Dr. Muhammad Abbas Choudhary, currently the Vice Chancellor of UET Taxila, holds both Master’s and Doctorate degrees from the George Washington University, USA, and over 28 years of high level national and international experience in engineering profession working on high profile projects. He taught at GWU and provided professional services to UNYSIS Corporation, Automatic Data Processing Inc, Government of Washington DC and States of Connecticut and multinationals for many years. Dr. Choudhary was the founding VC of Balochistan University of IT, Engineering and Management Sciences in Quetta. He also served ADB, PTA, HEC and NUST and provided expert services to Ministry of Education and Ministry of Science and Technology. He is the author of numerous scholarly publications published and presented at national and international forums.
Firstly tell us about yourself?
I hold Doctor of Science Degree in Engineering Management from the George Washington University, Washington, and possess over 28-year management experience at national and international levels. I have strong expertise in creating and managing world class ITC institutions. I am experienced in Technology Administration, Education and Training, Organization Design and Development, Human Resource Management, Financial Syndication, Econometric Modelling and Operations Management and managing corporate institutions. I led technology and management teams and provided services to multinationals like Unisys Corporation, Automatic Data Processing Inc., State of Connecticut, and Government of Washington. I have worked as Director Policy and Research and International Coordination at PTA. While Vice Chancellor at BUITMS, we established academic and research collaboration agreements with University of Minnesota, USA, George Washington University, USA, Glasgow University, UK, University of Sistan in Iran, and Adelaide University, Australia. I also remained Project Coordinator for Pakistan-Sweden University of Engineering Sciences and Technology. I have strong expertise in Resource Mobilization, Financial Syndication, Organization Design and Development, Human Resource Management and Operations Management.
How do you rate engineering education in Pakistan?
Higher education is at two levels – the undergraduate and postgraduate level. At the undergraduate level we are at par with other developed countries. Our universities, medical colleges and engineering universities produce good undergraduates who are working all over the world. UET Lahore, UET Taxila and other Universities like NUST, GIKI, PIEAS, NED, and Mehran are excellent centers of engineering education and some other institutions are also making valuable contributions. But that does not mean that all undergraduate programs are equal or good. Unfortunately, there are number of programs offered by number of institutions which are sub standard. Generally, I would say, the accredited engineering programs being offered by credible institutions are good. However, because of the overall international economic slowdown the job market is soft and relatively it takes longer for an engineer to land a job. Many public sector engineering universities have started M.Sc. and Ph.D. programmes which are comparable with other developed countries as the requirements for awarding the degree are very strict and good universities are very watchful and vigilant about the quality of their graduate. At UET Taxila we offer Master degree in about 8 specialties and doctorate in 5-6 specialties which are comparable to any other good university of the world.
Are your teaching and lab facilities at par with the international requirements?
Yes indeed. Our engineering faculty and teaching are one of the best in the world. At the undergrad level we are equal to the developed world. We have very good teachers and state-of-the-art labs to produce world class engineers. However, our research labs for MS are not as sophisticated as they can be because we only have limited funding to go into high-tech research. Another reason that out research labs are not as well developed is that the enrollments in MS and PhD programs were limited, faculty was not much research focused and BS was considered to be the terminal degree. However, as the research culture is flourishing and faculty is engaged in research, more and more engineers opt for MS and PhD. And full time MS and PhD programs are being offered the research facilities are evolving and getting better day by day. The funding crunch for the last 2-3 years has also hit the development of research facilities badly. But now there is a lot of interest and demand for higher studies in engineering. We have taken steps to deploy the required infrastructure to meet the demand even though we are faced with a shortage of qualified manpower for example to supervise the Ph.D. students in certain specialized areas. But let me assure you that as far as final product is concerned it will be at par with global standard.
Why have our engineering universities failed to promote innovations?
