Investing in science and engineering

Published: December 28, 2012
The writer is a former federal minister for science and technology and served as Chairman of the Higher Education Commission from 2002-08

The writer is a former federal minister for science and technology and served as Chairman of the Higher Education Commission from 2002-08

The real wealth of Pakistan lies in its youth. About 90 million people or roughly half the population is below the age of 18. This is a unique advantage as it offers a window of opportunity for progress. If we can re-prioritise our national development vision and programmes, we can unleash the huge creative potential that exists and march towards building a strong knowledge economy.

We need to train manpower and establish high value-added industries ranging from electronics to engineering goods, from pharmaceuticals to automobiles and from ship-building to new and intelligent materials. For this to happen, we need to invest in our schools, colleges and universities so that we can adequately prepare our young for the world of today and tomorrow — a world where truth has become stranger than fiction.

It is possible today to produce millions of plants in a small hall by using tissue culture technology. New types of intelligent bullets have been designed that can go around corners and shoot down enemies hiding behind walls. New materials — metamaterials — have been developed that can bend light around them, thereby making objects invisible. A fascinating experiment is under way in the south of France to produce energy by fusion of two isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium). The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is expected to cost about $20 billion and is designed to produce 500MW of energy from the input of 50MW. It is expected to be completed by 2020 and if successful, could change the way we produce electricity.

Many countries are investing massively in universities and research centres so that they are not left behind in the new world of tomorrow where innovations will drive economies and natural resources such as oil and minerals will be of little importance. Pakistan needs to urgently change its policies so that it can embark on a long-term process for building a knowledge economy. One key initiative is the establishment of a network of world-class engineering universities. It was decided in 2006 to establish nine world-class universities in partnership with a consortia of top universities in Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Austria, China, South Korea, the Netherlands and America. Four of these projects — with universities in Germany, Italy, Austria and China — were approved by ECNEC in February 2008. These universities of engineering, science and technology would have offered BS/MS/PhD degrees of the foreign universities to students for courses attended in Pakistan. This would have allowed Pakistani students to obtain world-class foreign education without going to foreign countries. However, in May of that year, the new government froze the programme. Provinces had already allocated land for these universities and it would be a great national tragedy if the programme were permanently abandoned. In the case of the Pakistan-China University, even the rector and senior Chinese faculty members had been recruited. A very important aspect of this programme is the establishment of technology parks in each university in which foreign companies would set up research and development centres for new product development.

At present, Pakistan does not have a single international research and development (R&D) centre and is, therefore, completely dependent on the West for new technologies. Meanwhile, China and India have hundreds of R&D centres established by major international companies. Foreign universities agreed to bring top companies to Pakistan to establish R&D centres in cutting-edge fields, thereby providing a unique opportunity to the country to transition from its largely agriculture-based economy to one based on knowledge. The success of these new universities would, therefore, not be measured just from PhD outputs or their research publications but from the inflow of funds resulting from royalties from the sale of international patents based on the R&D efforts of their technology parks.

Contrary to public perception, the cost of the universities is not very high. The salaries of foreign faculty members make up only seven per cent of the total cost of each project. Construction and equipment costs are strictly in accordance with the rates approved by the Planning Commission for other such projects. If completed, they would also save us much foreign exchange as it is estimated that about Rs80 billion are spent every year by Pakistani parents to send their children abroad in order to obtain quality higher education.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (22)

  • Observer
    Dec 28, 2012 - 11:53PM

    Instead of wasting resources to set up fancy foreign affiliated universities, it would be more cost effective to convert existing to institutions into centers or research excellence in science and technology.


  • M. Shah
    Dec 29, 2012 - 2:07AM

    Could someone pls stop ths meaningless self-serving rambling.

    Dr sb you had your chance. 10 years and billions of rupees later you left us your ego and failed system. Now you are justifying that failure with these ramblling pieces.

    Sorry, no can buy!


  • Dec 29, 2012 - 2:43AM

    It is positively criminal to focus so much on higher education when half the population is illiterate. Those who know how to read and write can educate themselves. We should focus on primary and secondary schools.


  • Ali
    Dec 29, 2012 - 3:25AM

    A noble effort. But those who the gods want to destroy they first make mad.
    Read this news website and it will show that we are a nation obsessed about old dead leaders, hiding money in Swiss bank accounts, defending democracy, visiting mausoleums and numerous other pointless activities.
    Education of our children does not even figure in our priorities.
    So your efforts are wasted here. Take a long holiday abroad and save your energies or read a good novel.


  • what is in the name
    Dec 29, 2012 - 8:26AM

    This article is at best a spin. For me Pakistan is a lost case. I would not call it a sinking ship, but a ship which is stagnant in high seas and whose rudder is missing and lost. What the writer has written against the ground realties are completely 180 degree opposite.

  • Usman
    Dec 29, 2012 - 8:41AM

    A nice article sir, but have no comment as govt is unable to do any thing. As far as people who have vision that investment should be done only on lower education, their idea is wrong. We have to bring change both in higher and lower education, both are necessary at the same time.


  • Asad
    Dec 29, 2012 - 9:53AM

    Universities are only a part of the equation. Its true, we need good universities, but they aren’t the only place of innovation. A healthy technology industry that complements research institutions is crucial. It helps establish an infrastructure that allows creativity to prosper in educational and research institutions and motivates people to pursue higher education. Now, it is not the job of institutions such as the HEC to run technology companies, but encouraging interaction between universities and the industry should be a bit higher on our list of priorities than it is.


  • Khan
    Dec 29, 2012 - 10:27AM


    Instead of wasting resources to set up fancy foreign affiliated universities, it would be more cost effective to convert existing to institutions into centers or research excellence in science and technology.

