Advances in engineering education in Pakistan — III

Thursday / Jun 02 2011

Newspaper : The Express Tribune

It took two years of hard work to persuade 35 universities in seven countries to set up seven world-class foreign universities in Pakistan, and finalise all details of the courses and facilities needed. It took another two years for the government to clear the projects though its various agencies — a delay that ultimately proved to be disastrous. The projects of four of these universities were approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council in February 2008, and all arrangements had been completed to start classes in October 2008, in temporary campuses all over Pakistan. Unfortunately, the political changes that occurred in the spring of 2008 led to the projects being suddenly frozen in May 2008.

The chairman of the United Nations National Commission on Science, Technology and Development, had this to say: “Around the world when we discuss the status of higher education in different countries, there is unanimity of opinion that the developing country that has made the most rapid progress internationally in recent years is Pakistan. The most far-sighted and visionary project initiated by Professor Attaur Rahman was the establishment of a number of universities in partnership with foreign countries. These university projects were approved only earlier this year (February 2008) by the government of Pakistan. Normally, it would have been difficult to convince universities in Europe to undertake such an initiative in Pakistan, however, the tremendous respect that Professor Attaur Rahman has internationally was a key factor in coming to a positive decision. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) had made all the necessary arrangements to start MS level classes in temporary campuses in a very short time frame in October 2008 but when the matter came under consideration of the cabinet of the new government, the cabinet decided not to sign the MoU for establishment of these universities but set up a sub-committee to review the entire programme. As the cabinet has still not given its go-ahead and funds for these universities have not been released, the programme remains frozen.”

India set up its Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the 1960s, which brought worldwide respect and prestige to the Indian education system and contributed significantly to the development of India as an IT giant of the world. Pakistan adopted a two-pronged approach: (i) To set up world-class engineering universities in collaboration with top foreign universities and to have integrated technology parks in each — two features not present in the IIT model, and (ii) to strengthen existing engineering universities to world standards.

With the freezing of the foreign university projects and the sharp cuts in the funding of the higher education sector since 2008, both prongs have been halted and plans are now under way to destroy the HEC.

This wonderful programme stands frozen. It is hoped that the present government will have the good sense to revive it. India has, meanwhile, taken up this idea and is going ahead with the establishment of such foreign universities.

We, alas, are our own worst enemies.

The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).