Translating academic innovation into practical solutions

Published: July 31, 2015
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The writer is Vice-Chancellor of the Dawood University of Engineering and Technology

The writer is Vice-Chancellor of the Dawood University of Engineering and Technology

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.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Jul 31, 2015 - 7:23AM

    You are very right. I have been trying to do what you have suggested and am waiting for an opportunity to meet the registrar of Punjab University to explain a proposal that puts university students to work during their summer holidays. The underlying idea is to catalog work that needs to be done all over Pakistan and prioritize it.Recommend

  • Imran Abbasi
    Jul 31, 2015 - 10:11AM

    Very well written and focused article by an expert…good to have you in the education sector where I believe there is a dire need to inculcate in our upcoming engineers a sense of belonging to our soil so that they start to contribute in resolving its perennial problems. I also believe private entrepreneurship is the need of the hour as it’s beyond the reach of govt. institutions to undergo a shift in their objectives of maintaining the current status.
    You have correctly pointed out that most of the research papers and think tank proposals do not get translated into an on-ground implementation mode. This may to some extent have to do with lack of sponsorship or funding or where these are available, to the negativity one has to encounter when dealing with the local governments and bureaucracy to get required permissions, approvals and official support. To add to this, one also has to face the troublemakers who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. I think the role of the local ministers and bureaucracy play a big part in discouraging potential investors and groups who may be willing to work on the new ideas.
    Anyway, all the best in your endeavors and best wishes for CIRCLE…. Recommend

  • Amin
    Jul 31, 2015 - 11:17AM

    You were the former GM of SSGC. Mr. Zardari appointed you GM. It is well known how SSGC almost collapsed due to corruption and irregularities during you stewardship. People just google it. Recommend

  • kdp
    Jul 31, 2015 - 7:42PM

    Why not collaborate with Indian Universities?Recommend

  • Bhaijan Asli
    Jul 31, 2015 - 7:46PM

    Rumors are that Dawood University is being revamped as we speak to become one of the top universities in Pakistan. But before that could happen the political environment of the place must be quelled. Racism that exists because of the political parties must be eliminated. A sense of brotherhood must be entrenched within the hearts and minds of the students that regardless of our race, we are all equal in the sight of Allah and none of us is better than the other because of our race.

    A student at Dawood. Recommend

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