Recently, in an article titled “HEC Should Return to Pakistan”, Jehanzeb Ahmed, Head of the Electrical Engineering Department at Bahria University, made the case that technology, not science, is the pressing need of the country. He went on note that the incentive structure put in place by HEC at universities encourages research that rarely, if ever, translates into tangible economic benefit for the country. His recommendation is a change in what is valued as professorial output to include technology development and entrepreneurship. He notes:

“If people in universities, who have the rare ability to convert research into products are not rewarded, and their careers are stifled, they will leave the country and go to the developed world where such abilities are very highly valued and rewarded. As a matter of fact this has already been happening for a number of years, and the country has suffered badly because of it.”

In our view, professors or students who have the ability to convert research into products are rarely, if ever, rewarded by universities anywhere in the world. Rather, it is the marketplace that rewards them: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were college drop-outs who did not make their mark in the cocoon of a university fellowship program. Rather their ideas and innovation took off in the competitive environment of the open market.

BlockQuote_HEverythingCThus, while we agree that entrepreneurial individuals are sorely needed in the country to transfer the benefits of research and intellectual output at universities, we contend that it is not the mandate of the Higher Education to focus on incentivizing them directly.

HEC is not the panacea. It is one government agency, with limited clout and a shrinking budget. HEC’s focus must remain on allowing our universities to hire and retain the best and brightest researchers and educators that are available, and giving them the opportunity to reach their full potential. That in itself is a formidable task, and executing it well requires making difficult choices. HEC does need to “return to Pakistan” and focus on areas of research and inquiry that are more suitable for Pakistani researchers given our limited resources and our unique developmental needs. To this end, HEC can nudge researchers into areas that are most relevant to Pakistani context.

Government agencies and organizations, like the Ministry of Science and Technology and Pakistan Software Export Board, as well as public-private R&D funds, like the National ICT R&D Fund, need to play the leading role in commercializing research coming out of the universities. Organizations like the National ICT R&D Fund not only have the necessary funding base but their very structure as a public-private partnership makes them ideally suited to carry out this risky but essential purpose.

HoD Ahmad rightly points out that we need a sustained effort to invigorate the industrial base and subsequently create employment. Yet, it’s not the job of university professors; it will be an error to evaluate their worth from a task that is not theirs. Instead, alternative avenues should be provided to support people who have the “rare ability to convert research into products” to thrive and to do what they do best, while not distracting HEC from it core and vital purpose.

10 Responses to “The Higher Everything Commission?”

  1. snaz says:

    Yes, thats right. World wide it is the industries that fund research projects for the most part, but there is no such culture developed in pakistan. All top notch MNCs rely on the research carried out in their US/EU based R&D depts and pakistanis only utilize it. High time govt sets a quota to make it obligatory for the industries to carry out some of the research projects locally.

  2. Junaid Siddiqui says:

    While universities around the world typically do not engage in supporting to turn research into marketable products, it is not true that it is not a recognized endeavor for today’s universities. The idea of techno-parks is gaining popularity with time and you can find various models around the world where universities have established entities often separate but linked to a university. Among the purposes of these university entities is to commercialize university research for the purpose of earning revenue for the university. In my view HEC might do well if it could thoughtfully establish such centers in major cities of the country as links between universities and industry.

    • Bilal Zafar says:

      Junaid,

      HEC’s mandate is not limited to Information Technology. It has to cater to basic sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences and many different applied sciences like veterinary sciences, agriculture, engineering, and so on. It is simply impractical to expect HEC to be creating the necessary linkage between the relevant industry and the academia in each of these areas all over the country.

      National ICT R&D Fund, along with PSEB, would be ideal candidates for developing the kind of ‘techno-parks’ you’re talking about.

      We do not contend that the linkage between industry and academia isn’t needed. It is absolutely necessary and urgently needed. Our only contention is that it is not HEC’s job to do it. Other government agencies and institutions, as well as public-private partnerships should take the leading role in this.

  3. Nadir El-Edroos says:

    For me the HEC is perhaps the biggest disappointment of our haphazard approach to education. For one it was a pet project of the Musharaf government for a very long time. Two, it became an arm to gain access to foreign links and financing. Three, most crucially, its role is lopsided to serve institutions and administrators, not teachers and not students at all. The HEC has played a role in establishing benchmarks, but its one size fits all approach, and making unachievable promises, raises questions on its credibility. The HEC failed to manage expectations, and the states lopsided preference for higher education, its hardly surprising that the HEC hasn’t lived up to what it set out to achieve.

  4. Nasim Hassan says:

    I need a few photos about the partition of India. I plan to use these photos in article regarding the partition in 1947.

    Please let me know how I can get these photos.

  5. Maham says:

    It is astonishing to see how every body is discussing research opportunities and other facilities. How can you expect such things in our country where amount spend on even primary education and health is way below satisfaction. Why do we cry? That’s the reality. Those who can afford then ultimately do go out as they have no choice. I agree with you that its not only HEC. I believe drastic measures need to be taken in the field of education from grass roots till top then only you shall see the fruit.

  6. Khurram Hussain says:

    I think so the concept of higher education commission is not bad. But there must be scholarships for undergraduate students as well. The amount you are spending on one person for higher education abroad can be spent on many students who are really able and can make the difference even in local universities. Our problem is that we direct all our resources to foreign institutions. There is a need some share should be given to local undergraduate students. Nowadays undergraduate education is getting very expensive and most of our underprivileged class students cannot afford it as a result some of the best students are not even able to a decent BS degree. So I would request HEC to allocate some amount for needy students to get education in local universities.

    • Affan says:

      Let me give a some-what informed opinion about the state of undergraduate education. After returning to Pakistan, I am seeing that a large # of undergrad students after graduating are not really getting a good source of employment. Sure the top students from the top university will get jobs that pay approx 20-30K (isnt too great either in the current inflation) but the worrisome aspect is the droves of undergrad, “ICT-readied” students who have no real hope and will sink into a morass of depression quite soon (or start doing Master and then go into a PhD program just so that they dont feel bad about not getting a job).

      I can tell that we have a system that will implode very quickly unless we can build a sustainable market in the ICT sector; for that we need investors from within pakistan to support local enterprenures. If the Professors can make an impact, all the better, but I agree with the editors that HEC shouldnt be responsible for it (given that it is now dead, this is a moot point).

      What I really want to say in this rambling is that before coming back I thought investing in undergraduate might be a better option than higher education; now I am quite sure it is not!

  7. Thanks for finally talking about > The Higher Everything Commission? | STEP – Science, Technology, and Education in Pakistan < Loved it!

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