EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW OF PROFESSOR DR ZUBAIR AHMED SHAIKH

Director FAST National University Karachi Campus

KHALIL AHMED, Senior Correspondent
Sep 25 - Oct 01, 2006

PAGE: Please tell us something about yourself?

DR ZUBAIR AHMED SHAIKH: I belong to a family from Hyderabad, Sindh where my parents, all my siblings and immediate cousins are Doctors and PhDs, including their spouses. My father retired as a senior academician and as Director College Education. Hence, securing positions in board examinations, School and University is nothing extraordinary in our family. My first gift on passing Matriculation with distinction earned me a Commodore C-64 computer in 1982. Being the youngest in family I became an experimental kid to either join my two sisters, brother and the maternal side to become a Doctor or my eldest brother, and paternal cousins to become an Engineer. I wanted to do something special and I knew I've to have a Doctor title as well to survive in my family. I took admission in Computer Engineering in 1984 at Mehran University, Jamshoro. Being a position holder in the Board exams, I could have attained admission in any Engineering discipline, but I opted for Computer Engineering. In 1984, this program just got started. The admissions interview committee members, in order to properly guide me, kept on insisting that I should take Electrical, Civil or even Electronics, but I knew what I wanted.

With the Grace of Allah SWT, I earned a BS (Computer Engineering) and was a first class first position holder in every academic semester and year. I wrote software in Fortran embedding Assembly Language for proper Disk scheduling of IBM Main Frame computers, when others hardly knew how to write a basic arithmetic program. The passion of Medical Field remained and that led me to work during my final year on the development of an AI system for disease identification using Homeopathic mode of diagnosis. This project earned a national and international recognition, I was awarded by IEEE and other professional bodies various medals and recognitions.

The very next day after I graduated, I was appointed as a Lecturer in Computer Engineering at Mehran University. I received the Quaid-e-Azam scholarship to pursue higher studies and I moved to New York in 1989 from where I did MS and PhD in Computer Science from Polytechnic University, New York, USA. In 1994, I became Doctor and joined the normal title rank with others in my family. Over the course of my studies, I even attended courses at MIT and worked briefly at the MIT Media Labs. My specialization is in Virtual Reality, Multimedia and Intelligent Systems.

After earning the Doctorate in Computer Science, I moved to Michigan where I was an Assistant Professor in Computer Science for about 2 years and also worked as a consultant for leading companies. I returned back to Pakistan in 1996 and started my career from GIK Institute of Engineering. The same year I also got married to a Dental Surgeon (again a Doctor) to maintain the normal family status.

In Pakistan, I have worked as Founding Dean of the faculty of Computer and Management Sciences at Isra University, Hyderabad, Dean and Head Industrial Liaison at Karachi Institute of Information and Technology and now as the Director of FAST National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences in Karachi. I'm also a member of Board of Governors of IBA Sukkur, Member Sindh IT Advisory Board, Member-Secretary of National Computing Education Accreditation Council of HEC and member of various other boards and councils. I am also an approved PhD Supervisor from HEC.

At present, I am the Coordinator and Principal Researcher for the Microsoft to establish the first Microsoft Innovation Centre in Pakistan.

PAGE: Could you please brief us about FAST-NU?

DZAS: National University of computer and Emerging Sciences under the auspices of Foundation for the Advancement of Science & Technology (FAST) is a non-profit private sector University imparting education in Computer Science, Telecommunication, Computer Engineering and Management Sciences. It started as an Institute in 1985 and later became the National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences as the first federal university set up and approved by the cabinet of Pakistan. It is uniquely placed as a distinctive university which has a provision in its charter with powers to set up campuses any where in Pakistan. It has established four campuses i.e. Karachi (established in 1985), Lahore (1990), Islamabad (1997) and Peshawar (2001).

Bit on the genesis of our parent organization-FAST. The Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology established in 1980 is the brainchild of late Justice Syed Akhlaque Hussain and was nurtured during its formative years by a generous donation by the late Agha Hassan Abedi of the BCCI. The late Dr. Mahbub ul Haq consolidated and expanded the activities of the Foundation during his tenure as President. Our present President, Senator Wasim Sajjad is providing a wise and vigorous leadership in consultation with the dedicated Board of Governors, in the further development of the activities of the Foundation. The University is headed by an eminent scholar and scientist Dr. Amir Muhammed who has remained President of Pakistan Academy of Sciences. I think it is fair to say that since its creation, the Foundation has moved at the speed suited to its name. FAST-NU energized by its distinguished faculty and strengthened by its brilliant students, now stands in the highest echelons of education in the country. The university is always striving to forge new paths for a brighter tomorrow of Pakistan.

