Sunday June 26, 2022

Need for scientific excellence

October 05, 2020

Random thoughts

By Dr A Q Khan

Humans have forever tried to use natural resources for their own well-being so as to ensure a prosperous and comfortable life. As the human mind developed, their requirements increased and they endeavoured more and more to discover nature’s secrets.

Initially the progress was slow, but over the last few centuries the process has accelerated. Phenomenal progress has taken place in the field of science after World War II, surpassing all the previous achievements. Unfortunately, nowadays most of the scientific developments originate in Europe and the US. In the rest of the world, only the Japanese and Chinese have shown excellence in research and in all the technological fields.

All other nations have become 'users only', which prevents them from making useful contributions to their own development. They are now paying the price of their ignorance. This, too, is the case in Pakistan. Poverty, hunger and disease are the order of the day and we have done little to equip ourselves with advanced technologies. We are, therefore, depending on imports and are consequently subjected to economic pressures from technologically advanced nations and are dependent upon their donations, goodwill and loans, making the burden of circular debt almost unbearable.

We cannot afford to continue living in this situation any longer. Not only do we need to make up for lost time, we will also have to march ahead in order to keep abreast with the advanced countries. So far, we have failed to develop our own indigenous scientific, technological and social order.

To develop such an order, we need a research-oriented approach in both natural sciences and social sciences. We need to expose our students to a more practical and industrial-oriented research approach so as to improve the state of science and technology in our country. The only shining example we have is that of our nuclear development. The same goes for the social sciences. It is a shame that ideas and theories from alien sources dominate our intellectual thought while we have a rich and fertile cultural background. We need to create our own visions.

On a global level, the rate of technological advancement is tremendous while ours is practically non-existent, yet we seem oblivious to the gravity of the situation. Highly talented human resource is abundantly available locally but quality control, research and development are almost non-existent, causing many talented people to seek greener pastures abroad.

Technological development cannot be achieved without trained manpower, a proper infrastructure and provision of the necessary engineering materials. To train human resource, certain reforms in the existing educational systems are needed. There is now growing awareness for the need to set up research facilities and institutions of higher learning in the fields of science and technology, both in the public and private sectors.

This awareness led to the establishment of the GIK Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Topi, the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Quaid-e-Azam University, Karachi University and Punjab University. Establishing such institutions is definitely a step forward. The Fachhochschule that has been set up is a technical college like HNC, HND, etc. Students can learn technologies there but not research with, or development of, these technologies. Nor can PhD degrees be obtained there.

Besides being a cosmopolitan city, Karachi has certain features exclusively its own. It is not only the largest city in the country, it is also the nerve centre of the country’s economic, industrial and financial structures. People from all over the country and from very diverse backgrounds live there, so it emerges as a good place for institutes to select students. Because it is also 'my' city, I was instrumental in setting up the Dr A Q Khan Institute of Bio-technology and the Institute of Behavioural Sciences there with the help of many philanthropic-minded friends and associates. After their opening and smooth functioning, the first Institute was donated to Karachi University and the second one to Dow University of Health Sciences.

Another institute worth mentioning is Indus Hospital, set up by the selfless services of the Islamic Mission Hospitals Trust. They are very active in the training of nurses and in setting up an Institute of Health Care. This institute has been constructed from contributions made by Pakistanis living abroad, associates and friends.

Healthcare for the common citizen is sadly lacking in Pakistan and a healthy population goes hand in hand with the development of education in general and science and technology in particular. It is to be hoped that Indus Hospital will be given formal recognition by the governor of Sindh by granting it a charter so that it may develop into a premier institute in Karachi.

There are many more institutes of great utility in the fields of science, technology, social sciences, health care, etc. Too many to be mentioned by name. The point to be made here is that without financial input, transparent policies, non-political appointments, careful curriculum planning and competent staff, no significant progress can be made. Another point is incentives, adequate emoluments and a positive, creative working environment to counteract the current brain drain.