Dr Huma Baqai

10th Jul, 2022. 10:15 am

Academic leadership and education 4.0

Great leaders are not the best at everything. They find people who are best at different things and get them all on the same team

Eileen Bistrisky

As per IGI Global, an academic leader is a person who motivates academics in university (Rector-Vice Rector), faculty (Dean) or department (departmental head) and provide challenging opportunities as well as creates appropriate academic environment for academics to improve themselves. Tangible evidence supports the undeniable effect of education on economic growth and development. The impactful growth of higher education depends not only on high profile academics, but also how they are led.

The leaders of higher education institutions are called “academic leaders”, largely to create a distinction from corporate leadership and for good reason, as academic leaders have more responsibilities than business leaders. Their collective success or failure affects the future of the countries and the fabric of the society. This is one field where mistaking activity for achievement can have disastrous results. John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States said, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” It is truer of an academic leader than perhaps for the president of the United States.

Afsaneh Nahavandi, Professor of Management and former chair of the leadership department, at the University of San Diego said “Leadership is a group phenomenon; without followers, there won’t be a leader. Secondly, leadership is goal-directed; there should be a common goal, and the leader should guide and motivate others to reach this goal and lastly the presence of leaders, supposes the hierarchy within a group; in this hierarchy, leaders are not just at the top, but also at the forefront.”


Academic communities have a unique culture, distinctive practices and beliefs. The leader of this community plays a critical leadership role in not just leading, but conveying the values and ethos that the institution inculcates in academic grooming and responsibilities in general, and on teaching, in particular.

The literature on academic leadership is scant; it is largely confined to administrative aspects. It rarely explores the impact of leadership on institutional culture and its subsequent impact on economies and social fabrics of societies. It is an exercise shared by people at all levels. It is about administration, but not administration only, it is also about being a renowned pioneer in their respective disciplines and to be recognized by peers as a lead. The National Education Policy 2017-2025, has identified excellence in leadership, governance, and management of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as a key strategy and priority of higher education. The academic leadership in Pakistan needs to graduate from being line managers to visionary leaders with both vertical and horizontal reform plans. Leadership should not happen by default as a function of seniority, but by design, post evaluating capacity to lead, having experience of serving in positions of leadership, exposure to financial management, formal trainings for the role, international exposure, and the will to lead not just manage.

On a macro level, top leadership should consciously not indulge in micromanagement, but work towards institution building for smooth enactment and efficiency. Never compromise on academic autonomy and academic freedoms while maintaining the delicate balance of transparency, responsibility, and accountability.

Pakistan’s education system is structurally flawed at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. We cannot keep experimenting with education paradigms after 70 years of existence. The band aid strategies put in place to address issues are now collapsing. They are both deep-rooted and have remained unaddressed for the longest of time. It is high time that education becomes a priority because now it is a survival issue for the state of Pakistan in hardcore economic terms. Resource crunch is definitely an issue, but more importantly, it is the lack of indigenous vision, borrowed strategy, and copycat phenomena that continue to haunt our thinking process impeding the growth of homegrown, responsive, and out of the box solutions.

There seems to be a lack of focus and continuity on how to improve the whole paradigm of education in Pakistan. The HEC Vision 2025 that brings together a coalition of partners for planning projects, increasing enrolments, improving rankings, and enabling universities to produce quality research and job-ready graduates has no operational strategy in place. If anything, the strategies are flawed. Making the higher education system more productive, impactful, and globally competitive will require reforms across the board and a change in the mindset of policy makers, who are able to see the missing link between economic growth, progress, development, and education in Pakistan. Education is an investment and not an expense. If Pakistan needs any emergency imposed, its education emergency.

A popular buzzword among educationists and academic leaders today is ‘Education 4.0’. The world is currently undergoing a rapid digital transformation, and there is an urgency for educational systems to adapt. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inefficiencies of education systems around the world and same is the case for Pakistan. However, this situation has also sped up the digital transformation of educational institutes, making them better prepared to support Education 4.0. For those not familiar with the term, its name originates from the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 in short.


By introducing the concept of Education 4.0 we can merge the current state of education with digital tools for developing newly aligned educational goals. Adopting education 4.0 will play the role of teaching students the necessary digital skills by introducing innovation in our higher education system. In order for Pakistani universities to produce successful graduates, they must prepare their students for a world where new cyber-physical systems are prevalent across all industries. This would mean teaching students about technology as part of the curriculum, changing the approach to learning altogether, and utilizing technology to better improve the university experience.

The process of digitization and virtualization in education is encouraging, inspiring, motivating, and can potentially help address the broad challenges of our higher education system. Introduction of smart and intelligent educational tools and resources should allow students to develop expertise, adequate knowledge, and skills to unleash their innovative prospective. Digitalized education can help improve the country’s GDP, labour markets, health, and financing sectors. For keeping up with the changing world, one has to revisit the traditional educational paradigms with a futuristic approach.

We have to introduce reforms that embrace the ideas of quality, performance, impact, innovation, digitization, and accountability. While focusing on this strategy, hopefully we will be able to implement a process of developing critically needed human capital that is both ethically committed, professionally competent, and ambitious for reforming higher education and building a knowledge economy in Pakistan. Are our academic leaders at all levels, but more importantly at higher education level prepared to meet this very daunting challenge?


The writer is Rector MiTE