Friday, September 4, 2009

Status of Higher Education Reform in Pakistan

Here's an editorial opinion published in Nature Magazine on the status of Pakistan's Higher Education Reform initiated under President Pervez Musharraf in 2002:

Massive funding for Pakistan's ailing universities holds many lessons for other developing nations.

Eight years ago, a task force advising Pakistan's former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, laid out a bold plan to revitalize the country's moribund research system: initiate a fivefold increase in public funding for universities, with a special emphasis on science, technology and engineering. The proposal was a radical departure from conventional wisdom on the economics of developing nations, which favours incremental investments. Sudden surges of cash are held to be dangerous in poorer countries, which often lack the institutions or the calibre of people required to make the most of such a windfall, and the money can easily be wasted or fall prey to corruption.

Nonetheless, Musharraf agreed to the proposal. The reforms began in 2003. And the results, which have now earned a qualified thumbs-up from a group of experts in science and education policy (see page 38), offer some valuable lessons for other developing nations.

First, conventional wisdom isn't always right. Despite early doubts that Musharraf's autocratic regime could allocate the new funds effectively, the experts cite initiatives such as a free national digital library and high-speed Internet access for universities as examples of success, as well as new scholarships enabling more than 2,000 students to study abroad for PhDs — with incentives to return to Pakistan afterwards. And they acknowledge that the years of reform have coincided with increases in the number of Pakistani authors publishing in research journals, especially in mathematics and engineering, as well as boosting the impact of their research outside Pakistan.

Second, human capital matters. One concern raised by the report published in this issue is that the 3,500 candidates for Pakistan's new domestic PhD programmes have had lower qualifications than the candidates going abroad. But that is a situation that should correct itself over time as Pakistan's schools improve. For the time being, the more important point is that Pakistan has opened up the chance of a research degree to many more people than in the past — including those who do not have wealthy families, or access to influential people, or good skills in European languages. Harnessing those reserves of talent is an integral part of any nation's development.

Finally, accountability is essential. This was not a priority for the architects of Pakistan's educational reform, partly because they were working for an autocratic regime, and partly because they were in too much of a hurry. The government seemed to be living on borrowed time, Musharraf's science adviser, Atta-ur-Rahman, has recalled. On the one hand, politicians, judges and lawyers were pressing for a return to democracy; on the other, the influence of the Pakistani Taliban was increasing. Suicide bombers twice tried to assassinate Musharraf — once by blowing up his motorcade as he returned from making a speech to scientists. If the reformers didn't get their programme in place quickly, they feared they might not get it in place at all.

The result, however, is that the body created to implement the reforms, the Higher Education Commission, has operated with minimal oversight by academics, parliamentarians or anyone else. There has been some waste, although no one has yet accused the commission of egregious abuses of power. But it has exhibited blind spots that an outside influence might have corrected — notably a total lack of investment in the social sciences and policy research, disciplines that encourage the asking of questions that autocratic regimes frequently dislike answering.

This must change. Pakistan is no longer a dictatorship. The elected government, under President Asif Ali Zardari, has expressed cautious support for continuing Musharraf's education reforms. It therefore has an opportunity to build on their successes and correct their shortcomings — starting with an independent review of the commission's performance.

Source: Nature Magazine

Riaz Haq's Note: For the first time in the nation's history, President Musharraf's education adviser Dr. Ata ur Rahman succeeded in getting tremendous focus and major funding increases for higher education in Pakistan. According to Sciencewatch, which tracks trends and performance in basic research, citations of Pakistani publications are rising sharply in multiple fields, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, material science and plant and animal sciences. Over two dozen Pakistani scientists are actively working on the Large Hadron Collider; the grandest experiment in the history of Physics. Pakistan now ranks among the top outsourcing destinations, based on its growing talent pool of college graduates. As evident from the overall results, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of universities and highly-educated faculty and university graduates in Pakistan. There have also been some instances of abuse of incentives, opportunities and resources provided to the academics in good faith. The quality of some of the institutions of higher learning can also be enhanced significantly, with some revisions in the incentive systems.

Admission meritocracy, faculty competence and inspirational leadership in education are important, but there is no real substitute for higher spending on higher education to achieve better results. In fact, it should be seen as an investment in the future of the people rather than just another expense.

