Pakistan is going through a very difficult period in its existence. Health care, education, agricultural productivity, water resources and civic services are but a few essential needs that are in total disarray, besides energy and power shortages, and the worsening law and order situation. Government after government has tried to grapple with these ailments but the results have never been very encouraging and the situation appears to be going from bad to worse. Critics on the ground, and there are more than a few, have blamed everyone under the sun for the prevailing adverse and critical conditions in Pakistan.
Universities in Pakistan are now in a position, more than ever before, to commence initiatives that foster much-needed innovation, which is the hallmark of higher education. Creative thinking and innovation is much desired in bringing about cost-effective, simple solutions to the chronic issues facing the nation. We have some of the best trained brains, in numerous fields, in all universities in Pakistan. Some of these professionals are doing very well in their areas of expertise, but unfortunately, their endeavours are not geared towards the pressing needs of the nation, mentioned above.
How can one expect some of the top PhDs involved in cutting-edge research in various fields — and surely, one can find such professionals in our universities — to work on improving health care and increasing agricultural productivity in Pakistan? Or, more importantly, should they be involved in these endeavours? Exercises that have involved such individuals in looking for solutions to the problems that the nation faces have been carried out sporadically by some higher education institutions, but they have either solely been of academic value or have not been attractive enough for practical implementation.
We have an Institute of Sustainable Halophytes at the University of Karachi that has the potential for helping initiate year-round sustainable agriculture in Tharparkar, which is perpetually hit by drought and famine. Yet, the fruits of the institute’s research have not been exposed for the benefit of Tharparkar. It seems that our experts have been reduced to writing papers on their areas of expertise, but the practical impact of their work is not being felt in society.
Then, there are research projects being carried out in many universities of Pakistan, some of them of great international value and standing. These are the works of the best brains that we have, who have been trained in very prestigious universities of the developed world. These professionals in higher education institutions can become the new hope for the nation, provided they are made to re-focus their minds on the problems at hand. The Dawood University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, being one of the youngest universities of Pakistan, in its own endeavour to develop, has taken the initiative of establishing CIRCLE (Center for Innovation Research Creativity Learning and Entrepreneurship). The concept of CIRCLE is primarily to offer a platform to multidisciplinary experts from all universities in Pakistan and start an outreach programme that identifies societal problems, collects meaningful data first hand, and brings about the most innovative, cost-effective, sustainable and simple solutions that can bring a paradigm change and improvement in the lives of ordinary folk.
There has been an impressive expansion in higher education, both in the public and private sectors. It is time now to rationalise, consolidate and refocus the capacities that have been developed. There has to be a concerted effort of collaboration between higher education institutions. These partnerships need to synergise and focus on the development needs of Pakistan. The Higher Education Commission has this in its purview and will soon be taking concrete measures towards bringing higher education institutions closer together so that they could embark on multidisciplinary and joint projects, seeking innovative solutions to national problems. Pakistani universities, by joining hands, have the potential to turn into very effective think tanks for the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2015.