Over the past decade, two major revolutions have taken place in Pakistan – one in the ICT and the other in higher education. Tele-density in the country has increased to 69 per cent. The mobile phone market has grown 22-fold and internet users have grown 138-fold. This has gone a long way in providing greater impetus to the progress being made in the higher education sector of the country
PAKISTAN HAS always been a knowledge and talent powerhouse of the Muslim world. It has produced gold-winning Olympians, a Nobel Laureate, an Oscar winner, world class scientists, professionals, authors, poets and artists. Pakistanis have especially excelled in the field of education and learning. Our graduates have ranked among the best in universities and educational institutions around the globe. Dr. Abdus Salam was a Pakistani theoretical physicist whose work won him a Nobel Prize in 1979, and according to a recent New York Times article, paved the way for the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, announced on July 4 this year.
Salam is part of a Pakistani tradition of immense talent and educational excellence. On February 2, 1995, Arfa Karim a nine-year-old girl from a small village in Pakistan became a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), the youngest in the world, and was invited by Bill Gates to visit Microsoft Headquarters in the US. Today, Pakistan has the 7th largest pool of scientists in the world. It is the 9th largest English-speaking nation in the world. It is the worlds 9th leading nation in telecom usage and 15th in internet usage.
Lately, the government of Pakistan has made concerted efforts to raise the quality of higher education infrastructure in the country to international standards. Today, we have the satisfaction of having several world class educational institutions. According to the Quality Standard World University Rankings 2010, there were two Pakistani universities among top 200 Technology Universities of the World. In addition, six Pakistani universities are among the top Asian universities according to the 2012 QS Rankings. These are National University of Science and Technology (108), Karachi University (191), Aga Khan University (201), Lahore University of Management Sciences (251) and Lahore University (251).
Over the past decade, two major revolutions have taken place in Pakistan – one in the Information and Communication Technology and the other in Higher Education. Tele-density in Pakistan has increased to 69 percent. The mobile phone market has grown 22-fold and internet users have grown 138-fold. These revolutions have transformed the knowledge landscape in Pakistan and made knowledge creation, assimilation and dissemination exponentially better. This has gone a long way in providing greater impetus to the progress being made in the higher education sector of the country. Today, Pakistan has 146 universities registered with the Higher Education Commission alone. Apart from these, there are many private universities developed by various bodies and societies. University enrollment in Pakistan tripled from 276,274 in the year 2002 to 803,507. Today, Pakistan produces more than 10,000 computer science graduates every year.
The government of Pakistan has invested heavily in higher education sector. This can be gauged from the fact that some 4,874 PhD scholarships have been awarded for studies domestically. In addition, about 5,000 PhD scholarships have been awarded for study in the best universities in the world. With joint funding from the Higher Education Commission and the USAID, the worlds largest Fulbright Scholarship program (worth $150 million) is also successfully functioning in Pakistan.
A substantial part of quality education pertains to easy access to sufficient quality and quantity of books, research papers and journals. To achieve this objective, the Higher Education Commission has established its own Digital Library in Pakistan which can compete with the best academic libraries in the world. The Digital Library enables every student in every public sector university across the length and breadth of Pakistan to access 45,000 textbooks research monographs from 220 international publishers as well as 25,000 international research journals free of cost. This has enabled the universities in Pakistan to function in a truly cutting edge fashion.
The provision of such state-of-the-art facilities has resulted in the flowering of a research culture in the academic institutions in Pakistan. As a result, the publication of research papers got expanded manifold in the last few years in Pakistani universities. According to one survey, 4,300 research papers were published by Pakistani scholars in 2008 alone. Needless to say, the trend has grown since then.
The significant advances made by Pakistan have generated praise from international institutions and experts. The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology, having closely monitored these developments in Pakistan in the past years, came to the conclusion that Pakistans performance constituted a “best-practice” example for developing countries in building human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy. A USAID report remarked, “we are impressed with the breadth, scope, and depth of the reforms implemented by the HEC since 2002. No other developing country we know has made such spectacular progress.” Pakistan also won four international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector. Nature, the leading science journal noted the progress made by Pakistan in a number of editorials and articles.
The advances made by Pakistan in the areas of education, science and technology have benefited the Arab world for many decades. By developing linkages and synergies for a win-win situation, the Gulf countries have taken advantage of the existence of a large pool of Pakistani professionals and used Pakistans surplus talent to meet the increasing requirements of the booming economies of the Gulf. The result has been a win-win for both Pakistan and the Gulf countries.
With the emphasis in the Gulf on the process of indigenization, another way to take advantage of Pakistans progress would be to send students to Pakistan for higher studies. Pakistan presents unique attractions in this area. Its centuries old linguistic, cultural and historical links make it highly suited to Arab students. Pakistanis love the Arabs and have an especial reverence for Saudi Arabia, the Holy Land. Likewise, the Saudi investment and Pakistani expertise can combine to develop world class educational institutions, in Pakistan or the Gulf, which are in high demand in the region. With a booming Gulf economy and Pakistani education sector in top gear, now is the right time to think innovatively and invest in these sectors.