Of the top ten universities in the world published by Times of London, six are in the United States. The US continues to lead the world in scientific and technological research and development. Looking at the industries of the future such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, green technologies, the US continues to enjoy a huge lead over Europe and Asia. The reason for US supremacy in higher education is partly explained by how much it spends on it. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform, "The Future of European Universities" points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.

Related Links:

Poor Quality of Education in India and Pakistan

Global Shortage of Quality Labor

Nature Magazine Editorial on Pakistan's Higher Education Reform

McKinsey Global Institute Report

Pakistan Ranks Among Top Outsourcing Destinations

Pakistan Software Houses Association

World's Top Universities Rankings

Improving Higher Education in Pakistan

Globalization of Engineering Services 2006

Center for European Reform

Reforming Higher Education in Pakistan


Pervez H. said...

Dear Riaz, You may be interested in my reply to Nature. Best wishes, Pervez

Subject: Letter to Editor of Nature on Pakistan's higher education - URGENT

The Editor, Nature

In spite of a number of articles in Nature that praise "reforms" in Pakistani
universities, I continue to assume that Nature's editors will ultimately be
interested in publishing what may be closer to the truth.

May I, therefore, urge you to read carefully the letter below even if - for
reasons that I may never know - you once again choose not to publish an opinion
that runs contrary to the wisdom of your journal.

Should the length of my contribution be excessive, I shall be willing (albeit
reluctantly) to reduce it in size. But if it is still found unsuitable, then I
shall remain - as earlier - mystified.

Sincerely yours,

Pervez Hoodbhoy

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Link to Dr. Hoodbhoy's letter to Nature:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on US Aid funding for HEC in Pakistan:

Islamabad, April 7(ANI): The US Embassy in Islamabad has refuted media reports that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has put its 250-million-dollar project in Pakistan on hold in the wake of the issue of devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Accord to a media report attributed to sources, the USAID was supposed to provide the first instalment for the project “Financial Assistant and Development Programme”, which has been put on hold, and the rest of the funding has also been frozen till the situation is not cleared about the role of the HEC in future.

“These reports are inaccurate.USAID has not put any funding for the HEC on hold, nor does it have any plans to do so at this time,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

“The United States through USAID already has provided all of its planned funding to the HEC for 2010, which amounted to $45 million. Funding for any future USAID programs will be determined later this year, when the U.S. Congress approves funding for 2011,” it added.

The statement notified that the USAID had been working closely with the HEC to strengthen the capacity of Pakistani universities, and that this collaboration aimed to assist Pakistan in developing a cadre of world-class experts who can play an active role in Pakistan’s economic and social development.

“In addition, USAID provides merit-and-need-based scholarships through the HEC for in-country higher education,” it added.

The statement said that separately, the USAID provides 20 million dollars every year to support the world’s largest Fulbright scholarship program, which is implemented by the US Department of State in partnership with the HEC. “The Science and Technology partnership with Pakistan also is implemented through the HEC,” it added. (ANI)

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on an emerging science city in Karachi:

....Of these five centers, one is the only institute for human clinical trials in Pakistan, the other a core of computational biology and the third provides consultancy to people suffering from genetic diseases.


The centers and their growth have been working towards what has been termed as a ‘silent revolution’ and had been described by Professor Wolfgang Voelter of Tubingen University as a ‘miracle.’

The Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Research Institute of Chemistry was only a small post graduate institute before a generous donation of Rs 5 million in 1976 set the center towards the path of excellence. Latif Ebrahim Jamal’s endowment, on behalf of the Hussain Ebrahim Jamal Foundation, was the largest private funding for science in Pakistan at the time.

The center houses old NMR machines of 300 megahertz to state-of-the-art Liquid Chromatograph Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (LCNMR).

Under the leadership of eminent chemist Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, the institute became a magnet for more funding and projects from around the world. Over a period of time, it received $30 million in funding from various countries. Recently, Islamic Development Bank (IDB) donated $ 40 million for research on regional and tropical diseases. Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, a renowned chemist and the former chairman of Higher Education Commission said,

Currently, the center has one of the largest PhD programs in the country in the fields of natural product chemistry, plant biotechnology, computational biology, spectroscopy and other disciplines at the frontiers of science.