So, in a nutshell at FAST-NU we are engaged in a ceaseless endeavour to set new standards and seek new horizons in technical education and to produce graduates with new orientations who can stimulate and lead the industrial transformation of the country. Let me share with you the philosophy that we at FAST-NU cherish: We believe that education is not about filling a bucket, it is about lighting a fire fire to seek knowledge, excellence, and life long learning.

At Karachi, in last few years, we have shown a tremendous progress. Our faculty strength has been tripled, student body has been doubled and to accommodate all this growth we had a new academic block last year which is now being further extended this year. We now have a 250 seating capacity Auditorium, well furnished classrooms, sports and student activity centre, spacious library with multimedia aides, labs equipped with latest computers including Notebook computers' lab for our final year students. The whole campus is a big wireless hotspot. Our academic expansion includes establishment and organization of the Institute into four academic departments. The flagship and oldest discipline of Computer Science is under the Department of Computer Science offering BS, MS and PhD in Computer Science. Likewise, we have Department of Telecommunication & Computer Engineering offering BS in Telecom and Computer Engineering, Department of Management Science offering BBA and MBA and Department of Humanities and Sciences providing support to the three degree offering departments. The total faculty strength in all these departments is well over 50 with many holding PhDs and other advance degrees.

In addition, we have a fully renovated City campus which is a house of all Graduate programs. Our future expansion plans include acquiring additional space of 6 acres of land right across the highway, and a 100 acre land in the Educational City. We have established Hostels and are adding more academic blocks.

We have also established a very strong academic-liaison office. This office is responsible for arranging structured and organized internships and arranges placements for our graduates. The senior batch in every academic year is fully booked with leading IT companies.

PAGE: What have the FAST-NU graduates done in terms of progress and prosperity of the nation?

DZAS: Pakistan needs people who can dream of things that never were, who can visualize the world in their own way, who can face the challenges of tomorrow, who have the courage to question the unknown and who can make things happen! At FAST-NU we try to develop such people! Our students are known far and wide for not just their brilliance but also their comprehension powers that take them beyond the dimensions of mundane imagination.

Working within Pakistan and worldwide, the students of FAST NU are acclaimed for their matchless mental luminosity. The secret ingredient of this radiance is the FAST NU culture, which induces in the students an undying thirst for perfection.

The graduates of FAST-NU, Karachi Campus are every where in Pakistan's IT sector. Many are heading the IT departments in large organizations. Leading multi-nationals like Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, NCR, etc. have more than 75% FAST Graduates within the Pakistani nationals. FAST Graduates have earned their Doctoral degrees from USA, UK and are at leading positions abroad as well.

PAGE: Research is sine-qua-non for any university. What kind of research activities are there at FAST-NU and how do they help the corporate world?

DZAS: We have taken Research as a top priority agenda. Last year we organized an International IEEE conference and this year we have similar plans. The Karachi campus has established a Centre of Research in Ubiquitous Computing and a Centre of Research in Secure E-Services. We are focussing on developing cutting-edge solutions encompassing the socio-computing parameters of this nation. At Lahore we have active research centre in Regional Language Processing and Software Engineering. At Islamabad, research in converging IT and Agriculture is being carried out.

PAGE: Please tell us something about FAST-NU's Ph.D. program.

DZAS: At Karachi we are offering PhD in Computer Science only. However, at Lahore Campus in addition to Computer Science we have also started PhD in Mathematics. The PhD program requires that one must have earned a formal 16 years of education in Computer Science or related areas. The applicants are screened on the basis of their academic performance, admission test and research aptitude. They have to undertake during their course of studies, various graduate courses, and deliver research seminars. The dissertation is evaluated by foreign experts.

PAGE: Could you please brief us about the future degree programs, which FAST-NU is intending to launch?

DZAS: As our University name has 'Emerging Sciences' in it, hence we soon intend to start new academic programs in Electronics, Textile and Industrial Management, Law and Media Management. We see all of them as the emerging disciplines to cater new society setups as they are emerging with a technology bias.

PAGE: Where do you see FAST-NU ten years down the road?

DZAS: This question reposes a lot of hopes and expectations. It is my considered opinion, that in the ultimate analysis, our most urgent need is scientists, engineers, and technologists. Being, a very practical person, I wish to produce the creators and disseminators of new traditions which represent a true departure from the ones inherited from the past. I want that we produce the finest engineers, scientist and technically tinted business professionals with decent character and respect of our local traditions, culture, religious beliefs and elders. I want to maintain the excellence and leadership we enjoy at FAST-NU in producing graduates with creativity, self-reliance, spirit of enterprise, and professional integrity. It is my prayer that we prove to be the answer to this national need, Nishi-Allah.

PAGE: There has been mushroom growth of Business Schools over the period of last two decades and they are still growing at full throttle. FAST-NU has also started BBA, MBA programs. What would you say about the quality of education in the realm of business administration in Pakistan and how would FAST-NU contribute to quality business education?

