Sunday May 22, 2022

A visionary initiative

January 22, 2016

While there are a number of engineering universities in Pakistan, the trained engineers produced often lack the practical approach needed to solve real industrial problems. Countries such as Germany, Austria and some others have therefore established two types of engineering universities: (1) ‘technical universities’ that have strong research components and provide a very strong theoretical background of the subject with less emphasis on practical training; and (2) the ‘Fachhochschule’ that provide the basic theoretical background but have a much stronger emphasis on practical training needed in industry.

The Fachhochschule have excellent undergraduate and Master’s programmes but usually do not have PhD and postdoctoral level research programmes.

The establishment of such universities is vitally important for the development of a well-balanced industrial economy in Pakistan. To achieve this objective, the programme must, first and foremost, provide a critical mass of talented and highly-trained engineers with a practical orientation so that they can address the industrial manufacturing problems. At the same time it would provide a means of creating indigenous high-technology enterprises in Pakistan and provide powerful inducements to foreign industry to invest in Pakistan.

Initially the programme will require the allocation of appropriate financial resources. However, the return from such an investment will be rapid and substantial in terms of enhanced labour quality, job creation and modernisation of national technology infrastructure, and of increased trade and consequently of increased national wealth.

There is clear evidential justification for this approach to national economic development if one examines the path to progress of several of the rapidly-growing economies in Asia and Europe. Anyone who has visited Bangalore in India and seen the dramatic transformation that has taken place in just one decade will have no doubt of the economic benefits of investments in technology. The transformation was created and fuelled by the availability in India of a high-quality work force of engineers and technologists.

Such a programme was initiated when I was the chairman of the HEC in 2005. It was decided to set up world class engineering universities in partnership with Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Korea, China and Japan. Under this initiative partnership agreements had been signed with 30 top foreign universities to start their engineering degree courses in Pakistan and Pakistani students would have benefited from high quality education and received degrees from the top foreign universities without ever going abroad.

Each university had planned to have a strong technology park within its premises and many foreign companies had expressed willingness to establish their R&D centres within these technology parks. This would have allowed Pakistan to emerge as an Asian tiger with new models of the latest engineering goods, household appliances, mobile telephones and a host of other items for export.

With so many foreign engineering universities and with some 60 R&D centres operated by the world’s giant companies in Pakistan, we had the potential of becoming the most powerful engineering base in the region. Classes were to start in October 2008, but the programme was shelved in May 2008 by the previous government. However there is a silver lining. The PTI has decided to establish such foreign engineering universities/ ‘Fachhochschule’ in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and negotiations are presently underway. This will give a huge boost to the industry in KP.

The most notable feature of this programme is that it overcomes the chronic capacity deficiencies in Pakistan in a number of areas related to technological education and the development of modern industry. In Pakistan, there is a very significant shortage of manpower of the quality required for the creation of modern industry. There is also comparatively little inward investment into Pakistan by technologically advanced countries, and there is little or no culture of entrepreneurship leading to the setting up of indigenous high-technology businesses. The programme specifically addresses these three weaknesses.

Plans are now well under way to set up the first such university/ ‘Fachhochschule’ in Haripur, that will have modern up-to-date teaching laboratories with equipment specified by the foreign partners and matching exactly that utilised by the partner universities in their own laboratories. The programme will be closely inter-linked to the development of technology-driven enterprises.

To meet this objective the university/ ‘Fachhochschule’ in KP will have an integrated ‘technology park’ that will be the centre piece of the university. It would offer basic facilities for new technology-based companies to start operations through a process of incubation. This would involve offering them space, technical assistance/mentorship, legal services, financial services and venture capital with a profit-sharing arrangement for the university.

A key feature of the programme will be that joint/dual degrees will be awarded with the foreign partners to ensure quality. The partner university will be responsible for ensuring that the teaching and research programmes in the engineering university/ ‘Fachhochschule’ in KP are, in all essentials, equivalent to those in the partner foreign university. Equivalence will be created by using identical syllabi, laboratory experiments and assessment methods in the ‘Fachhochschule’ in KP and in the partner university. Equivalence will be maintained by using the standards accreditation agency in the partner country.

The foreign degree will be the guarantee to students, parents and the community at large, but most importantly, to industry, that the graduates from the engineering university in KP have reached the highest international standards. In summary, the programme is designed to produce large numbers of engineers and technologists who will: (a) serve the demands of Pakistan’s local industrial needs; (b) attract inward investment into Pakistan from foreign countries because of the availability of a highly qualified and relatively inexpensive labour force; and (c) produce graduates who will become entrepreneurs with the confidence to create their own high-technology businesses.

The establishment of a top quality engineering university/‘Fachhochschule’ by 2018 in KP will give Pakistani youth the opportunity to be educated to very high standards within Pakistan, thus reducing the burden on Pakistani parents who send their children abroad and the burden on the government which has to award scholarships to Pakistanis to undertake postgraduate studies abroad. But most importantly it gives Pakistan the opportunity to take the first most important steps to become an industrially-developed country.

I hope the federal government and the other provincial governments will follow in KP’s footsteps by reviving the programme of foreign universities in Pakistan conceived by me in partnership with China, Korea, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and other countries.

The writer is a former federal minister, former founding chairman of the HEC and presently president of the Network of Academies of Science of Islamic Countries.