Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed is currently serving as Chairman, Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. He holds PhD from University of California, Riverside, USA, and bags rich experience of over 25 years in academic development and management; he is strong proponent of academia-industry collaboration. He has also served as Deputy Director General in Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Rabat and various other national and international organizations.
Q 1: What was the state of HEC when you joined in as Chairman?
Dr. Mukhtar: It is a fact that in 2012-2013, Higher Education Commission (HEC) was lacking funds and was deeply in state of fret. Many of the projects of HEC were either abandoned or slowed down due to the stalemate. Already many of scholars who were in abroad were seeking help as they were hanging by the time. HEC administration decided to protect those students and offer fewer scholarships in order to poise the financial state of HEC. Similarly, many of the development projects were halted due to which negative impact was imparted. Likewise, research targets were also not met due to despair and uncertain condition. Dark picture of HEC was painted every where in press, courts and different forums. HEC was certainly not in clover that time and was in serious nuisance.
Q 2: What immediate measures you took to restore HEC to normality and what is the progress of HEC in last one year?
Dr. Mukhtar: When I took charge of HEC as Chairman, my first priority was to normalize things and take HEC towards stability and professional track. I can safely say that by the grace of Allah Almighty, things have headed towards betterment during the last year. Majority of the cases in court against HEC are either withdrawn or disposed off. Universities and other stake holders are again on board now. I must say that with our utmost, genuine efforts and heavenly support, HEC has restored its faith amongst stakeholders which was mislaid during the 2011-2012 period. HEC is far better than that period now. Different organizations are now working in coordination with HEC and universities responsiveness has also been augmented. We are also aware that different private and public sector universities introduced such practices that HEC didnt sanction and were gravely deterring the education quality. HEC contrived stern crack down against those universities keeping the interest of students intact, and consequently those practices have been seized by the efforts of HEC. So, I firmly believe that things are moving towards betterment.
Q 3: Does HEC enjoy adequate support from Government to smoothly execute its programs?
Dr. Mukhtar: Government is benevolently supportive, that is why we are working with confidence and things have started to streamline. There are signs of encouragement as HEC will receive total 70 Billion Rupees; 63 Billion Rupees in lieu of development, and 7 Billion Rupees from Prime Minister Youth Program. This means we have resources, commitment and support from Government.
Q 4: What major difference of research culture you observe before and after establishment of HEC?
Dr. Mukhtar: It is well known fact that there are three things; one is imparting knowledge, second is creation of knowledge, and third is integration of knowledge with society. Prior to year 2002, we were only imparting knowledge. The basic function of research in universities was neglected although there were eminent research oriented universities like Quaid e Azam University (QAU), University of Karachi etc. The establishment of HEC enhanced the research culture in universities. Before 2002, the research publications from Pakistan in renowned journals were scanty 800 whereas; now that figure touches around 1,000. I believe that fundamental purpose of universities is research. During the last 12 years, the equipment provided for research to the universities from the Government roughly costs around Rs.25 billion. Due to this, the interest in research within universities from different departments has increased and it is therefore expected from universities that they will do research and publish their research work.
Q 5: Is there any room to improve research culture?
Dr. Mukhtar: Definitely there is a lot of room for improvement and HEC is looking forward to devise plans in order to further improve the research culture in Pakistan. The other aspect is that I believe Pakistani nation is a poor nation; people of Pakistan have great acumen but there are financial constraints i.e. funds are invested in some sectors munificently therefore some of the important sectors suffer due to inadequate funds. Funding need to be enhanced substantially to improve research culture.
Q 6: How do you see the imbalance between basic research and applied research in Pakistan? How research can be helpful to solve indigenous problems of Pakistan?
Dr. Mukhtar: The basic research is of course universities task, but out of our research grants we intend to dedicate some of proportion for applied research as well that can address to the impending problems of the country such as water scarcity, food security, energy crisis, diseases, social disintegration etc. Common people should ask question from scientists and institutions about their problems and they are certainly accountable to them. We need to fix those problems and give some tangible solutions to the society. Universities need to play their role as solution of plenty of our problems such as social, ethnic, cultural etc. directly or indirectly lies in education and if we fulfill the demands of education sector and develop it; definitely almost 80% problems of Pakistan will be solved. HEC has given a slogan “Indigenous problem indigenous solution.” We have severe problems that need to be focused at priority instead of thinking of going into space. We need to identify the problems and to find solution for those problems and for that HEC is motivating the researchers to conduct interdisciplinary problem solving research. It is critical to prefer indigenous solutions for indigenous problems instead of banking upon ready made solutions and for that researchers are required to step forward. There is a need to balance between basic and applied research and more importantly the social aspect need to be taken into account for the sake of social integration.
Q 7: How innovation and commercialization can be promoted? Is HEC also playing its part to promote entrepreneurship?
Dr. Mukhtar: Innovation and commercialization is an important aspect and we are also pushing people towards entrepreneurship. We are trying to give message to our youth to become job creator rather than job seeker because due to slow development of sectors jobs are limited. The incubation centers in different universities are certainly a ray of hope in this regard and definitely astounding outputs will come out of these initiatives. Due to lack of funds great ideas by entrepreneurs cant be translated into a commercial product; Prime Minister Youth Loan Program is a commendable effort in this regard and that can be utilized to solve the said problem. We are also advising universities to plan inter university business idea competition and financially support the winner of the competition to execute his/her plan. Youth loan that worth 100 Billion Rupees can be utilized and students in groups can avail that loan to implement their business plan; HEC is ready to guarantee for that loan. In this way it will be a win-win situation as not only the Prime Minister Youth Loan Program Scheme will be successful but students will also get funds to implement their business plan, jobs will be created, and at the same time socio economic development will be started. That will be our stride towards way of prosperity.
Q 8: HEC has been working on research commercialization. How do you see its outcomes?
Dr. Mukhtar: Research commercialization has just started. Various universities in Pakistan are focusing it. The outcomes of research commercialization will not come abruptly in a year or two but its outcomes will be manifested gradually. The important thing to be noticed is whether they are going the right way or not and whether they are helping to build an ideal ecosystem. The government has taken initiatives in this regard and we hope that fruitful results will be yielded in years to come.
Q 9: What is the funding pattern to universities of Pakistan?
Dr. Mukhtar: The government funding model has two streams. One is the operational expense grant and the other is development grant. There is a formula which is made by consensus of all universities and that is used to calculate the amount of grant to be allocated to particular university for its operational expense. So, I dont agree more that there is any prejudice in grant allocation. It is also noteworthy that Government cant afford 100% funding; at present there is a ratio of 60:40. Globally it is standard that Governments give 1/3rd of the total operational expenses, 1/3rd part is generated by universities themselves, and 1/3rd is generated by commercialization of research. In Pakistan, research commercialization has not become a source of revenue generation yet and it requires time to attain that level. Roughly 40% is contributed by universities and 60% funding is allocated by the Government of Pakistan. For development, Government gives 100% funding and that is categorized according to the requirement. We have to smartly play with our financial resources and development has to be done by proper utilization of those limited resources at right place where there is need.
Q 10: How quality of higher education can be improved?
Dr. Mukhtar: The problem is also that mostly universities in our country offer same courses, programs and there is much saturation due to this situation. Universities should think out of the box and establish their expertise in distinguished field so that we could have center of excellence of every field. This is the way quality of education can be improved.
Q 11: What are your comments on Technology Times and Tech TV?
Dr. Mukhtar: This is highly commendable effort for science popularization and this initiative is certainly a hope for creating science awareness amongst people of Pakistan which is the need of the hour. It is also an example that anything can be attained with commitment, dedication and perseverance.