political power in national plans. The results have been positive, with South Korea becoming one of the most powerful economic giants of the world.
Pakistan needs to follow the examples of Korea and Austria by having a single federal minister of science, technology and education who would also serve as the federal minister of finance and economic affairs and have the status of a deputy prime minister. This would pave the way for Pakistan to develop into a strong knowledge economy.
Recently Pranab Mukherjee, the president of India held a conference at his official residence, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, in which the heads of 114 ‘central’ institutions, including the prestigious IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), were invited. In his opening speech President Mukherjee emphasised in the strongest possible terms that India cannot aspire to be a world power without having world class universities.
“Innovation”, the president said, “is the currency of the future” – and universities must be at the heart of that.” He elaborated on this and said: “Innovation converts research into wealth. Unless we recognise this reality and start working in a focused manner on creating a strong innovation culture in our country now, we will be left behind in the march to modernity.”
Land, labour and natural resources were responsible for national wealth in the last century. That time has now gone and it is the quality of the ‘human capital’ that is now the most important factor for socio-economic development. At the heart of this lies the nurturing of individuals to unleash the creative talents from early ages through schools, colleges, universities and then through training in industrial and commercial environments.
The second factor necessary for fostering innovation is ‘collaboration’ – collaboration between many different experts in various allied fields so that an idea can be translated into a commercial product through various stages of product development.
The third key factor is ‘access to latest knowledge’. This involves the need to know the current frontiers in any field, the ability to recognise what is truly novel and an environment in which a product or process can be developed and proven to work. A highly competitive and charged research environment like this, where the latest databases are available and there is a critical mass of high quality manpower with the ability to understand, absorb and extend the knowledge to new frontiers becomes vital.
The last factor is ‘intellectual property’ where the materials developed are suitably protected and the innovators are rewarded when the products are sold commercially. This needs to be implemented with caution as the earlier stages of development in a country often involves reverse engineering.
The process of globalisation has posed many challenges. It has also created new opportunities, particularly for creative industries, such as IT, publishing, media, crafts, film, TV, radio, photography, advertising, marketing, music, architecture and design. In previous centuries, the process of globalisation was limited to trade across continents through sea routes.
During the last 50 years we have witnessed a second phase of globalisation that involves the outsourcing of manufacturing. This was done by Japan when it outsourced many of its manufacturing plants to Korea and Thailand in the 1960s. We have also witnessed the massive outsourcing of manufacturing of a range of products from the west to China in the last four decades.
The next stage of globalisation will be driven by curiosity led research by brilliant experts at the top of the value chain, not by those at the bottom. In the new kind of globalisation that we are now seeing, ideas can come from anywhere and be applied everywhere.
We are undergoing a huge innovative change in the field of education from a ‘closed box’ approach to an ‘open cluster swarm’ approach. This also involves a change from ‘fixed time/place’ educational systems to ‘flexible time/place’ educational systems.
Fortunately, Pakistan is a leader in keeping up with this particular change in the higher education sector through two revolutionary programs being conducted under my supervision. One is the launching of an Integrated version of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) at the University of Karachi. This provides the courses available at MIT, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Khan Academy free of charge to students.
The other is the programme of live interactive courses also being conducted by the ICCBS through which lectures delivered through video conferencing by leading professors from the west are beamed to universities across Pakistan. About 4000 such lectures have been held during the last five years and a Chinese language teaching programme is presently being conducted for common citizens through live video conferencing and webinars.
It is a pity that our leaders lack the vision that has propelled South Korea, Austria, Singapore and China into the 21st century, the same vision that is now transforming India.
The writer is a former federal minister, former chairman of the HEC and current president of the Network of Academies of Science of Islamic Countries.
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