EducationVolume 14 Issue # 11

Setting up university at PM House not enough

In the last week of December 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the conversion of the Prime Minister’s House into the Islamabad National University. During his speech at a seminar titled “Emerging challenges and opportunities for Pakistan”, he declared that the purpose of establishing a university or a centre of excellence at the PM House was to reduce the gap between the government and public. He stressed the importance of quality education for the nation’s progress, claiming that the overall level of education would improve during his term.

Also, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, stated the purpose of establishment of the Centre of Excellence at PM House in a private channel, Geo News, programme on January 8, 2019. He said that great brains and acclaimed research scholars from across the country would be brought together at the new university and assigned the task of research in every field to help the government evolve its economic and science and technology policies.

The stated purpose appears to be a step in the right direction. The university is always taken as a hub for innovation where researchers from various disciplines gather to share their ideas for developing new technologies, procedures, processes and systems. The innovation done in universities attracts huge demand from industry. This leads to increased, diversified economic activities and market development.

Industry-academia linkages (IAL) and collaboration the world over provide the basis for a strong innovation system. A strong IAL ensures that the research and development activities in universities are oriented towards demand in the market and in society; it provides enabling environment for increased creativity for newcomers and guarantees enhanced competitiveness. These functions go hand-in-hand and reinforce each other.

Experts say collaborations between universities and industry have given life to many blockbuster discoveries over the years. One of the latest in the news – the melanoma treatment Ipilimumab, whose molecule was discovered by James Allison and successfully developed into a drug by Medarex – ended up netting Dr. Allison the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

There are noticeable examples of fruitful collaboration between universities, industry partners and start-ups. Many ideas from research in universities are put to use through collaboration between universities and firms.

Jean-Marc Frangos, chief innovation officer at BT University, said in a write-up recently: “We jointly developed field scheduling algorithms with University of Essex that have resulted in 400,000 extra engineering tasks performed a year. We have also launched innovations in the UK based on a number of start-ups technologies, for instance recently re-inventing the digital customer relationship with Enjoy’s home experts.”

Dr. Arshad Ali, Executive Director at the Higher Education Commission (HEC), says endeavours to find solutions to complex social, environmental and economic challenges – for example, in energy, environment, health or security – have increasingly required collaboration between universities and industry because few organisations have the internal capacity to deliver results on their own.

In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s pronouncement, he said that universities, academics and their funders also wish to see results from their research put into practice.

However, such arrangements are rare in Pakistan till date. He believes Pakistan needs to learn a lot in this regard from developed countries, especially China. A multistakeholder group of experts in technology transfer recently met in Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, and identified a number of common challenges and opportunities that warrant further exploration and discussion. Representatives of industry and academia must attend such forums and replicate their models in the country, Dr. Arshad Ali suggests. He regrets that the industry-academia linkages (IAL) situation in the country in not encouraging in Pakistan currently. Universities rarely engage with industry. Neither has industry made any serious effort to generate some practical interest in universities.

The HEC representative says there were 67 universities with 700,000 students and a budget of Rs. 6 billion was allocated in 2002 when the Higher Education Commission was established. “At present, we have around three million students in 183 universities and the budget has increased manifold. However, it seems, the potential of universities is still untapped to a large extent as far as industry-academia linkages and industry-oriented research are concerned, adds Dr. Arshad.

He says that a strategy should be evolved on how to make the knowledge and research of academia beneficial for industry. A well-defined action plan should be prepared for the purpose, he says, adding that the HEC was well aware of the weak linkages between academia and industry in the country.

Pakistan Engineering Council Chairman Javed Saleem Qureshi fully agrees with Dr. Ali, but he finds the role of government very disappointing. In a special talk with Cutting Edge at a seminar, he said that industry and academia partnerships could play a major role in student recruitment, retention, and workforce development from within the local economy. He believes that industry-academia linkages are far more than execution of consultancy projects, industry-specific sponsored chairs, collaborative research and development projects, and commercialisation of innovation. Professors can be engaged in industries for consultancy and top executives in universities for teaching, Mr. Qureshi suggests. A higher level of human resource sharing can take place. This level of higher linkages results in the need satisfaction of both entities where one sees academia has demand for funds, and the industry is short of time and human resource to carry on research. Thus, a mutual juxtaposition of both entities results in high level of knowledge spillovers and increased economic growth, adds the engineer.

He underlines the need for representation of the industry in research centres. “In today’s scenario, reverse engineering has become a key to success as it helps extract knowledge and make it possible to reproduce any product,” he shares with Cutting Edge.

Abdul Basit, former president of Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also stresses developing understanding between industrial and education sectors on sustainable basis. Exclusively talking to Cutting Edge at a seminar in Lahore in December last, he said the business community of Pakistan had always been supportive of strong linkages between academia and the industry. He said that the Lahore Chamber had declared 2017 the “Year of Industry-Academia Linkages” with the objective to gain direct benefits from the research work of the universities. He believes that an industry-academia collaboration would reduce the cost of doing business, increase employment and enhance the competitiveness of the industrial sector. He emphasises the need for demand-driven research work as it would be beneficial for both researchers and industry. He says that a standing committee on industry-academia linkages had been working at the LCCI to strengthen liaison between industry, universities and colleges. He says that Prime Minister Imran Khan has set the direction for higher education in the country by establishing a centre of excellence at the Prime Minister’s House. But it would not serve the purpose fully until and unless a comprehensive policy is evolved for making higher education result-oriented and industry-centric. Only strong linkages between industry and higher education institutions could provide basis for sustainable development of Pakistan, he believes.