Young scholars research scientific literature at the LEJ National Science Information Center. The facility is connected to the world’s largest science database, ranging from thousands of primary research journals and books. -Photo by author
Young scholars research scientific literature at the LEJ National Science Information Center. The facility is connected to the world’s largest science database, ranging from thousands of primary research journals and books. -Photo by author
The ground floor of the institute holds 12 state-of-the-art Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) machines that are vital in the research of the structure, reaction and other properties of various compounds and molecules, as well as an X-ray crystallography setup which uses X-rays to learn the structure of crystalline material.

The X-ray crystallography setup is used to construct 3-D structures of molecules under study. -Photo by author
The X-ray crystallography setup is used to construct 3-D structures of molecules under study. -Photo by author
“We have recently finished the structure of a compound showing anti-inflammatory activity,” said Sammer Yousuf, senior research officer at the institute who was awarded the Regional Prize for Young Scientists by the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 2011 for her work.

“In the last two and a half years our institute was awarded 24 international patents,” Dr Rehman proudly adds.

Since its inception, the HEJ which was inducted into the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) in the ‘90s has produced hundreds of doctorates, thousands of papers and hundreds of international patents, and also helps over 350 industries across Pakistan. The Industrial Analytical Center at the HEJ provides testing, consultancy and research for various industries in Pakistan.

The construction of a state-of-the-art center for nanotechnology is underway while the Jamil-ur-Rehman Center for Genome Research, also falling under HEJ, is almost complete. The center, named after Dr Rehman’s father who was the main donor of the institute, already houses modern gene sequencing machines.

Riaz Haq said...

For the first time, nine research papers by Pakistani students have been selected for presentation at the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) Conference.

A total of 11 abstracts were submitted by M Phil students at Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) for the 114th international conference scheduled to be held in Boston later this month.

Leading author for the research papers and Head of Molecular Pathology at DUHS Dr Saeed Khan says the study of infectious diseases in Pakistan is critical, “because no one is safe till everyone is safe.”

The areas of research include diseases prevalent in Pakistan such as tuberculosis, HIV and Aids, Hepatitis B, C and D, and auto-immune diseases among other viral and bacterial infections.

Khan’s team comprises Asif Iqbal, Noorulaine, Nazish Haider, Maria Zahid, Zeba Zehravi, Fatin Zehra, Sehrish Mohsin, Noorul Huda, Ayaz Ahmed and Kanwal Niazi.

Khan, who will be the presenting author for his paper ‘Prevalence and drug resistance pattern of TB in different areas of Sindh’ says, “Due to the population not taking proper medication there is a change in bacteria making TB not treatable by drugs that currently available.”

The work is extensive and strenuous especially when researching and studying the pathology for HIV in Pakistan, Khan says. “The stigma attached to HIV and then the changes in prevalence among injecting drug users and sex workers is a challenge to track and document but it is important work which must be properly researched.”

One of the students and presenting author for research paper ‘Genetic diversity and geographic linkages of HIV using bioinformatics tools’ Maria Zahid says she didn’t expect such a positive response to their submissions.

“We had always planned to submit our (research) papers but was pleasantly surprised when almost all were accepted,” she told

Zahid began working on her research paper in January last year and is analysing the circulation of the virus and which types and subtypes are common in Pakistan. “HIV has two types and 11 sub-types. We can only work on developing vaccines once we know which types and subtypes we are dealing with. Presently in Pakistan we have subtype A of the virus whereas worldwide subtype B is prevalent.”

The research team, which has been unconventionally awarded with grants to support their travel expenses is scheduled to depart for the United States on May 15 depending on the acceptance of their visa.

Riaz Haq said...

