Focusing on applied research

HERE ARE three types of institutions for basic research: masters programmes, art and humanity. Basic research institutions focus on research where the fruits of prosperity come after 40 to 50 years. These institutions produce PhDs as faculty members in these institutes take young scholars under their wings for basic research. There is a need for research labs, infrastructure, and finances to convert such inventions into commercially viable products and services.

The faculty members of such institutions are generally involved in industry as consultants, and the product of these institutions are professionals with innovative ideas and analytical skills.

The research output is produced in the form of case studies, articles and, at times, publications for research journals. These institutions have less infrastructure requirements.

The faculty members are involved in research and conduct applied and basic research in art and humanity. The US has all three types of institutions and to some extent Europe partially has these institutions.

By investing heavily in the basic research and developing the infrastructure in parallel has enabled the US to become the research centre of the world. European countries have followed in the footstep of the US in this regard.

When we look at the expenditure of higher education in Pakistan, the HEC has focused heavily on basic degree programmes and has awarded thousands of scholarships to Pakistani youths who are getting basic research degrees from Europe and the US. But the question is: does Pakistan have the capacity to leverage on the basic research? The answer is quite obvious. Pakistan does not offer any such opportunity as neither we have funds nor infrastructure.

As a result, the basic research experts – PhDs – cannot find work for which they are trained to do and they end up staying abroad.

This approach of funding the basic research programmes has not done much for the country so far. It has created a PhD phobia and this has widened the gap between academia and the industry.

Furthermore, the reward for applied research is not there and publication is the only yardstick to measure performance of a faculty member. On the other hand, there are countries which enjoy economic growth as they focused on development through applied research/masters programmes.

It is quite evident that the HECs current strategy is highly tilted towards basic research. This needs to be revisited and an approach of fair resource allocation for basic and applied research, scholarship distribution between masters and PhDs is the need of the hour.

While programmes for applied research should be funded, there is little need to fund programmes which focus on basic research. The funding programme needs to be reformed for a balance between basic and applied research.

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