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Public sector Medical Universities must wake up before it is too late

Failure to attract and retain talent, production of new knowledge, poor quality of research and publications, failure to generate resources & too much dependence on Govt. funding are major hindrance in their progress and development Vice Chancellors and faculty must be selected on merit that has no conflict of
interest and total loyalty to the institution

ISLAMABAD: Most of the public sector medical universities are currently faced with numerous problems and if they do not wake up before it is too late, they will be left far behind and in the days to come may have to be dependent on private sector medical universities who are making good progress and also have very ambitious expansion plans in the future. It is extremely important that the Vice Chancellors as well as faculty must be selected on merit; they should have no conflict of interest and must have total loyalty to their institution.

Most of these universities were upgraded from medical colleges but in many cases they continue to function as medical college for various reasons. At times posts of Vice Chancellors remain vacant and are not filled in time waiting for the highest bidders or to accommodate some favorites of politicians or others in the power corridor. Sometime acting charge is given and sometime when the selection is not made on merit, it leads to court cases and unending legal battle. Hence sometimes those who get selected are all the time busy in saving their chairs hence cannot give full attention which leads to delayed decision making which seriously affects their functioning, and the further development of these institutions is retarded. Some of the important problems which these public sector medical universities are facing include failure to attract and retain talent, failure to generate their own resources and too much dependence on government funding. In some cases even important posts like Registrar, Pro Vice Chancellors, and Controller of Examinations are not filled on permanent basis in some institutions.

Universities are supposed to generate new knowledge but unfortunately here too these institutions are lacking. Poor quality of research and publications, extremely poor quality and standard of the journals most of these institutions publish, their failure to attract research grants from overseas has also contributed to their poor performance. Yet another important factor is the lack of proper infrastructure, full time essential minimum staff including the Editor or Managing Editor of the Journals which has not helped either. Most often one of the faculty members is given the additional responsibility of being the editor of the journals without any financial incentives. These faculty members who are already overburdened as their responsibilities include teaching, training, research, patient care and to some extent some administration cannot be expected to do justice as editing a good quality peer review journal is a full time job. A faculty member can monitor and supervise provided they are given minimum essential human resource and adequate funding to publish a quality journal.

During these days of inflation, the faculty members with meager remuneration are forced to pay more attention to private practice, hence other functions suffer. Revising their salary package, giving them some enhanced incentives and at the same time introducing annual academic audit for all the departments, units, individual faculty should be introduced. Further promotion should be linked to their H Index and not number of publications alone. Every medical university must publish their annual academic audit report which will reflect their functioning and academic output. In the long run these institutions cannot survive on self created social media hype of praising each other.

It will also be a good idea to opt for open merit selection for the post of Vice Chancellors which might attract some talented medical personalities from overseas with good academic links and connections. They can then establish linkage of these universities with medical universities, centers of excellence overseas, attract some research grants from overseas donors, financial institutions. Exchange programme of faculty and postgraduates with these foreign universities and initiating joint collaborative research projects with medical universities, centers of excellence overseas will go a long way in enhancing their image. Competent talented faculty can start numerous new programmes thus generating their own resources reducing their total dependence on government funding which is likely to reduce further in the days to come as the governments will be under too much pressure to spend more on primary health care and prevention of diseases.

On the contrary, private medical universities continue to make good progress and they attract most of the research grants not only from within the country but also overseas and they then use public hospitals data to complete their research projects. Most of these public sector medical universities have so far failed to take maximum advantage of tremendous developments in information technology and have not yet equipped themselves with Electronic Health Record System which is vital for research and publications despite the fact that these institutions, public hospitals are goldmine of useful data.

Among the public sector medical universities, Dow University of Health Sciences is making good progress. Thanks to its founding Vice Chancellor Prof. Masood Hameed who utilizing his political contacts, with the help of then Sindh Governor Dr. Ishrtul Ibad Khan managed to receive record funding from HEC for its expansion and development, started many new institutions, medical and dental colleges affiliated with DUHS besides establishing a state of the art Referral Diagnostic Laboratory with numerous collection centers in the city, established most modern Radiology Institute equipped with CT Scan, MRI and other costly precious equipment and instruments which is helping university generate lot of funds and is successfully competing with Aga Khan University Laboratory, Shaukat Khanum Laboratory and providing most reliable cost effective diagnostic facilities. Prof.Saeed Qureshi the present Vice Chancellor continued this good work and DUHS has recently started producing Rabies vaccine. Jinnah Sindh Medical Univesity has also established a Laboratory with a few collection centers but why medical universities particularly in Punjab like KEMU, FJMU, RMU, Nishtar and Faisalabad Medical University besides Khyber Medical University in KPK have failed to initiate such funds generating projects needs critical analysis.

In the private sector, apart from Aga Khan University, University of Lahore has made amazing progress during the last decade and has now emerged as one of the largest university in the country enrolling over forty thousand students in various disciplines and offers numerous courses which helps it generate more funding. It has already established its leadership role in the field of medical education. Superior University and Rifah International University which all have established affiliated medical schools, campuses overseas are also making good progress.

Availability of funding, quick and timely decision making, attracting talented faculty, making further investment particularly in human resource are some of the reasons for their success which are lacking in most public sector universities where even change of government or Vice Chancellor results in changes all around. Hence there are no long term sustainable development plans and even if some projects are initiated, they get stuck up due to red tap, bureaucratic hindrances since these universities do not enjoy real autonomy which is essential. Hence, at times the administration also gets fed up, frustrated, they also lose interest and are content with day to day working on adhoc basis. Change does not wait for any one and if the present state of affairs persists, these institutions will suffer and will be left far behind, it is feared.

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