Govt must engage nation in waging war against illiteracy and double the amount for education progress
Interview with Mr Aamir Ijaz Khan — Executive Director, ICMA Pakistan
PAGE: Kindly tell me something about yourself and ICMA Pakistan:
Aamir Ijaz Khan: By profession, I am a Fellow Cost and Management Accountant and have on my credit around 18 years of diversified experience in the areas of Client Servicing, Project Implementation, Business Repositioning, Financial Management and Compliance. Prior to joining Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of Pakistan (ICMA Pakistan) as Executive Director, I was serving as Head of Quality Assurance at M/s. Innovative Pvt. Ltd. I had also worked as Audit MIS Expert (Punjab) in a World Bank funded project named Project to Improve Financial Reporting & Auditing (PIFRA) and as Executive Financial Accountant at Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL).
At ICMA Pakistan, being pioneer member of Quality Assurance Board of ICMA Pakistan, I remained a vocal participant for first four years of its inception. I also served ICMA Lahore Toastmasters Club as its Founder President. Currently, I am a member of Management Committee of MENSA International – Pakistan Chapter. As a professional trainer and motivational speaker, I have conducted a number of training sessions and workshops. I have contributed various papers on national and international forums on themes of Growth Dynamics of Pakistani Services Sector, Pakistan economy, economic sectors’ strategic dynamics, budgetary measures etc.
As far as ICMA Pakistan is concerned, its foundation was laid in 1951 by late Muhammad Shoaib, former Federal Finance Minister of Pakistan with the prime objective of providing capable human resource to meet the industry and strategic needs of the country. The Institute was granted statutory status by an Act of Parliament in 1966. Over a period of 67 years, this Institute produced a number of quality professionals and contributed a lot in the economic development of the country. ICMA Pakistan is the founding member of International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) since 1977; Confederation of Asia and Pacific Accountants (CAPA) since 1980; and South Asia Federation of Accountants (SAFA) since 1984. The Institute has over 5000 members, who hold senior positions in trade, commerce, industry and Government in Pakistan and abroad. The number of active registered students is around 15000, which makes ICMA Pakistan one of the largest professional Institutions in Pakistan.
PAGE: What are your views about the liaison between academia and industry in Pakistan?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: There is no denying the fact that a strong industry-academia linkage is the need of the hour for sustainable economic growth of the country. The advanced nations achieved fast growth by developing strong academia-industry linkages; however, Pakistan lags far behind in this regard, though some efforts are being made by HEC and academic institutions. I have observed that our universities are producing good research and development work which are even recognized and published at international level, however, due to lack of coordination; both the industry and academia are not achieving mutual beneficial results. Due to isolated approach, the academia is finding it difficult to gather industry-specific reliable data and identify industry’s research needs. There seems to be little progress in terms of practical usefulness of academic research to meet the industry needs. On the other hand, the industry have reservations that graduates coming from academic institutions are ill-equipped and lack required knowledge and skills for meeting the industry needs. Hence, there is an emergent need to narrow this existing gap between the demanded skills and supplied skills to increase job markets for our graduates.
I am of the view that all the stakeholders need to be proactive in playing their due role. A real commitment is needed from the academia to break its isolation and establish relationships with industry. The academia must analyze measurable impact of research work on industry, society and on socio-economic development of the country. It must align with research needs of the industry and assist them in commercial application of research. It must continuously bring modifications in syllabi/curricula in consonance with the requirements of industry.
The industry must engage the students of universities and professional institutions to carry out small research-based projects to find industry solutions. Industry professionals should join educational institutions and teach different courses so that they can share real-time experiences, present workplace problems and communicate industry demands to students. Similarly, frequent visits of students to industry and corporate sector will develop their insights and understanding of business and industry processes. Students should be more involved in placement process to have better understanding of industry and corporate sector.
The government can play its role in promoting industry-academia linkage by offering scholarships for PhD students and young researchers to conduct research in the industry. This would not only enhance knowledge diffusion from public R&D institutes and universities to the private sector (especially SMEs) but will also improve employment opportunities and broaden career paths of young researchers who can gain long-term employment in industry. This would also build and strengthen R&D capacity in the private sector.
Lastly, I think that our education policy makers need to adjust our education-working experience model. We need to add ‘job experience’ as a pre-requisite for taking up higher studies after any bachelor’s degree. I am proposing this in view of the reality that internationally, a student is supposed to take up a job after bachelors and then decide further education degree and courses according to their career needs. When our graduates go to foreign markets they face hardships in seeking jobs due to lack of experience. If we follow this model, this could help in creating a good liaison between the industry and academia.
