors here do not waste their time in gossip. They are really committed and involved in research all the time,” points out Bashir Ahmad Memon, a PhD student at the University of Leicester.

“The best thing I would like to take with me back to Pakistan is the spirit and skill of research,” he adds.

Another important point raised by Humaira Iftekhar, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, is the premium that professors here place on a student’s real individual value and an absolute emphasis on merit and not on his or her “family background, wealth or contacts and political clout”. The things, she argues, are unfortunately considered of value instead of merit in some Pakistani universities. Moral support from professors and other university staff, an environment of overall student support and care, and “positive attitude towards everybody while being assertive at the same time” with conviction is what she appreciates the most in her university in the UK that she would like to bring back to Pakistan at the end of her PhD.

Timely, accurate and professional advice in terms of research progress and development are things that according to Muhammad Naeem, a PhD student at the University of Leicester, make his UK university stand out from the one he studied at in Pakistan. He also appreciates a “challenging but supportive” environment that his university provides him.

Amjad Ullah a Master’s student in Computer Sciences at the University of Leicester appreciates the research oriented activities for Bachelor and Master’s level students at his university in the UK. He argues that such is not the case in universities in Pakistan. A close link between the university and the work place or industry is what he appreciates the most in the UK. This, he thinks, establishes the university on a more purpose-oriented basis and the arrangement provides opportunities to students to get work experience before they embark on practical life after graduating from the university. The collaboration between the university and the industry is a concept that he wants to take back to Pakistan.

Finally, the thing that this writer, himself being a PhD student at a UK university, appreciates the most about educational environment here is the questioning culture. Here people do not take things for granted. Everything is being questioned. At the post-graduate level most educational activities are in the form of seminars, conferences and workshops where the dominant mode is exchange of ideas through questioning, discussions and dialogue. Even lecture sessions are mostly in the form of questions and answers. Research supervisors and professors often ask more questions from the research students rather than providing them with any answers. The aim is basically to let the students think for themselves and for them to come up with their own answers.

This reflects a philosophy of education which is really based on constructivism and where the professor does not consider himself or herself the source of all knowledge but works with the student in a two-way process of knowledge creation and development. This is the kind of attitude towards education that seems to be at the core of creative productivity and high quality of education at most of the UK universities and this is, besides others, the feature that universities in Pakistan need to adopt if we in fact want our universities to be real centres of knowledge creation and innovation.

The writer is studying for his PhD at the University of Leicester, UK

The article appeared in Dawn, Pakistan and is available at: http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/11/students-voice-a-comparative-glance-at-universities-in-pakistan-and-the-uk.html