Soft-spoken education revolutionary Sal Khan has a few ideas for how to radically overhaul higher education. First, create a universal degree that’s comparable to a Stanford degree, and second, transform the college transcript into a portfolio of things that students have actually created.
Khan is the founder, executive director, and faculty member at the Khan Academy, an online education provider.
Speaking at the Atlantic’s Navigate tech conference, Khan said that the online education providers and independent technology “boot camp” schools will end up playing an important role in pressuring legacy universities to change their outdated ways.
“I feel like society is ripe for challenging the model of school” he told The Atlantic’s editor, James Bennett, earlier this week.
“The credentialing piece is somewhat broken now,” Khan said. “A very small fraction of the population has the opportunity to attend a university that is broadly known.”
To that end, Khan said that he is working on a universal credentialing system that could compare a graduate of “Stanford or Harvard” by their raw abilities. Presumably, this credential would have to be some type of evaluation that would test and measure the abilities of all students, thereby making the granting institution irrelevant.
Last year, Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of online education provider Udacity, and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom announced a tech industry credentialing system, the Open Education Alliance, with Khan Academy as partner.
Since then, Udacity has developed its own credential for the tech industry, the nanodegree. Similarly, Coursera, another online education provider, started awarding a “signature track” certificate to the graduates of some its tech courses.
Khan has not developed its own credential yet. Most important, neither Udacity nor Coursera has developed a degree or certificate that is comparable to a Stanford Degree. Both rely on the reputation of the granting organization — as opposed to some kind of test score. So, until Khan develops something more objective, a Stanford degree is still going to be a lot more valuable than anything else on the market.
Portfolios instead of transcript
At one point in the talk, a mother with children attending the University of California Berkeley expressed her frustration that her kids were having to turn to Khan Academy online videos to learn real world skills. She wondered how a $60,000 ultra-selective tier I degree could somehow not teach those skills.
Khan, who holds a Master’s in engineering from MIT, said that schools have dropped the ball on preparing graduates for the real world. Instead of graduating with a list of courses and a GPA, each student should have a portfolio of products.
“The transcript coming out of engineering school should essentially be the things that you’ve created,” he said.
Exams and grades are much (much) easier to administer to thousands of students. Having each student create some type of product (like a gadget or program) for graduation would require far more faculty time. There’s a lot of institutional inertia against doing anything that complicated.
Despite the fact that top tech companies like Google have publicly admitted that they don’t care very much about college degrees, colleges have not been moved to equip graduates with a portfolio of products for graduation. Khan suspects that online providers, like his Academy and others in the education space, will ultimately pressure colleges to change.
Here’s to hoping they do it soon.

Riaz Haq said...

Arizona State University will help bring light to Pakistan via a partnership celebrated Thursday.

Officials gathered on the Tempe campus to mark the initiative, in which ASU is partnering with two top Pakistani universities for five years to hunt for energy solutions for the South Asian nation.

More than 70 percent of the Pakistani population does not receive steady electricity. About 1,200 people died in Karachi this summer because of lack of power for air-conditioning and water pumps, according to a U.S. government official at the event.

The collaboration will focus on applied research relevant to Pakistan’s energy needs. Together academia, industry and the Pakistani government will work to formulate a sustainable energy policy.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded the $18 million project to ASU to establish the Partnership Center for Advanced Studies in Energy (PCASE) in association with Pakistan’s National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad and the University of Engineering and Technology-Peshawar.

ASU has worked with USAID on more than $40 million in grant-awarded projects; currently more than 30 projects are active. The grant to establish the Pakistani partnership is the largest USAID grant received by ASU to date.

“There are parts of Islamabad today that are without energy most of the time,” U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at the Thursday event. “I believe that this development will have a direct impact on the people of Pakistan.”

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU, said McCain is a senator who thinks globally.

“We are so fortunate to have him here today,” Panchanathan said.

Lately the two Pakistani universities have initiated programs that the population needs, said Mohammad Shahid, the pro rector of the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad.

“We want to fill in the gaps,” Shahid said. “There is a dire need.”

It’s vital the project makes life better for the people of Pakistan, said Syed Imtiaz Hussain Gilani, vice chancellor with the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar.

“With things calming down in the political arena, I think this is the time for the private sector to come in and invest,” Gilani said. “It’s a country that needs everything, not just energy. … I hope the frontier spirit I feel on this campus drives some people to come forward and invest.”

The creation of the two energy research centers – one at each Pakistani university – is expected to improve U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Both countries’ interest in renewable energy supersedes whatever may be happening in the diplomatic realm, said Larry Sampler, assistant to the administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, USAID.

“Truly we are part of a wonderful team effort that going forward is going to do wonderful things,” Sampler said.