Advances in engineering education in Pakistan — II

Published: May 18, 2011
The writer is a former federal minister of science and technology and a former chairman of the Higher Education Commission

The writer is a former federal minister of science and technology and a former chairman of the Higher Education Commission

We embarked on an ambitious plan to set up seven world-class foreign universities, all in the engineering sciences, in collaboration with Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, China and Korea.

In each case, we formed a strong consortium of the top engineering universities of each country. We went for this approach, rather than collaborating with single universities in each country, because the single, most important aspect of the programme was getting high quality faculty from foreign universities. This would have been difficult for the foreign universities to manage alone, but the burden was made much easier since many universities joined hands to provide faculty.

An incorrect impression, that the projects were too expensive, was created. In actual fact, the cost of each university was only seven per cent higher than the standard cost of setting up a normal engineering university within Pakistan. The only difference was the salaries of the foreign faculty members, which increased the project costs by the said amount. However, against this extra seven per cent we were getting high standards, curriculum, faculty, examinations and degrees! Pakistani students would, thus, have been able to get high-quality education from foreign universities and exactly the same foreign degrees without, ever, going abroad. This needs to be understood with the background that Pakistani parents spend around Rs90 billion per year sending their children abroad, so the programme would have led to a huge amount of national savings and the investment on the four universities initially approved, would have been recovered within three years!

Each of these universities was divided into two parts — one part was for education and research, while the other part was a technology park. The technology park was indeed the heart of each university. It was agreed that we would judge the success of these universities, not just from the PhD output or international publications but from international patents granted, as well as from the new products developed and commercialised. A great deal of effort was made in approaching the foreign companies abroad to convince them to establish R & D centres within the technology parks of these foreign universities. The argument that succeeded in convincing the multinational companies to set up these centres was a very convincing one — the graduates produced by the Pakistan-German university, for example, would have passed the examinations of the German partner university and thus, would be identical in standard to students passing the same examination in Germany. They would, however, be able to hire the Pakistani engineers at lower costs for the technology parks than similar personnel available in Germany.

Another argument used was a demographic one — with ageing populations and the young not opting for careers in engineering, many of these advanced countries are faced with a huge challenge, especially with countries such as China and India advancing rapidly and offering serious competition. This has led to Siemens, Eriksson and many other companies agreeing to establish their R & D Centres in foreign universities (Pakistan does not have a single international R & D Centre presently).

We did not go out looking for loans from foreign agencies as it has been proved, over and over again, that the West does not wish to promote engineering, science or technology development in any major way. This is because it does not want Pakistan to become another Korea, offering high technology products which compete with those sold by the West. Strength in engineering is also considered as a double-edged sword as it also provides us with strength in manufacturing defence equipment. The aid that has been forthcoming for Pakistan from USA, Europe, or Japan has therefore, been largely for primary education. We, thus, decided to establish the new foreign engineering universities with our own funds. We also envisioned the establishment of seven new engineering universities, rather than one or two, as it was strongly felt that in order to make a national impact, a critical mass of high quality engineers and technology parks could change the destiny of Pakistan. Social science programmes were built into the curricula of each university.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Indian USA
    May 18, 2011 - 10:28PM

    This person seems reasonable man.I don’t understand why some people were angry with him in earlier post.Recommend

  • Cautious
    May 18, 2011 - 11:06PM

    Interesting article – but I would suspect many/most would agree that while the idea/ideals are admirable they are not well grounded in reality. Recommend

  • Hafiz
    May 18, 2011 - 11:14PM

    I understand the effort made by very respectable Dr Atta ur rahman in the field of science and technology in Pakistan,, but unfortunately the new govt has kicked out all his projects and even wants to remove HEC…I do not understand what is their agenda against higher education in Pakistan whether they want it or not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please do continue your efforts to collaborate with these countries and universities if you can or possible for you.. I heard that you have joined the University of Karachi,, I wish you good luck and pray for your efforts….Allah bless and help you…. Recommend

  • Shahid Saeed
    May 18, 2011 - 11:44PM

    Did you just play the yahoodi saazish card for HEC’s failure to woo other countries into establishing [even more] subject-only engineering universities?

    I hope you remember that Cambridge, where you went to, was not a narrow focused, subject only, university. It had a wider focus, like universities should be, and provided students with the opportunity to explore fields of study. Engineering universities retard social, political and ideological growth through their isolationist, robotic programmes (remember, no university today offers relaxed engineering programmes where students can chart their way, rather it’s a precharted subject list for them).

    In your 2nd last oped, you called on the Army Chief. In the last one you forgot to mention the “special” treatment that your dear child COMSATS gets from the Federal Government and now you fail to even mention that none of these ambitious, flawed projects failed to materialize.