    And Do you really expect those students who hold degrees because they have learned some text books by heart, to be able to do research in such centers on their own? without any experience and without any guidance? good luck with that then.


  • Khan
    Dec 29, 2012 - 10:37AM

    We as a poor nation do not have enough resources to provide basic education to every citizen .. for that to happen we need enough engineers & scientists to have our own industries so that we are able to export and not rely on imports therefore, 180 million primary & secondary level “literate” can hold zero value to the progress and development of any nation.
    In other words if a father gives school level education to a dozen kids that will not change their future but if he is able to provide higher education to even one of them, that will change future of a whole generation.


  • Mirza
    Dec 29, 2012 - 10:55AM

    I agree with most of the comments above. Pakistan does not have enough money to waste on foreign trips and boarding and lodging of few elites. We need basic primary and school education first. Many of the rich and powerful who go overseas never return to serve the nation. That money is not well spent but totally wasted. For each such student many hundred can be educated in govt schools. If the foundation of the students is good they would do well in colleges and win scholarships not the govt expenses.


  • Saleem
    Dec 29, 2012 - 2:31PM

    @what is in the name, I completely agree with your comments. Pakistan is a lost case, we do not need mantras on education but guns and fatwas. We can not proceed with any positive ideas but instead can find a million reasons to throw it out. If any ‘patriot’ get infuriated by my comments, then its about time to get our head out of sand. The comments by @Observer and @M. Shah are just a proof , they are not minority but represent a majority view for this lost nation.This is the ‘beauty’ of democracy, if you have a hundred donkeys than they will always remain a donkey . No need of sending a preacher among them.


  • Khawar
    Dec 29, 2012 - 2:48PM

    Very convincing and logical answer,Hats off to u


  • Khawar
    Dec 29, 2012 - 2:52PM

    Nice artical sir


  • Ahmad Asghar
    Dec 29, 2012 - 3:03PM

    Dr sab your research is effective but when in a country basic needs are not fulfilled how we mve forward. Sittingg in a classy room and writing a paragraph cannot solve the problems of those who even don’t know that Next meal for them is their need or wish.


  • ASIM
    Dec 29, 2012 - 3:32PM

    I completely agree the nation must invest in R&D.

    As carbon based fuels are depleting it is essential to look for alternatives.The ITER project is funded and run by seven member entities — the European Union (EU), India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States. The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing 45% of the cost, with the other six parties contributing 9% each.


  • ali007
    Dec 29, 2012 - 5:44PM

    lets first defend ourselves and then lets think about these things!


  • Dec 29, 2012 - 7:50PM

    You are wrong sir. While it is very important to raise the literacy standards of the masses, it is equally important that the spearhead is sharp, strong and pointed. This can be achieved only by investing in higher education as this will be the driving force that will literally pull the rest of the population up the knowledge base ladder.


  • Dec 29, 2012 - 8:01PM

    Atta-ur-Rahman is correct in his pining for higher education standards. The problem that Pakistan and her crop of students will face on an ongoing basis are dual – (1) a perception around the world that Pakistanis are extremists and potential terrorists. Whether this is true or false is not an issue. The perception excludes opportunities to the average Pakistani student in may foreign universities (as compared to students from China, India and Latin America). (2) The education system is biased against everything non-Islamic. The system fails to produce students who can be active players in tomorrows global village. One has to only look at the number of Indians, Latin Americans and even Chinese who are in the senior ranks of Fortune 500 companies to know the value of a secular education. Considering what is being taught in Pakistani schools, Pakistanis as of now don’t stand a chance in the global village. You might as well not invest iin any higher educations as it would be dead investment unless the whole education system is reformed. The big question is – do Pakistani have a desire and the necessary will power to challenge the Mullahs and bring about the necessary reforms?


  • aamir
    Dec 29, 2012 - 8:35PM

    If we want to have progress in world then science and Engineering institutions should be more and more with latest technologies so our youth could meet then latest challanges of world.
    Presently our Design and Manufacturing fields need strong progress so could save our valuable foreign exchange to import suct important items ..

    Plz take all necessary action for the country to fullfil own industrial requirements.


  • Dec 29, 2012 - 8:58PM

    That’s where you are wrong. As I pointed out before those who can read and write can educate themselves. You don’t need a university degree to make a living. Vocational training for instance is hugely valuable. Keep in mind that a self-employed electrician, mechanic or plumber earns more than most graduates in Pakistan.

    Also the world is changing. Education is moving online and is no longer the preserve of universities.

    But you can’t take advantage of any sort of training if you don’t know how to read and write.

    There are also secondary benefits to increased literacy that Pakistanis just don’t realize:

    Practically every week we have incidents of arson and rioting in Karachi. Why does this happen? It is because people have no civic sense. Widespread primary education will help drill civic sense into the population at large and reduce crime.

    Improved education also translates into improved health. School children are taught basic hygiene that can go a long way towards preventing the spread of diseases.

    Before you can run you have to learn to walk. Talking about competing with Japan and USA in creating new knowledge is a bit pointless when half the population is illiterate. How about setting more realistic goals? How about making sure that 90% of the population is literate like our neighboring country Sri Lanka?


  • Asim Ali
    Dec 29, 2012 - 9:10PM

    During his stint many dubious institutions goT accredited. Institutions producing third rate MBAs etc. lets focus on getting the right leadership. The right leadership will produce results. And no one is focusing on who the right leaders are for this country.


  • F
    Dec 30, 2012 - 1:23AM

    For Science and engineering to flower, State and “Islam” must be separated. In addition, eliminating bigotry and hatred from your text books against Hindus and other non Muslims would be a good start. You don’t need to invest hard monies in the latter. Just need the courage to accept “others” as equals and human beings. When will you do that?


More in Opinion