Search for ‘science’ in industrial policies

Published: February 14, 2018
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The writer is a public policy adviser and research fellow having interest in public-sector governance, cities and entrepreneurship. He tweets @navift

The writer is a public policy adviser and research fellow having interest in public-sector governance, cities and entrepreneurship. He tweets @navift

In the first decade of this century, Dani Rodrik, a famous Harvard economist, published a paper titled Industrial Policy for the Twenty-First Century. Astonishingly, the word science was not mentioned once in the paper. The author failed to recognise the importance of science for promoting industrial competitiveness. Why should we be concerned? Simply because policymakers and economists of developing countries blindly follow prescriptions coming from academics of Ivy League universities. Consultants and academics continue to share the 10 principles mentioned in the paper as policy prescription for developing countries.

I have also witnessed citation of this paper by both leading academics of Pakistan and international consultants from faraway lands, during policymaking meetings and forums. I would like to share how and why this myopic perspective about industrial policies has affected the thought process in Pakistan and what are the ways to address this issue.

A comprehensive industrial policy for Pakistan does not exist at the moment. However, various policy documents in other domains contribute towards the goal of industrial competitiveness in the country. For example, I reviewed the Strategic Policy Trade Framework 2015-18 by the commerce ministry. It should not be a surprise that the word science does not appear in this document (except appearance in the name of science and technology ministry). Currently, there is much hype about CPEC. The long-term plan document uploaded by the Planning Commission does not mention science even a single time, despite the fact that China itself is now heavily focusing on science to take its economy to the next level.

At the moment, global auto industry is much into electric and driverless cars and innovative modernisations of the era. It is not only happening in the US and Europe, but also in stalwart nations in the developing world, China and India. I searched the Automotive Development Policy 2016-21 accessed from the website of the ministry of industries and production. No such concept exists, even not as a distant dream mentioned in the policy.

Indeed, the world is developing its industrial strategies by focusing on discoveries/inventions in space technologies, biotechnology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, pharmaceutics, artificial intelligence, renewables and brain sciences, among others. However, we are still stuck in the century-old paradigm of managing fiscal and monetary imbalances in the country without giving due attention to science in our industrial, economic and development policies.

I am not merely interested to see the word science in such policy documents. The purpose of my search for the word in the documents was to understand the degree of priority we give to it in our planning processes. There are many words such as technology, innovation, knowledge economy and competitiveness but policymakers and economists have little understanding that science is a prerequisite to many of such goals.

Some may argue that countries like Pakistan do not have sufficient resources to invest in science. This is not true. Whatever little we are investing in science, is actually being wasted due to a lack of scientific culture and a non-conducive-incentive-structure. Indeed, we rarely pose a question of value for money to the agencies spending on scientific endeavours. There are many Pakistani scientists who have reached high echelons in academics and research in different parts of the world, but we are unable to utilise their advice, not because of the lack of resources but due to the lack of openness to new knowledge and being non-cognisant of the importance of science. Some economists may argue that we first need to focus on macroeconomic stabilisation, education and health, among others, before moving towards science. Such sequencing only exists in the minds and models of economists! The real world is much complex and it requires simultaneous response on many fronts.

Governments mostly invite economists and international development professionals for devising policies on industrial development. There is no practice of engaging scientists in this process. Science and technology-related policies exist in parallel with industrial, trade and investment policies with a little integration among them. Secondly, our private sector is also not keen towards these new concepts. Nadeemul Haque, a well-known economist, often proclaims that our industrialists indeed operate like absentee landlords. They are not bothered about putting efforts to gain competitiveness as rent seeking and property speculation are their favourite modes to make profits.

Recently, the UK announced its industrial strategy and the main focus is on science. The word ‘science’ has appeared almost a hundred times in the strategy document. “We will build on our existing strengths, from cyber-security, machine learning, microelectronics design and composite compound chip technology to biotechnologies and life sciences such as genetics and cell therapies,” the document stated. Various universities in the UK have started adopting the US model of advancing and applying critical knowledge to enhance the UK’s industrial competitiveness.

How can we address the crises of the missing science in Pakistan’s industrial policies? First, we need to make it more interesting for children, for understanding the complexities of the universe and to have the passion to pursue it as a career. Second, scientists and young entrepreneurs should be engaged in the industrial and economic policies of the country. Third, there is a need to integrate industrial, trade, investment and science and technology policies.

Finally, political parties should include their vision in manifestos for integrating science with industrial policies in Pakistan. In two pieces in this newspaper titled, the tales of politics and science and the road to knowledge economy, I focused on the role of politicians and policymakers to promote the culture for science’s advancement in Pakistan. Dr Venki Ramakrishnan, a Nobel laureate and president of the UK Royal Society, has said in a piece published in the journal Nature “too many big companies have become too focused on short-term possibility at the expense of productivity. Governments must not make the same mistake.”

IGNITE, a national ICT R&D fund of the information technology and telecommunication ministry, has been awarding competitive grants to the private sector for developing and applying modern technologies which would prove beneficial in coming days. Other public-sector grant awarding institutions should also follow this model to focus on the fourth industrial revolution. The defence sector, in particular, needs to focus on science to match capabilities for the 21st-century defence and to generate spillovers towards civil technologies.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2018.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Banday
    Feb 14, 2018 - 10:11PM

    The author has rightly pointed out a potent gap in sustainable growth of the country. Scientific mindset nurtures in a tolerant environment for dissent. Unfortunately, where lynching in the name of religion prevails, security agencies picked dissenters unlawfully and mainstream media promotes pseudo science, the sustenance of broader critical thinking becomes a hazardous task. Recommend

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