EDUCATION-INDUSTRY LINKAGES FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH

By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
Feb 10 - 23, 2003
 

The President of Pakistan, at third post-graduate convocation of the National University of Sciences and Technology at Rawalpindi on 3rd January 2003, said that the country has to create a strong linkage between higher education and its industry for progress and prosperity. He urged the graduating students to concentrate on practical application of their knowledge, which should directly contribute to national economic development. He cautioned that with the advent of globalization, tougher competition lies ahead. In this scenario, it is increasingly important that self-reliance in technology is achieved through indigenous R&D and adoption of total quality culture at all workplaces.

IMPERATIVES OF MEANINGFUL LINKAGE

The President has touched on the importance of the linkage between industry and higher education. However, this is not the first time that the importance of the linkage has been underscored. Apart from the universities providing such R&D support, Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) has been offering these services for many decades but the outcome has not been as significant as was envisaged due to different reasons. But, this time the linkage appears to be established more meaningfully for economic growth and prosperity. It is now realized that the Muslim Ummah, despite being one fourth of world population, lags far behind in education, science and technology. The educational standards in the country have gone down, not due to lack of intellect, but because of abandonment of the moral and spiritual values, which were once the hallmark of Muslims. If the decaying standards were not improved now, it would not be possible to join the league of developed nations. The linkages between industry and higher education institutions and the carrying out of different assignments would encourage economic development and improvement in education quality.

Globalization process under WTO has already started and in a few years all the WTO arrangements would become effective. This would require production of quality products at competitive cost, compliance with all the environmental requirements, removal of subsidies, improvement in the working conditions of labour, removal of excessive import duty barriers, etc. In order to be able to hounourably survive in that period, local industry must improve working environment through close relationship with the institutions of higher education particularly the ones extending technical or business education.

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS FOR LINKAGES

This time the promotional steps for meaningful linkages by the government such as the following give credence to achieving better results:

a. The government has been emphasizing on quality education at three tiers primary, secondary and higher education. The Chairman, Higher Education Commission (HEC) has recently announced the planning of a major Indigenous Fellowship Scheme for PhD students in all the disciplines being taught at university level in Pakistan. The main objective of the project is to stimulate research and development activities in public sector universities and to create a critical mass of highly qualified human resources in all fields taught at the advanced level in the world. The scholarships will be used to develop high quality teachers/researchers in public as well as private sector universities. These students will work in areas considered essential for economic development of Pakistan. The Chairman, HEC is very right when he says that we would not be able to develop economically if we do not have the scientific and technological capability to utilize and exploit our resources in the form of saleable products and services.

b. The Rector of NUST said that the programmes offered by the university had been upgraded to the PhD level with a major focus on research. For this purpose, the labs and associated infrastructure were also being up-graded through a $25 million loan financing by the Islamic Development Bank. The NUST-IDB Project was at an advanced stage of implementation and would be completed within a year. The President, IDB has approved a US $ 1 million fellowship programme, which would be used to hire the services of eminent Muslim scholars to meet our faculty needs for R&D in hi-tech fields.

c. PCSIR in the past few years has been facing severe funding shortage due to which there was negligible research work during this period. Shortage of manpower also hampered the activities there. It has been during the past about two years that the Ministry of Science and Technology sanctioned grant of significant amounts to enable these multi-purpose laboratories to establish linkages with the local industries and develop the natural resources into exportable products. Reportedly funds have been allocated for modernisation of PCSIR. Trained experts are also being hired for the research work.

The steps listed above show a positive change for developing research capabilities and for raising the quality of education. This would help in manufacturing quality products at competitive cost. However, much more needs to be done in many areas. There is no time for procrastination because the WTO arrangements are being implemented in a phased programme and all its provisions would soon be operative. It is imperative that constructive steps are taken on priority basis and suitable funding allocated at the earliest. In the next part of this paper, some of the areas for linkages are identified together with highlighting the essential steps by the government, industry and the institutions of higher education to make this initiative a success.

SCOPE OF R&D LINKAGES

At the NUST convocation gold medals mere awarded to distinction holder in different branches of Engineering such as Transportation, Structural, Computer Software, Telecommunication, Electrical, Computer, Mechanical, Aerospace, Avionics, Environmental and MBA. These disciplines have practical applications in various industries/businesses and therefore can be taken as the broad areas for closer cooperation between institutions of higher education and industry. However, the linkage between the industry and the educational institutions, can more specifically be in areas such as the following:

a. Studies on energy audit and ways and means to reduce the overall energy consumption as well as cost per unit of production.

b. Time and motion studies to improve work efficiency per unit of labour input.

c. Design of different tamper-free packages to be printed and used for packing and marketing of products.

d. Re-check of the product or job costing practices in the particular industries.

e. Compliance with the standards prescribed by the Pakistan Standards Institute.

f. Ways and means to economically comply with the requirements of the Environment Authorities.

g. Ways and means to exploit the wastage in producing useful saleable goods.

h. Determining the percentage of wastage of different raw materials at different stage of the production process.

i. Surveys and research in areas such as availability of raw materials; sources of supplies, sub-assemblies, stores and spare; test marketing of finished products; costing of products etc. are relevant and must be explored.

More long-term business relationships between the educational institutions and the industries would be developed in due course of time. Prior to that mutual trust need to be developed with cooperative activities such as: (a) industry visits by the students with a view to become familiar with the actual working of the plants and the conditions therein. The students should know industrial process, machines used for production; raw materials required and finished products for marketing locally or abroad, (b) feedback from students on the industry orientation visits and their linkages to the processes and machines described in the textbooks, (c) industry experts frequently working as formal teachers and guest speakers in the technical universities and the business schools, (d) encouraging the faculty/students to carry out small duration research projects in a particular industry, and (e) industry making available technical magazines and laboratory equipment to the colleges and universities with a view to enhance the facilities to the students.

