Prof. Dr. Obaidullah is saddened, but not surprised, to know that Pakistan’s share among the world top scientists is only a fraction, 0.05 per cent, to be precise. He has been a teacher, a researcher, a research supervisor and an experienced research/ scientific data analyst at the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of the Punjab, Lahore, for over three decades. He comes across dozens of researchers, MPhil and PhD research scholars every month, and knows very well the standard of research, being conducted in the country currently.
In the third week of November 2020, the Stanford University (USA) released its global list that represents the top 2 per cent of the most-cited scientists in various disciplines. The university had classified the scientists on the basis of their career-long citation impact until the end of 2019, and also for the single year, 2019.
The report was prepared by the university’s team, headed by Prof. John PA Loannidis. The team assessed the global scientists on research they carried out during their career span, from data collected up to 2019.
According to Prof. Obaidullah, the Stanford ranking was developed according to subject-wise analysis, conducted by the university based on standardised citation indicators, such as citations, H-index, co-authorship, and a composite indicator.
The H-index is an author-level metric that measures both productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar.
It was painful to note that only 81 Pakistani scientists, including 12 teachers, could make it to the list of 159,683 scientists, doctors and engineers. However, the list representing citation impact in a single year (2019) included 243 Pakistani scientists among the top 2 per cent scientists.
Eleven teachers of Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) figured among the top two per cent researchers. Five scientists from the University of Haripur (UoH), including its vice chancellor, were also included in the list. The QAU academics whose names appeared in the list include Prof. Bilal Haider Abbasi of Biotechnology, Zabta Khan Shinwari and Mushtaq Ahmad of Plant Sciences, Amir Ali Shah of Microbiology and Riffle Nasim Malik of Environment Sciences.
The other names include Rashid Khan of Biochemistry, Masood Khan of Mathematics, Afzal Shah and Aamer Saeed of Chemistry and Abdul Haq of Statistics.
The UoH academics who figure in the list include UoH Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Anwar-ul-Hassan Gilani, Dr Khalid Zaman, Dr Hashim, Dr Shah Fahad and Dr Mohammed Farooq. UoH Vice Chancellor Prof Gilani is the only serving VC in Pakistan in the list.
Three professors of the University of Punjab also figured in the list. They were Prof. Dr. Muhammad Sharif of Nuclear and Particle Physics, Prof. Dr. Khalid Mahmood of Economics and Management Sciences and Prof. Dr. Muhammad Akram of Artificial Intelligence.
Three from the Government College University, Lahore, were included in the list. They were Prof. Dr. Mjuahid Abbas, Prof. Dr. Zakaullah and Dr. Abdul Sattar Nizami.
Dr Muhammad Aamir from the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology was also selected for the list.
The scientists making it to the Stanford list from the University of Sargodha were Dr Muhammad Afzal (Agriculture Sciences), Dr Farooq Anwar (Chemistry), Dr Muhammad Nawaz Tahir (Physics) and Dr Muhammad Saleem (Chemistry, Bhakkar Campus).
Three faculty members of the Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB) were included in Stanford University’s list of most cited scientists. They were; Dr. Zaheer Abbas and Dr. Ghulam Abbas from the Department of Mathematics, and Dr. Muhammad Azhar Khan from the Department of Physics.
Dr. Shakeel Ahmed, an assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry in Government Degree College in Mendhar, Jammu and Kashmir, became one of the youngest scientists to feature on Stanford University’s list of top scientists.
The Stanford University’s list also included names of two former faculty members of the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI), who were disowned by their institute and are now serving abroad.
Both researchers — Dr. Shehzad Ashraf Chaudhry and Dr. Ali Daud — were faculty members of the Department of Computer Science at IIUI. Dr. Shehzad Ashraf was an assistant professor, and was terminated from the university in August 2018, allegedly for “defaming” the university. He had expressed concerns on alleged illegal award of a degree to the son of the president of the university. He had also won the Research Productivity Award by the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology in 2018. Now he is serving as an associate professor in Istanbul at the Gelisim University of Turkey.
The other former faculty member of the Computer Science Department was Dr. Ali Daud, who was serving as an associate professor and resigned from the university in 2019 on disagreements with the administration. Now he is serving at the University of Jeddah as an associate professor.
Prof Obaidullah says there’s nothing surprising that such a small number of scientists and researchers made it to the Stanford University’s list. A large majority of higher education institutions’ faculty got themselves enrolled as MPhil and PhD scholars for the sake of departmental promotions and increments. The scientific studies they conduct are mostly poor and their utility for society and the country or their impact fact are negligible, the professor tells Cutting Edge by telephone. He regrets that lately, a number of research scholars, including even university and college teachers, request him to get their research completed from somebody else in exchange for money. It means they are buying MPhil and PhD degrees instead of earning it through their research work, the professor says.
Rizwan Ali, a PhD scholar at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), fully agrees with Prof. Obaidullah. He says the quality of research work in Pakistan is so poor that they even can’t think of competing with the scientists and researchers of the developed nations. Rizwan Ali’s university, the USTC, is a leading research university situated in Hefei, the capital and largest city of the Chinese province of Anhui, functioning under the direct leadership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The research institution was ranked the 12th among the universities around the world in the Nature Index of 2019, and within the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings last year (2019).
The second major factor for the poor quality of research work in various disciplines is small budgetary allocations and lack of resources for the purpose, says the Lahore-based scholar, who has successfully completed his four-year research work at the USTC and submitted his report for approval. Rizwan Ali’s research topic was ‘Graphene Oxide–Zinc Ferrite/DOX nanocomposites for induced toxicity of cancer cells and imaging by the MRI’. “The study results will be helpful in finding out new treatments for cancer patients,” he adds.
As per international standards, at least 4% of GDP should be allocated for the education sector and 25% of the total education budget should be spent on universities. Some time back, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) chairman admitted in his media talks that the higher education sector had at least 45% less than needed funds.
Rizwan Ali believes that Pakistan’s higher educational institutions are at least 50 years behind the developed countries as far as scientific research and facilities are concerned.
Another major factor the research scholar relates is the unavailability of a conducive environment for research pursuits in Pakistani universities. The Pakistani universities can’t even think of providing a research environment and facilities to their scholars, which the developed nations are providing to their students, Mr. Ali adds.
Relating his personal experience, he says while studying at any Chinese university or conducting research, a student has never to worry about the costly materials needed for the purpose. The research scholars are never asked about the use of large quantities of costly materials, though in Pakistan they have to pay for whatever materials they use for the experiments.