Some 200 heads of universities from 39 member countries of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) agreed to bring about governance reforms in higher education and increase the number of women university leaders, during a meeting in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad on 12 June.
The vice-chancellors forum on “Higher Education in the Islamic World” was jointly organised by the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the Federation of Universities of the Islamic World and Islamabad’s COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT), which hosted the event.
Khalid Yousef Hussein Alomari, president of Jerash University in Jordon, told University World News: “Our meeting felt the need to increase women’s leadership in Islamic world universities and so we recommended offering training programmes and scholarships to train women as leaders in higher education.”
The proposal came from a session moderated by Professor Najma Najam, vice-chancellor of Pakistan’s Karakoram International University, who told the meeting: “Women are grossly under-represented in higher education top management, and decision- and policy-making bodies.
“Is the membership of research evaluating boards, funding organisations and even journal committees gender equated?”
She later told University World News: “Women’s enrolment in Islamic world universities is increasing but sadly their proportional representation in university leadership is negligible. OIC universities should have at least 40% females in top university positions.”
Javaid Laghari, chair of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission – which supported the forum – told University World News that although it had themes including innovation, knowledge management and quality assurance, the fourth university governance theme was the most important as the others “depend upon how universities are governed”.
The meeting also took serious note of growing unemployment among university graduates. The leaders stressed the need to promote an entrepreneurship culture to create more graduate jobs. They agreed to enhance applied research, increase university-industry linkages and establish knowledge-based economies.
“To achieve these goals we have agreed to establish incubation centres and technology parks, in order to push technologies from research labs to the market,” said Professor Abder Rahman Tenkoul, president of Morocco’s Ibn Tofail University.
Mourad Ezzine, education sector manager (Middle East and North Africa) for the World Bank in Washington, said: “In the wake of the Arab Spring, youth unemployment rates in the MENA region have shot higher than in any other part of the world.
“Young people are demanding better opportunities to study and work, putting universities and other higher education institutions under huge pressure to close the gap between the skills demanded by labour markets and those that higher education graduates are acquiring.
“This is a good time to revisit the university governance question,” Ezzine said
The vice-chancellors forum agreed to emulate best practices from the private sector, set up research teams of young students and faculty, and make alumni part of university governing bodies.
CIIT Rector Junaid Zaidi told University World News that some decisions of the meeting – such as establishing networks and mutual linkages and exchange of students and faculty – would be implemented quickly, whereas others required action by governments.
He said the meeting had recommended that links be developed between states, industry and higher education institutions.
Participating vice-chancellors called for higher education to be prioritised by governments, to ensure adequate funding from national budgets. Reforms could not be implemented without appropriate financial resources, they agreed.
The day before, the event was inaugurated by Asif Zardari, president of Pakistan. He told the vice-chancellors that the prosperous future of OIC nations was “tied to meaningful investments in science and technology-led higher education and human resource development”.