No, that is not the case. We are involved in research but innovation is a different thing. We do basic engineering research and applied research. The actual issue is the absence of research culture. In our society the research culture is yet to develop and once it strengthens then we can take benefit from research. We need to develop our culture to the extent that we could use to develop innovative products and services. We buy products made in Japan, Germany, China and elsewhere. The foreign companies who have manufacturing facilities in Pakistan do not have their research laboratories in Pakistan and are not willing to buy research or use research conducted here. Although, we have established intellectual property and patent laws but system that ensure compliance and honors and rewards the innovator and inventor is not there. We must as a nation require and urge the multinationals to establish the research labs and invest in our R&D system.
How do you think we can promote research?
We can promote research through indigenization and entrepreneurship. I mean to say that the industry should look towards local engineers to provide solutions for their problems instead of immediately bringing experts from abroad. Universities must interact and more frequently and extensively with the industry. Students both undergraduate and postgraduates shall conduct their projects or thesis on local indigenous problems. During the building of the Tarbela and Mangla dams the local intellectual contribution was higher than unfortunately in the Ghazi Barotha Hydel Power Project. The government and industry jointly share the failure to develop the local intellectual capability. At the national level we should have Centers of Excellence in DAM Engineering, Power Engineering, Highway Design, Ocean Engineering, Petroleum and Gas Engineering, Pipeline Design and Construction to ensure that we have less and less reliance on imported expertise. This will promote the research culture. All this requires government focus which is persistent. HEC was providing good support to public sector universities, we were on the road to development but during the last two years we have not been able to sustain the momentum. We had plans to establish Center of Excellence in Petroleum and Gas Engineering at our Chakwal campus for which we are aligning support from industry and from the government.
How can we get international support?
Like China, we should ask the multinationals to shift their manufacturing to Pakistan and invest in the research and development facilities over here. Obviously the government will have to provide some incentives. But this will help us a lot. We have asked the local industry to refer their research issues to us and we will do it for free for them. As research is a full time job we have 100 full time MS level research scholars. Industry might be bringing small problems in the beginning but once the trust and relationship is established they will be referring to us their complex problems.
Is your faculty capable to carry out industrial research?
Why not? They are the most qualified people. The trend has changed as people from academia are now joining industry and people having years of experience in industry are retuning and preferring faculty positions. It is very good trend as both the sectors could benefit from their expertise.
How do you compare public and private sector universities?
Being public sector universities is a great blessing as the faculty, labs and libraries they have could be matched only by a few private sector universities. The public sector Universities cater for a large number of qualified youth. The private sector is also adding their bit but except few really good private universities, quality of the faculty, and quality of provisioning and thus quality of the graduate is an issue. With certain exception generally the student who cannot secure admission to public sector universities particularly in engineering and professional disciplines revert back to private universities.
Why have then innovation not picked up in public sector universities?
As I have already said we don’t have research culture. You are trying to compare Pakistan with US, where ample research grants are available, venture capital is readily available and corporations are continuously sniffing for new product ideas. We don’t have access to venture capital and all the research support has to be born by the university. We are working on promoting innovation with the help of HEC and are working on establishing a technology park. We also lack a culture of entrepreneurship. If graduates turn to small tech business they could be very successful as a lot of small firms require tech solutions for efficiency enhancement.
Can’t we establish some national centre for reverse engineering in Pakistan?
If such a centre is established from the day one its mandate will be challenged in the court of law. How can you do reverse engineering when you have signed international agreement for IPR protection. Even the countries which have flourished due to the process have abstained from it after becoming member of the international treaties. We have to change our approach; we should look to technology transfer for indigenization. Follow the China’s example who asked MNCs to invest in their country, sign technology transfer agreements with the companies and allow them to have research and development facilities in the country. Our focus should be the technology transfer and acquisition in all the new agreements with emphasis on investing in manufacturing in Pakistan.
Anything more you want to add?
I really appreciate Technology Times earnestly engaged in promoting understanding of science and technology in the country. Your newspaper is promoting not only scientific understanding but also technology culture. I am your regular reader and fully appreciate your innovative work.
Interview By Mustafa Z Paras & Ata ul Haq