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March 31, 2011

Dr AQ Khan says: HEC is a strategic organisation, don’t shred it to pieces

March 31, 2011


ISLAMABAD: Renowned nuclear scientist Dr AQ Khan has strongly opposed what he has called the destruction of the country’s highest forum to guarantee for quality of education, the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
“There is a move to destroy the Higher Education Commission by shredding it to pieces and hand these pieces to the provinces. This is a sure recipe for disaster. A central role of the regulatory authority is vital to ensure standards and to build the requisite high level manpower needed to develop a knowledge economy. The destruction of HEC through its fragmentation will have devastating consequences for Pakistan,” he said in a write-up sent to The News.
Dr AQ Khan stated: “Pakistan needs to develop technology if it aspires to join the ranks of industrially advanced countries for economic growth. Development of technology is essential for industrialization, for energy growth, to explore, map and mine natural resources, including Coal at Thar, Gold at Riko Diq, Copper at Saindaik, Gas at Qadirpur, and others yet to be explored. Pakistan needs technology for Information and Communication Technologies; to drive its own high tech manufacturing industry; for transportation and avionics; for weather predictions so disasters like floods and tsunami are forecast; for defence and space applications, and for health, agriculture, natural and applied sciences, amongst others. Pakistan also needs technology to continue to protect, develop and exploit its national assets.
There are three important and essential ingredients if we wish to become a high-tech country: 1) Skill Development, and Support for Research, 2) Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Infrastructure, and Technology Readiness, and 3) Transfer of Innovation and Technology to Industry.
The first two are also supported by the vision of the World Bank (WB) and the World Economic Forum (WEF). WB identifies a Skilled Force, Innovation and ICTs as three of the four key pillars of

a knowledge-based economy. WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2010 includes Higher Education as 5th, Technology Readiness as 9th, and Innovation as 12th pillar of competitiveness.
Where is Pakistan today in terms of its Science and Technology (S & T) workforce, its research, its technology readiness, and transfer of technology to the industry? The total S&T workforce in Pakistan is around 130,000. Out of this, the total number of Researchers & Scientists is 53,000, but only 10% (about 5300) hold PhD degrees. 80% of these PhDs (about 4000) are in Higher Education Institutions governed by the HEC. Of the total 53,000 Researchers & Scientists in Pakistan, 24% are in Social Studies and Humanities; 24% in Natural Sciences; only 18% in Engineering; 16% in Medicine and 14% in Agriculture.
If we compare the worldwide densities of scientists & researchers, Pakistan has only 162 researchers and scientists / million population (which is among the lowest in the region), Turkey has 562, China 926, South Korea 4162 and USA 4651. Clearly, Pakistan needs a much larger science and technology workforce, and research in critical areas. We need to increase the number of scientific and research personnel by at least 4 times in the next 10 years if we are to follow in the footsteps of regional leaders in the field!
HEC has been doing a good job in building this capacity of Scientists and Researchers, which is the first pre-requisite to becoming a high-tech country and a regional and global power. The government should also have built up an industrial infrastructure (which it failed to do) to absorb these qualified people and utilize their talent.
On the Public front – to fill the current vacuum, HEC is currently funding approximately 7500 PhD scholars (3500 in foreign and 4000 in local universities) mostly in critical areas. This is double the number of PhDs that currently exist in Pakistan. But that is not enough! We need an ‘additional’ 15,000 PhDs over next 10 years, i.e. 1500 PhDs on average per year. The capacity to produce PhDs at universities is presently 700 PhDs / year. With the returning scholars, the number of PhDs at the Higher Education Institutions will increase from the current 20% to 40% of faculty. This will enable the award of over 1000 PhD / year in 2 years, and to over 1500 PhDs / year in 5 years, thereby ending the dependency of Pakistan on foreign PhDs and also saving millions of dollars per year in foreign exchange.
Pakistani universities have produced nearly the same number of PhDs in the last 8 years (3280) since the establishment of HEC as in the first 55 years (3000) of its existence. Today we produce 10 times more PhDs in Engineering and Technology than ever in the past (140 in last 8 years, versus 14 in first 55 years). The universities are now able to produce more PhDs over the next 3 years than it was over the last 8 years.
Research output has also grown six-folds since 2002 (from 815 in 2002 to 5068 in 2010): 80% of these research publications are coming from HEIs. Output has more than doubled just in the last 3 years and is expected to double again in the next 3 years. Today Pakistan has caught up with Thailand and Malaysia, which had a head start on us by almost 6-7 years. A boom is in the offing!
According to Science Watch, January 2011 issue, research growth from Pakistan ranked 1st in 2 areas: Microbiology; and Plant and Animal Sciences. But that is not enough: Major research in priority areas and in Engineering and Technology is required, which is slowly beginning to take over. The results will be apparent in the next five years, provided the government is sincere in utilizing this talent and creates opportunities for them, thus avoiding a brain drain.
Already, according to QS World Universities Rankings 2010, 2 Universities: NUST (274), and UET (281) are now in top 300 Technology Universities of the World, while MUET is in top 400. We need to continue to focus on adding quality in research and education to our other universities as well.
For Technology Transfer to Industry, HEC is working on Development of High-Tech Incubators. Those in the pipeline at the universities include at UA Faisalabad, UET Peshawar, UET Lahore, NED, and NUST.
Three Centers of Excellence in Energy, Food Security and Water Resources are also under development. HEC is striving to make these the regional hubs. As an example, towards resolving national problems in the Energy sector alone, Pakistan needs 20,000 MW now, and an additional 20,000 MW in the next 10 years to grow as an industrial and high tech nation! Where are we going to get all this energy from? This is only possible if we explore and exploit all possible indigenous resources available to us include coal, wind, solar, nuclear, etc. No single research center in Pakistan has this capacity to do this. A critical mass of scientific and engineering manpower will be required in multi-disciplinary areas to achieve these goals which the center will be geared to do. In the case of joint ventures with foreign firms (which, in some cases like Thar Coal and Riko Diq I consider essential), we will be needing well-qualified technocrats to handle these projects and to coordinate with foreign partners.
HEC has grown as a critical, viable, and strategic organization over the years. Higher education is vital to the future development of Pakistan and every effort must be made to ensure support to this sector. Now that a major step in higher education in Pakistan has been taken under the HEC, we must sustain and build upon these achievements. The government must ensure HECs continuity and support it to help achieve self-reliance in high tech areas. This will enable Pakistan to join the ranks of industrially advanced countries which will lead to economic prosperity as well.
The move by the Parliamentary Committee on devolution, headed by Mr. Raza Rabbani, to shred HEC into several parts and transfer most of its functions to the provinces is a sure recipe for disaster. The government must not destroy the only sector which seems to be working reasonably well by breaking it into pieces. I do agree that there is some need to revisit the priorities of the HEC in the light of present requirements whereby more engineers are trained to expedite industrial development. There is a well-known saying in the West: “The progress and prosperity of a country is the reflection of the competence and achievements of its engineering profession.” However, to make this dream come true, there is an urgent need for the establishment of a broad-based industrial infrastructure.
I had earlier expressed some reservations regarding some of the programmes and priorities of HEC in this very newspaper. Nevertheless, I still think that it is a functional organization and it is very easy to make some modifications, as and when required, in the light of the changing environment.”