Apart from industry, there is need for the students and the teaching faculty to have exposure to the government offices, utilities, courts, etc. to offer them an opportunity to see the working there and to exchange views with the concerned senior officers on different issues. Already, the government officers as part of their training are taken to different places and to different institutions to have better exposure and to exchange of views. Such facilities to the students in the universities and professional colleges would help in many respects.

SUGGESTED APPROACH

In order to realize the objectives in the shortest possible time, the three stakeholders i.e. the government, the industry and the institutions of higher education have to realize the importance of the linkages and then take concrete measures for establishing meaningful cooperation. Some of the actions that can facilitate the process are discussed below.

ACTIONS BY THE GOVERNMENT

The government can help institutionalize the linkages with general permission in areas such as: (i) filling up teachers' vacancies in all public sector colleges and universities and suitable funding for properly equipping the laboratories and libraries; (ii) enforcing Charters of private colleges and universities for employment of desired number of qualified faculty members and proper equipping of the laboratories and libraries; (iii) empowering the teachers to get R&D projects from the industry against certain fee that would be shared between the college, the faculty member and the students assisting the teacher in the project; (iv) providing more funding to the institutions for practical research work and with a view to enhance the practical applicability of the research done by the teachers and the students; (v) intern-ships of students at industry to have certain number of credit hours; and (vi) liberal tax incentives for expenditure on internships and stipends, equipment, books donated by the industry to the educational institutions.

To set the ball rolling for meaningful linkages with the industry, there has to be clear permission from the government to the educational institutions, the teaching faculties and the students to formally engage in R&D activities, for profit. There should be proper agreement between industry and the university/teachers/students for the assignment as well as for the payment of the fee including out of pocket expenses. Other allied matters to protect the industry and the researchers may also be covered in the documentation. In case any part of the fee so collected is to be shared with the university or the government, it must also be specified upfront. The government and the universities have to formulate the rules for such activities. In case the rules are already there, these may be amended in the light of present day requirements and must be publicized.

In Pakistan, industry is facing numerous issues with the authorities who are after collecting maximum revenues and many times tend to make assessments on the higher side. The owners and the senior management spend lot of their productive time in sorting out those matters. Sometimes it involves court cases and large expenses as well. There is need to considerably reduce the number of agencies interacting with industry The tax assessment process also needs to be rationalized so that it is fair and does not stifle the industry. In case there are less botherations of this type, the industrialists/businessmen would mostly be in better frame of mind to pay serious attention to make their industries more competitive internationally. In that context there shall be more use of R&D linkages with the institutions offering higher technical/professional education.

ACTIONS BY THE INDUSTRY

Many industrialists have established centres of higher learning including business institutes, universities and computer institutes. Only a very small number of these institutions are actually providing quality education. The rest appear to be purely commercial undertakings that are minting money and quality of education is not their main concern. The industry has to improve its image and also improve the quality of education wherever they are associated.

Industry more often resorts to cutting of costs. Apart from cost of production, the economy is applied to the filling of senior technical positions as well. Large companies and the multinationals fill most of the positions with well qualifies persons but medium and small companies often do without some of the essential experts. Some times it so happens that the person occupying a particular position is very competent technically but does not have formal academic qualifications. If a particular industry is in such a situation, the owners/management perhaps can get good ideas by encouraging R&D linkages with technical/professional educational institutions.

Many industries became sick and were closed. It is not definite that the industry suffered due to lack of linkage with the educational institutions. However, it would not be wrong if it is said that the industry could do much better if at initial stages it had made proper use of the educational institutions for surveys/research work pertaining to different aspects of the industry. In order to stay competitive the industry is urged to open up and test new ideas with the help of faculty/students from the technical and professional institutions.

ACTIONS BY EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

Generally all the institutions of higher learning are not maintaining the teachers up to the desired strength. Sometimes the selection of the teachers is not proper. Most of the teachers feel demoralized due to delay in promotions or other problems with the administrations. Due to this, the quality of education suffers. In such circumstances, the quality of graduates is also not up to the mark. The industry would not be that impressed with the performance of the graduates and thus there would be lesser chances of developing links with the industry for research or surveys with the help of such educational institutions. All these shortcomings need to be removed at the earliest.

The linkages would be facilitated if the educational institutions teach what is required by the industry. This sort of relationship calls for greater effort on the part of the institution to update the curriculum, use highly qualified faculty, provide modern laboratories supported by fully equipped libraries. This will require more funding for running the institutions. This aspect needs more attention from the governing bodies of the institutions. The businesses, industries and the government may help provide more funding to all technical and business schools in the private and public sectors. Better education would be able to generate more opportunities for research work and surveys for the industry.

The educational institutions must frame proper rules and procedures for the facilitating of linkages with the industry. This can take many shapes such as: (a) the teachers can take R&D projects from the industry and associate the students in the projects to impart training in the research work, (b) the teachers can facilitate the student's visits to industry, (c) invite industry experts to lectures to students on practical aspects of different industrial operations, (d) invite the experts from the industry to comment on quality of graduates and how the quality can be improved, and (e) help the students get R&D projects from the industry and carry it out, under supervision of the teachers.

There is need to maintain close liaison with other universities and professional colleges. The relationship can be through visits, faculty exchange, sharing of research, discussing particular problems common to the institution, etc. This would help in developing more linkage/research opportunities with the industry, business and the government.