Advances in engineering education in Pakistan — II

Wednesday / May 18 2011

Newspaper : The Express Tribune

We embarked on an ambitious plan to set up seven world-class foreign universities, all in the engineering sciences, in collaboration with Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, China and Korea.

In each case, we formed a strong consortium of the top engineering universities of each country. We went for this approach, rather than collaborating with single universities in each country, because the single, most important aspect of the programme was getting high quality faculty from foreign universities. This would have been difficult for the foreign universities to manage alone, but the burden was made much easier since many universities joined hands to provide faculty.

An incorrect impression, that the projects were too expensive, was created. In actual fact, the cost of each university was only seven per cent higher than the standard cost of setting up a normal engineering university within Pakistan. The only difference was the salaries of the foreign faculty members, which increased the project costs by the said amount. However, against this extra seven per cent we were getting high standards, curriculum, faculty, examinations and degrees! Pakistani students would, thus, have been able to get high-quality education from foreign universities and exactly the same foreign degrees without, ever, going abroad. This needs to be understood with the background that Pakistani parents spend around Rs90 billion per year sending their children abroad, so the programme would have led to a huge amount of national savings and the investment on the four universities initially approved, would have been recovered within three years!

Each of these universities was divided into two parts — one part was for education and research, while the other part was a technology park. The technology park was indeed the heart of each university. It was agreed that we would judge the success of these universities, not just from the PhD output or international publications but from international patents granted, as well as from the new products developed and commercialised. A great deal of effort was made in approaching the foreign companies abroad to convince them to establish R & D centres within the technology parks of these foreign universities. The argument that succeeded in convincing the multinational companies to set up these centres was a very convincing one — the graduates produced by the Pakistan-German university, for example, would have passed the examinations of the German partner university and thus, would be identical in standard to students passing the same examination in Germany. They would, however, be able to hire the Pakistani engineers at lower costs for the technology parks than similar personnel available in Germany.

Another argument used was a demographic one — with ageing populations and the young not opting for careers in engineering, many of these advanced countries are faced with a huge challenge, especially with countries such as China and India advancing rapidly and offering serious competition. This has led to Siemens, Eriksson and many other companies agreeing to establish their R & D Centres in foreign universities (Pakistan does not have a single international R & D Centre presently).

We did not go out looking for loans from foreign agencies as it has been proved, over and over again, that the West does not wish to promote engineering, science or technology development in any major way. This is because it does not want Pakistan to become another Korea, offering high technology products which compete with those sold by the West. Strength in engineering is also considered as a double-edged sword as it also provides us with strength in manufacturing defence equipment. The aid that has been forthcoming for Pakistan from USA, Europe, or Japan has therefore, been largely for primary education. We, thus, decided to establish the new foreign engineering universities with our own funds. We also envisioned the establishment of seven new engineering universities, rather than one or two, as it was strongly felt that in order to make a national impact, a critical mass of high quality engineers and technology parks could change the destiny of Pakistan. Social science programmes were built into the curricula of each university.