Oct 25 - 31, 20

For the last few years the higher education sector is doing extremely well which is reflected in the improved faculties of various universities and business schools and the quality of graduates readily acknowledged abroad. Recent case of fake degrees of herd of politicians sent a bad message abroad about education standards in Pakistan.

Despite having prestigious institutions of higher education, the education sector has failed to build up a knowledge growth in the economy of Pakistan.

Contrary to that insignificant role of the education in knowledge based economic growth, the education sector has done a great job in nation building as well as contributing to the impressive development of the economies such as Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and above all in neighboring India where the information technology contributes over $45 billion a year to their total exports of around $275 billion while the International Monetary Fund has forecast a growth rate of 9.5 per cent for India during current fiscal year.

Apart from blame game and shifting responsibility of poor economic growth, the fact remains that the education was never assigned a top priority by a number of governments in the past and even today. The education sector gets hardly 2.5 or 2.7 per cent of the GDP and such funds too are spent mostly on salaries rather than doing any research work for uplifting the living standards of the people and socioeconomic growth of the nation.

It may be mentioned that following flood devastations which naturally caused financial constraints the government stopped release of scholarship grants particularly to IT students, which is a matter of serious concerns for the students as parents as the future of these youngsters is on stake. A large number of students are studying on the ministry's scholarships besides dozens of research projects being run on ministry IT funds and any further delay may put the future of these students and researchers at stake.

The funds are being delayed with an excuse that the board of directors of the information and communication technologies research and development fund (ICT R&D) has failed to hold a meeting. Therefore, funds could not be released to the students studying on scholarships in various local universities and for research projects initiated by the fund.

It may be recalled that the ministry had established National ICT R&D Fund in September 2006 aimed at transforming Pakistan's economy into a knowledge-based economy. At present, the fund has been supporting about 1,300 students mostly from rural and underprivileged areas in terms of scholarships' award for four-year BS program in IT related disciplines. The fund had also enabled initiation of about 40 research sponsoring development projects for PhD students. Such issues are needed to be addressed on urgent basis, as non-payment of funds may result into suspension of work on all projects.

Apart from these painful developments, there are some good examples also which are in fact the silver lining giving hope for a better future. Universities are doing a great job under their social responsibility program.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah University has set an example by providing education facility to the children of a slump area adjacent to the university.

It was really heart touching disclosure when Dr. Abdul Wahab of Mohammad Ali Jinnah University disclosed during a recent discussion that his university has arranged evening classes for the children of a slum area in the neighbor of his university. The university not only provides them the facility of air-conditioned classes for holding primary classes by the university teachers but also provides books, copies, stationary and clothes and shoes to the kids free of costs.

This kind gesture on the part of the university has carved a respectable place among the dwellers of the slum area who love the university staff rendering sincere efforts for the poor youth with the light of education. This is an example needed to be followed by other educational institutions to do something for the benefit of the poor strata of the society.

It is interesting to note that Salim Ghauri, Chairman and CEO NetSol Technologies Ltd, has come up with a brilliant idea to promote collaborations with foreign information technology (IT) institutions for growth of information technology in Pakistan.

The focus of such initiatives should be exchange of students, staff members, research scientists, and institutional managers for short periods to generate and guarantee continued scientific and scholarly cooperation that would help transfer of technology besides expanding the canvas and exposure of the students of information technology in Pakistan.

Such initiatives should also promote cooperative and collaborative linkages to enhance their scientific, technical, and engineering competencies and to develop future programs of mutual interest and benefit of IT institutions.

There is an urgent need of higher degree training to teaching staff working at the IT institutions locally, and joint conferences, seminars, symposia, summer courses and short courses can play vital role in this regard. Besides, exchanging publications and other scientific materials for scientific, scholarly, educational and information purposes would also be possible through such interactions to strengthen the friendly relationships between the institutions.

Ghauri also recommended publication and printing of scientific material and creation of a standing website for placing and sharing materials of the institutes regarding scientific seminars and actual scientific works should put in place on war footing basis for the benefit of IT students. MSc and PhD Programs for students from Pakistan and organisation of joint research activities may be supported by the exchange of scientists, scholars and technical staff members.

The government on its part is required to set up a working group on the concept to mange the implementation of the collaborations with the objective to identify and articulate issues related to staff development, student exchange, joint R&D and teaching & learning programs and to review the progress of the collaboration.