DZAS: Good. The increasing mushroom growth of Business schools, is a very healthy sign in my personal opinion. It means our land is fertile enough, to cater for the growing job markets that is changing the way organizations work. Even if we take the worst BBA graduate from say the worst institute, he is bound to make a difference by bringing with him the newer ways of customer satisfactions, organizational behaviors, financial understanding, management practices and bit of entrepreneurship. The challenge is for the best institutes', as they will have to bring within themselves a touch of an excellence that makes them shine-out. That touch at FAST is of Technology. We want to produce the Business Graduates who are technologically oriented. Hence, in all our courses we are asking our BBA graduates to make maximum use of information technology and be ready for taking and working assignments in informed organizations. Hence, our Finance graduate has that technology touch within him that makes him stand distinct amongst other graduates. Our contribution therefore shall be to take Pakistan's economy to a new frontier of Informed and Technologically driven economy.

PAGE: Pakistan is ranked among the lowest in the world in terms of higher education enrolment rates, standing at merely 2.9 per cent. How do you see the future of higher education in information technology in Pakistan?

DZAS: China in 2002 declared their country as E-China. They wanted to bring Information and Communications technology (ICT) everywhere. In 2004, they called it M-China (bringing Mobiles everywhere) and for 2008, their target is U-China (Ubiquitous China, i.e. Computing Everywhere). Having said this, every developing nation is witnessing a revolution from transformation of our previous practices to ICT enabled practices. Hence, the scope of higher education IT is therefore extremely bright.

PAGE: There is a significant increase of 35 universities during the period 2001-02 to 2004-05 including 13 new public and 22 new private universities.

DZAS: I think even this number is less, if we have to take our higher education literacy rate to say 6%. There is a domino effect of education, you increase the literacy level, the effect percolates into society through automatic enrollments in schools, rural sector development, cultural diffusions, etc. This is a healthy sign for any nation. I'll support these initiatives of Higher Education Commission and the credit goes to Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman. What is more important is that some quality measures should also be adopted and we should not sell the degrees. This has been realized by the formation of various Accreditation Boards particularly in Computing / IT Education and Business Education. Both of these have also been created by HEC.

PAGE: A word of advice for the youngsters.

DZAS: Just be yourself. Have faith in your abilities and respect your teachers and elders. Allah SWT has given you only this life and you shall be questioned for it. How much positive change you brought in yourself, your family and society is what your faith in Allah SWT demands, which you should be able to demonstrate.

ENROLLMENT BY LEVEL OF DEGREE

Number of Students Enrolled by Sector and Level of Degree over the Years.

Sector

Year

Bachelor

Master

M. Phil.

Ph.D.

PGD

Total

Public

2001-02

156141

66675

3683

3061

2841

232401

2002-03

186602

78709

4462

4045

2666

276484

2003-04

252841

92613

6802

6277

3595

362128

Private

2001-02

30340

11854

188

63

1428

43873

2002-03

37688

15815

380

93

1285

55261

2003-04

42871

16054

652

195

1336

61108

Overall

2001-02

186481

78529

3871

3124

4269

276274

2002-03

224290

94524

4842

4138

3951

331745

2003-04

295712

108667

7454

6472

4931

423236

 


 

ENROLLMENT BY GENDER

Gender wise Enrollment at Universities/DAI (including Constituent Colleges) by Level of Degree during the Period 2001-04.

Level of Degree

2001-02

2002-03

2003-04

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Bachelors

117827

68654

137695

86595

167072

128640

Master

48255

30274

56714

37810

64879

43788

M.Phil

2556

1315

3150

1692

4708

2746

Ph.D

2435

689

3122

1016

4662

1810

PGD

3431

838

2998

953

3192

1739

Total

174504

101770

203679

128066

244513

178723

Gender wise  Enrollment at Universities/DAI (including Constituent Colleges) by Area during the Period 2001-04.

Area

2001-02

2002-03

2003-04

 

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Federal *

62184

48160

75876

62795

97927

97893

AJK

1111

516

1527

671

1676

708

Balochistan

3425

959

3670

1085

4421

1360

NWFP

22811

7183

25310

7976

27546

9134

Punjab

40364

21218

48535

29088

62224

40557

Sindh

44609

23734

48561

26451

50719

29071

Total

174504

101770

203679

128066

244513

178723

* = Including Distance Learning 

Gender wise  Enrollment at Public and Private Sector Universities/DAI (including Constituent Colleges) during  the Period 2001-04.

Sector

2001-02

2002-03

2003-04

 

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Public

141569

90832

162407

114077

199553

162575

Private

32935

10938

41272

13989

44960

16148

Total

174504

101770

203679

128066

244513

178723