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The other side of the story

Abul Kalam, Vice Chancellor NED University speaks on darker side of IT

May 21 - Jun 03, 2001

Engineer A. Kalam, Vice Chancellor, NED University of Engineering & Technology, Karachi, has expressed his concern over what he called the fever of Information Technology (IT) which may misbalance other important segments of the education disciplines in Pakistan.

Talking to PAGE, Eng. Kalam, having a distinguished professional career spanned over 5 decades, said that unless all important subjects are given due attention both by the public and the private sector, the economy may not sail in smooth waters. Giving the example of mushrooming of the IT sector, due to attractive but temporary benefits, most of the students as well as parents have diverted their attention towards IT. Consequently, other sectors of the economy may suffer badly. Other education segments in the Universities have already started facing the faculty shortfalls. The situation if not controlled may create a wide gap of professionals in the sectors other than IT.

Eng. Kalam said that textile sector, which is the mainstay of our economy, even after 50 years of its history, still lacking in the field of textile engineering (technical side). Textile industry has to hire engineers for installation of the textile units whenever it has to import textile units.

Our entire textile industry is relying on the imported machines and equipment, as we could not develop a local textile machine producing industry within Pakistan.

Kalam who had established, Pakistan Machine Tool Factory (PMTF), some 33 years ago said that this engineering complex has the potential to meet the needs of the textile industry provided the government's serious desire to develop local industry to produce textile machines. Currently, PMTF, which had entered an agreement with a Chinese company, is producing some parts of textile machinery (spinning frames). These locally produced equipment and parts are 35-40 per cent costlier than the equipment imported from China from the same company. This is because of higher duty imposed by the government on the raw material imported from China. The private sector is to promote the local made items yet the economics of these local made textile equipment does not encourage the private sector. Government will have to look into those corners who are hampering the growth of local industry.

He said that the NED University has set up a well-equiped lab with the newly built textile department with the financial support of the Export Promotion Bureau. He expressed the hope that the graduates produced by the Textile Department of the NED University would greatly help the technical side of the textile industry in Pakistan.

Information Technology.

The Vice Chancellor said that there is feverish anxiety in private institutions to introduce degree programs in "Computer Science" which is not Computer Science at all but hardly worth even calling "Computer Studies". Several parents of students seeking admission (and even responsible Officers in Administrative grades who should know better make requests for admissions in "Computer" when asked whether in Computer Science or Computer Systems Engineering they ask what is the difference.

There has been consequently mushroom growth of establishments awarding Degrees several claiming UGC recognition which claims to be in the field of computers awarding Bachelors and Masters Degrees, admitting students with scant attention to their earlier educational qualifications but charging exorbitant fees.

The craze for what is supposed to be Information Technology, but in reality is only an incomplete and lopsided portion of this field of knowledge, has drastically reduced the demand for education in all physical sciences, Engineering and Technologies.

Engineer Kalam said that the important question is whether our GDP will benefit from such drastic diversion of Human Resources to Information Technology or not? The IT is field in which the majority of graduates obviously intend to become manpower "exports" especially if such graduates are produced at the expense of considerable reduction in the number of other disciplines with consequent reductions in industrial products and engineering services.

To add to the above, Kalam said that some institutions are being set up in the Public Sector offering very much larger salaries in Information Technology than drawn even by Doctorate Degree holders in technical Universities this is further depleting the minuscule I.T departments of existing Engineering Universities.

Of even greater concern, he feels is the fact that the demand for Human Resource exports in Information Technology may decrease considerably by the time students now beginning their degree programs, pass out of Universities.

Even in the USA some dot.com. Industries are going out of business and recruitment in our large Eastern neighbouring country has also diminished appreciably.

An even more distressing feature is the growing feeling amongst students that getting even a Doctorate in Mathematics, Sciences and Engineering would not be as worthwhile as an ordinary Bachelor's Degree in IT this is causing depletion of faculty in all these disciplines with potential for economic development.