    Three must be a limit to narcissistic self glorification. I guess jhanday wali gaari was the sole product of this attitude too.Recommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos
    May 19, 2011 - 1:28AM

    Sir, how does someone with your calibre come up with: This is because it does not want Pakistan to become another Korea, offering high technology products which compete with those sold by the West. If that was indeed the case then why did they let South Korea become South Korea? At the start of the article your write about how all these same Western countries were going to help setup universities and then you write that they dont want to help us? Why is the West pumping money into education cities in Qatar or on the Malaysian-Singapore border? Do they dont want those nations to progress either?Recommend

  • kia
    May 19, 2011 - 2:06AM

    Nothing happen about the universities after you left Sir..!! I hope these projects would become reality, But no hope from our dear politicians..!!! Thanks for doing such a good work…!!Recommend

  • Ayesha
    May 19, 2011 - 4:23AM

    Technology is the backbone of any community. It is the engineers that change the fate of a community..These were engineers who gave society the shape it has..from light bulbs to microwave ovens..from automobiles to space shuttles! given our conditions, at this moment we need technology to combat our energy crisis. We need proper planning and infrastructure. With climate change and global warming, agriculture is no longer a reliable industry. It is crucial for us to embrace the new wave of technology and upgrade ourselves as a nation!
    I am glad much thought is given to planning and producing of engineers and I am immensely proud of the fact that we do not have beggars bowl in our hand this time, but determination and and self reliance!
    Best of lucks! Recommend

  • Muhammad
    May 19, 2011 - 6:50AM

    Fully endorse the views of Shahid SaeedRecommend

  • White Russian
    May 19, 2011 - 7:29AM

    Do not tell us how delicious the pudding is. Please tell us where is the pudding? Give us the endless oil money of Saudi Arabia, and we shall have a King Abdullah University in every city every year. Only cause of failure of this highly ambitious project is lack of financial viability. Where is the economy which can support such multi-billion project? At the moment we have to face circular debt, and our government is paying its daily bills by cutting down electricity >14 hours a day. Thank You.

    The 90 Billion supposedly spent by Pakistanis on foreign education, comes from the pockets which never pay a single dollar in taxes, and they are the reason that our finances are such a mess. And they are the reason your beautiful project had to be aborted.

    It would be better to venture again in private sector by making some kind of arrangement which diverts privately spent 90 billions to this project. Or convince the armed forces for patronage, who have got everything this country can offer. Recommend

  • Zafar Hussain
    May 19, 2011 - 7:52AM

    Sorry dr. sb, even the best engineer of the world is of no use if his skills are not exploited in industry, creating thousands of jobless engineers is no good for anyone, I am myself a victim of HEC’s policy of producing engineers without creating opportunities for them, I am an Agricultural Engineer from University of Agriculture Faisalabad and like my other fellows, I find all the doors closed! What should unemployed engineers do??? Chant slogans in the favor of HEC????

    Another traditions created by HEC is the race of research papers, Being a student of a public sector university, I know that teachers have no interest in classes, they have another job called “Preparing my Research Paper”, how one can claim that engineering education can be improved by avoiding classes and publish research papers only??? Recommend

  • sunny
    May 19, 2011 - 9:25AM

    How indifferent the world is to Pakistan in North, I can measure the extent of it in Stockholm.But we can make them to think in respectful way by only the way Mr Attur Rahman suggest in 2002.I urge the Present Govt please keep continue with the Attaur Rahman Policies.The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led the world into the future for 150 years with scientific innovations. Its brainwaves keep the US a superpower. But what makes the university such a fertile ground for brilliant ideas?
    Us educa…nionest fears the US is increasingly suffering from what they calls a deficit of ambition. While 85% of MIT students are studying science and engineering, in the US as a whole the proportion is just 15%. That leaves the world’s creative powerhouse vulnerable. “If you travel to Asia, to Shanghai or Bangalore, you feel the pulse of people racing to a future they are going to invent. You feel that rarely any more in the US.”
    For example I mentioned the example of one potential gradute from MIT here his name is Merril,,,Merrill is already planning the start-up he wants to set up when he graduates in a year’s time. He has an idea for a new type of contact lens that would augment reality by allowing consumers to see additional visual information. He is fearful that he might be just too late in taking his concept to market, as he has heard that a Silicon Valley firm is already developing similar technology. As such, he might become one of many MIT graduates who go on to form companies that fail.

    Alternatively, he might become one of those who go on to succeed, in spectacular fashion. And there are many of them. A survey of living MIT alumni found that they have formed 25,800 companies, employing more than three million people including about a quarter of the workforce of Silicon Valley. Those firms between them generate global revenues of about $1.9tn (£1.2tn) a year. If MIT was a country, it would have the 11th highest GDP of any nation in the world
    “If you come up with a brilliant idea, that’s OK. If you win a Nobel prize for your research, that’s fine. But if you take that idea and apply it and make something transformative happen, then in MIT that’s deeply admired.”
    MIT delights in taking brilliant minds in vastly diverse disciplines and flinging them together. You can see that in its sparkling new David Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, which brings scientists, engineers and clinicians under one roof. Or in its Energy Initiative, which acts as a bridge for MIT’s combined firepower across all its five schools, channelling huge resources into the search for a solution to global warming. It works to improve the efficiency of existing energy sources, including nuclear power as it has its own nuclear reactor, a lesser-known fact that MIT prefers not to brag about. It is also forging ahead with alternative energies from solar to wind and geothermal, and has recently developed the use of viruses to synthesise batteries that could prove crucial in the advancement of electric cars.
    And in the words of Nom Chomsky what he said about MIT……Chomsky said, that it’s a revealing paradox that he, as a leading critic of the US’s overweening military might, has been based, since the 1950s, at an institution that was centrally involved in erecting the burgeoning military-industrial complex he so incisively opposes. After all, MIT has long been a leader in military research and development, receiving huge sums in grants from the Pentagon. It was core to America’s prosecution of the cold war, developing ever more sophisticated guidance systems for ballistic missiles trained on Moscow.

