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An interview with Mohammad Khalid Javed, Chief Executive, PSEB

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Islamabad
Sep 11 - 17, 2000

The Chief Executive of Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) Mohammad Khalid Javed, while admitting that there is a tremendous scope for development of Software Industry in Pakistan and huge earning of foreign exchange through software exports, said that the trained manpower to harness this huge potential is not yet available in Pakistan. "You need to educate and train thousands of people before expecting any turn around in the situation," he added.

Talking to this correspondent in his office in Islamabad, PSEB Chief said that we need hundred of thousand people trained from quality institutions who can come upto the market requirement to develop this hitherto neglected sector. There has been a mushroom growth in IT education centres in private sector but most of them are no more than money making business ventures than institutions imparting quality education. Majority of the young graduates coming out of these institutions do not come up to the market requirements. There are some prestigious institutions which do impart quality education and training, but the cost of education in these institutions is so high that even middle class segment of our society living on honest means cannot afford it. The quality of education in government institutes is poor because they lack the basic infrastructure they even do not have sufficient number of computers for their students. Secondly the low pay-structure fail to attract teachers of good quality, Mr.Khalid Javed said adding that software development is an intellect driven industry and therefore academic degrees alone are not enough to be successful in this profession. This calls for basic talent and "real germs" for this craft which can be improved and polished to succeed in this highly competitive field through proper education and training.

The PSEB Chief was highly optimistic that the required talent and "germ" for this field abounds in Pakistani youth specially belonging to lower and middle class educated families which is not being fully harnessed because of the financial constraints. They cannot afford the quality training centres in the private sector where monthly tuition fee ranges between Rs 8 to 10 thousand. The government institutions neither have the capacity nor they have the infrastructure to accommodate them.

There is an urgent need to make arrangement to set up large number of education centres and training institutes fully equipped with modern facilities to impart education at an affordable cost. Unless we develop a fully trained workforce of over two to three hundred thousands talented youngmen within the next 3/4 years we cannot make a real breakthrough. He cited an example of a semi-government prestigious institute which received over 20,000 applications for admission in computer sciences classes. Five thousand qualified the aptitude test of high standard proving that they had the necessary talent but the institution could admit only 50 applicants. The talent of the remaining 4950 applicants will just be wasted. If we had arrangements to teach them these youngmen could be converted into a real assets after 2/3 years education and training, Mr. Khalid Javed said adding that country needed huge investment in its human resource development if we want to compete in this high technological field. The government will have to highly subsidize the education in this field. The unfettered growth of IT institutions without any check on their functioning have produced only sub-standard graduate who cannot face the challenges of a competitive market, PSEB Chief said.

The Chairman, Punjab Information and Technology Board recently stated at a Press conference in Lahore that 90 per cent of the graduates from the provincial IT institutions do not come up to market requirement and are therefore unemployed. According to him, of the over 100 private institutions offering BSc courses only a handful meet the required IT standards and while the IT market in the US and Germany alone is projected to offer some 1.8 million jobs next year the number of competent graduates from Punjab's numerous IT institutes is only 200. This does not even meet the projected 1000 IT job requirements of Lahore's 15 software development companies for the coming year. The situation in other provinces and the federal capital is equally bad if not worst.

PSEB Chief was happy that the present government is taking lot of interest to develop this neglected sector. It has approved an ambitious and comprehensive IT policy and allocated Rs.5 billion for the current fiscal year to implement its various proposals. The IT policy has addressed to all these problems and it is hoped that the situation will greatly improve in the next few years. The proposed National Testing Service and National Accreditation Committee in the IT policy would be able to scrutinize and regulate IT education in the country and eliminate the unscrupulous elements that are there mainly for profiteering.

In reply to a question Mr. Khalid Javed said "I think that we will witness an exponential growth in trained manpower. More and more graduate level programs will be initiated and obviously when the number of people increase, the work will also definitely increase; and as I've already mentioned, there is a lot of work to be done, and its up to us to reach out and grab all we can. So when we have more manpower, a well established education sector, a solid infrastructure and marketing setup, it will definitely affect our exports and I think we should be well over a billion dollars in the next five to ten years. However, I don't think that we'll still be comparable to other emerging markets, as they have their own growth rate, and those who have started earlier will be further ahead. We can only try to catch up to them."

Responding to a question regarding software piracy said software piracy law already exists and is being implemented in Pakistan. Every other day we read in the paper that Business Software Alliance (BSA) has raided some place where pirated software was being used or sold. However, this is an issue that no country can completely rid itself of. Even in America, forty per cent of the software being used is pirated.

Replying to another question as to how his organization was facilitating software development and its export, PSEB Chief said "in the past we were just sponsoring companies' participation in international exhibitions. We have also developed a Software Technology Park in Islamabad, and plan to develop them in Lahore and Karachi as well. This year is the first time that we have the budget to meet our requirements and our facilitation will take on a new direction. We will set up our marketing offices overseas, which will provide direct contact with the foreign markets, and this will be especially beneficial for emerging companies."

Another thing that we've done is that our High Commission in Singapore has set up an incubator within the embassy premises, where software companies are provided all the facilities like telephone, fax, Internet, photocopying, committee room as well as secretarial services at a very nominal charge. These facilities are provided for six months only, the rationale being that within six months the company should be able to set up its own regular office. The three initial occupants there are quite satisfied and have developed good contacts in the market place, in fact one of them will very soon be vacating the incubator and setting up its own office. In future we plan to set up such incubators in America and Europe as well.

As for the emerging developers in the country, I would like to say that they have our support and we would encourage them to come into this industry. We have put up all our policies and incentive plans on our website (www.pseb.org), in fact we have also given guidelines on setting up a company in Pakistan."