EDUCATION, R&D NEEDED TO POWER IT

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 4 - 10, 20
11

Over the last few years, education centres have played a key role in producing human capital for information and technology industry of Pakistan and the world. Workforce base has expanded as a result and remittances from expatriates working in IT companies are on the upward trend. Flourishing local IT industry contributes towards the domestic economy by increasing employment opportunities and entrepreneurships. However, there is still a need to improve standards of IT education and research and developments in Pakistan to increase revenue from the exports of IT and business processing outsourcing services and to bring the country at par with the countries running global IT industry.

Global IT and enabled services industry is expanding at a rapid pace and since the world is moving toward the knowledge economy, a clone of physical world is gradually being created on the cyberspace. From financial transactions, buying of goods and services, to international conferences, everything is relying on software. At least, in developed nations the cloning is so fast that things would stop working if internet were broken. Global recession was a recent example of interconnectivity spilling over impact of downturn in one economy to the partner economies like domino effects.

At the same time, internet is a blessing for many people using it for monetary benefits and upgrading. This world of software has mammoth size knowing no geographical boundaries and defying time barriers while showering its blessing over the internet users. This cosmopolitanism is propelling the money making for individuals as well as companies. For example, in countries where internet usage is highest, the figure of online shopping is unbelievable. Nielsen conducted a thorough research on online shopping trends worldwide few years back and found that 99 per cent of internet users in South Korea performed online shopping. Pakistan was on the negligible rank unsurprisingly.

IT field is really big and expanding very fast worldwide. Job opportunities for IT graduates are rising in Pakistan and internationally. With good quality education, IT graduates are in a position to set up their own businesses. Setting up the IT venture is less capital intensive. What one thing it needs in abundance is intelligence. Despite its cost-effectiveness, revenue from IT business is usually eye-popping regardless where the operation base is located. Because of the virtual operation, if internet scalability is proper, the business is least affected by the geographical limiting factors. One such factor is deteriorating law and order. Security issues do generally not affect IT business process outsourcing houses performing jobs for international clients in Pakistan. Layoffs in IT companies are triggered normally because of the contractual violations.

Foreign companies take services of IT workers for search engine optimization (SEO), development of web and mobile applications, technical supports, data entry, content management, etc. SEO has emerged as a main outsourcing job in Pakistan as websites pay significant fees to rank in the top results of search engines such as Google, Bing, MSN, etc. Similarly, with the back-to-back arrival of mobile phones, requirements of backend supports that include operating systems to run mobile phone, applications, games, etc. are increasing with every passing day. A quite few number of software houses based in Pakistan are developing web and mobile applications.

Software development is a technical job that can only be done by developers. Unfortunately, software development is scattered in the country with two or three names prominent in the local and international markets. Post Amazers came into the limelight few years back for its making graphics feats for Holly Wood's movie Spider Man and this year MindStorm took the world by surprise by developing game for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Overall, there is a lot more things to be done in the applications development in the country.

Usage of pirated versions also makes the need to develop indigenous applications unimportant. At nominal rates or free of cost, computer users get access to the pirated or cracked copies of newfound software. While giving price advantage to people in the low-income economies, pirated software is a kind of suppression on the creativity of software engineers who are reluctant to vent ideas as they may be scrapped before coming to the moot because of the highly research-funded foreign substitutes.

However, the rate, with which software industry is moving in Pakistan, is absolutely unseen in computer engineering. Pakistan spends huge foreign exchange on buying of computers and accessories every year. Research and development is given least importance nationwide.

Government's supports to improve R&D in IT education centres are either window dressing or clearly insignificant. The education budget is pitifully short. State-run education institutes are financially strained. Private sector is doing relatively good in producing IT workforce, yet R&D works in the private IT institutes are not being reflected far and wide. Above all, educations in these centres are for those who can afford their fee structures. Rest despite having potential to bring changes are grinded in the system. Education equality is also important to mobilise hidden talents from the society for the betterment of the economy. Indian IT exports are substantial because of the skilled human capital. IT education in India is comparable to that in the developed economies. Pakistan should allocate enough funds to promote IT education in the country.

Improving competitiveness of IT workforce can generate businesses for the local economy and increase the share of technical-oriented jobs in the hitherto marketing-focussed IT industry underpinned by sales and marketing teams and content developers. To develop computer engineering and software industry, policy should also be devised and implemented in this direction. There still exist lot of opportunities that can be explored for the economic wellbeing of the country. The richness of and resourcefulness in IT industry is unmatchable.