    “What people don’t understand is that the role of the Pentagon,” Chomsky says, “to a large extent was developing the technology of the future. There were some odd things about it. This building was also one of the centres of the antiwar resistance, and it was right in there, 100% funded by the Pentagon. But they didn’t care.”
    My name is Hamad I am doing Master in Theoretical physics from KTH university Swede.I wish if we not just read this also understand this too. I am happy By Mr Ataaur Rahman.He did good Job for Pakistan. Lets help him to turn his new universities project into reality. It is the ultimate way to prograss. Other wise how many talk show and debats we arange none is come good. We must realise there is not shorcut to go for place of worth. Dont waste time lets work with Great man Mr Ataur Rahman… my email id is

  • Pankaj
    May 19, 2011 - 10:28AM

    Our Prime minister Indira Gandhi once said that

    “Nations are known for what they can DO and MAKE and NOT for what they can GET from other countries”

    In India SELF RELIANCE was our policy from the very beginning .

    So we invested in technical education and industrial development

    India has a very strong industrial base today .this is because of good policies

    After 1947 the Western countries were quite liberal with technical aid to developing countries like India and South Korea

    But after 1980 when the industrial base of developing countries had become mature the technical aid stopped

    Even Though India faced a foreign exchange crisis in 1991; it was because wrong ECONOMIC policies

    Our private sector till 1991 was shackled by the red tape ; yet our industrial base had become mature by 1991

    So Indian economy just took off when the right economic policies were adopted

    The work done in Industrial development and technical education and SELF Reliance from 1947 to 1991 did not go waste ;in fact it laid the foundation for our rapid economic growth

    It actually HELPED India to achieve high rates of economic growth after 1991Recommend

  • Ali
    May 19, 2011 - 12:29PM

    To the earlier poster who deplored engineering only universities being set up.
    There are numerous posters on the opinion pages educated in subjects such as political sciences or international relations in reputable American universities.
    All they seem to do is write articles eulogising Bhutto or Sharif. These people pass themselves of as doctors or politicians.
    If this is the caliber of graduates from these subjects, we are better of without them.Recommend

  • optimist
    May 19, 2011 - 3:10PM

    Doctor Atta Sb
    Please don’t waste your energies. We
    have a very POOR SELF IMAGE.

    We are not willing to accept that something good ever happened!!!Recommend

  • optimist
    May 19, 2011 - 3:18PM

    @ Indian USA

    The reason people are angry are two: First, people are suspicious of anything new and Secondly,
    there is some professional jealousy that is shown while hiding behind
    fake ids!!!!!!!Recommend

  • Engineer
    May 19, 2011 - 6:20PM

    I wish i can play my part in the change .Recommend

  • ali
    May 20, 2011 - 5:26PM

    major contribution must be done in it sectorsRecommend

  • Shah
    May 20, 2011 - 5:44PM

    i have full conciousness about the fact that a man like Dr. ATTA must be given the respect he must have.And there is no reaason for getting angry at himRecommend

  • muhammed yasir
    May 20, 2011 - 5:52PM

    I have earlier read mr Atta’s article and i thought what this man was talking.But now i have a different aspect at his thought and i expect a second article from himRecommend

  • imran
    May 20, 2011 - 6:12PM

    What people don’t understand is that the role of the PentagonRecommend

  • myra ajmal
    May 20, 2011 - 10:52PM

    i cant see wats the problem of people angry about articles


  • BruteForce
    May 21, 2011 - 10:03AM

    As long as more people go to Madrassas in Pakistan than Private schools things are not going to improve much.Recommend

  • Ali
    May 21, 2011 - 10:20AM

    Even Though India faced a foreign exchange crisis in 1991; it was because wrong ECONOMIC policies
    i completely disagrees with this statementRecommend

  • Jableel
    May 21, 2011 - 10:38AM

    alert(“we need to be more warey of us”)Recommend

  • Jun 2, 2011 - 11:51AM

    Unfortunatly in this time there is no Minister for eductaion in Pakistan which shows the performance and objectives of this govt .I request to Pro Dr Atta ur rehman to go and met with HEC staff ,Parliment members and also with opposition leader and after that make a commetti to show this project and all MOU to Prime Minister and the student , and teachers organization should to support this commette INSHALLAH very soon we can get this chance again Recommend

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