PAGE: How could Pakistan catch up with the latest trends of education sector of the developed countries?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: It seems to be a formidable task for Pakistan to catch up with the education standards of developed countries due mainly to inherent weaknesses in the very structure of our education system. However, a strong political will and commitment, both at federal and provincial levels, are required to raise the education quality to join the prestigious club of developed nations. First and foremost is that without spending a major portion of revenues on education, we cannot achieve the recommended global standard of spending on education as percentage of GDP and national budget. Unfortunately, our budget allocation for education sector, including higher education is less than two percent which is quite negligible even if we compare it with other developing countries. It is imperative that public investments on education may be enhanced gradually to six percent of GDP which is recommended for developing countries. I would also suggest that a constitutional amendment be made for allocating four or six percent of GDP on education which could be a binding on all future governments.
Secondly, keeping the latest global educational trends in perspective while reforming the education policy in Pakistan, I think that the national priority policies should also be kept in focus by the government. The global trends should be checked in the local context before implementation.
Thirdly, education reforms are not the only responsibility of the government; the private sector must also be associated to make a joint effort in bringing the education system at par with any other advanced countries.
Fourthly, the quality of spending in education sector need to be improved and the government apparatus responsible for this sector should be strengthened. The government must take practical measures to fill the gaps between allocation, spending and needs of education sector in Pakistan. As part of national education policy and to improve education outreach and quality, the government should make it mandatory for federal and provincial government to spend at least 40 percent of education budget on development expenditure.
Lastly, it is also important that we must undertake curriculum reforms that match with the job market and industry needs. There is need for research to update the curriculum; standardize the curriculum development and enhance quality of textbooks and learning materials.
PAGE: Could you tell us about the value of the management accountants in the world?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: Management accountants are the brain and nerve system of any organization and play a pivotal role in business operations. They create value and provide business solutions and strategic directions to organizations. They understand the business formula for delivering value to the customer. In the past, the management accountants were supposed to be more engaged in accumulation and reporting of financial data but today they understand the business in greater depth and present ideas that can contribute to the bottom line.
Management Accountants are ‘corporate fortune tellers’ as by utilizing a wide range of management accounting tools and techniques, they forecast future business trends and guide organizations in making important strategic decisions. They also help in increasing business efficiency by advising organizations to understand performance variances through use of different analytical techniques.
The management accountants are also best strategist to deal with competition in the market through better control of cost drivers and revamping of the value chain. They help organizations to understand the exact cost of production and price at which it is sold, which eventually benefit them in minimizing expenses and better utilize their resources, thus surviving and sustaining fierce market competition.
PAGE: Could you tell us about the emerging role of female management accountants?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: Though the share of female management accountants in the overall membership of the Institute is quite negligible due to innumerable factors, however, around 350 female CMAs are in practical life, pre-dominantly associated with the corporate sector at various middle and senior level positions; and few of them are even running their own ventures. The prominent positions at which female management accountants qualified from ICMA Pakistan are Chief Accountant; Company Secretary; Chief Internal Auditor; Chief Financial Officer; Director Finance; Financial Controller; Project Advisor and Management Consultants. In addition to private sector, few of the renowned public sector organizations where they are serving include Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP); State Bank of Pakistan (SBP); State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan; National Telecommunication Authority (NTC); Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGDC); Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Competition Commission of Pakistan. A number of female CMAs are also associated in the Education sector as faculty members while others are working at different administrative positions.
PAGE: Your expectations from the incumbent government for the promotion of the education sector?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: Education serves as the backbone for socio-economic development of any country. I would expect the incumbent government to declare education as the highest priority and chalk out an action plan to engage the entire nation, including the Army, in waging a war against illiteracy.
I also expect that the government should undertake an extensive education reform on priority basis with special focus on tackling the chronic under-investment in the education sector. I expect that in the coming budget, the government would double the amount of allocations for education sector and also form a ‘Task Force’ to monitor the effective utilization of allocated amount.
Since education is a provincial subject, I would propose that the provincial education secretariats must also be strengthened. Further, the private sector be incentivize through tax benefits to establish and run schools, colleges and universities with restriction that a certain percentage of bright students from the lower and middle class will be granted admissions and scholarships in these institutions.
I am much sanguine that under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who himself is a strong advocate of high education standards, some concrete initiatives will be taken by government in the days to come for improving quality of education in the country.