Plans To Attract Foreign Campuses In New ‘Knowledge City’

Announcement To Establish Another Knowledge City Should Follow Provision Of Required Resources &  Highest Political Will In Case Of Pak

Plans To Attract Foreign Campuses In New ‘Knowledge City’
By Ameen Amjad Khan

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has unveiled the new Namal Knowledge City, a mega project of academic facilities near Mianwali city in Punjab province, referring to it as the country’s “first knowledge city”. The multi-million-dollar facility, some 200 kilometres south-west of the capital, Islamabad, is to be completed by 2027, and it is envisaged that it will include housing, research and development institutions, technology start-ups and foreign university branch campuses.

However, some academics dispute that it is the first knowledge city, referring to Lahore Knowledge Park launched in 2014 by the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League, but where no foreign university has yet started local campuses because infrastructure development work is still incomplete.

Britain’s Lancaster University, Noor International University of Bangladesh and Scotland’s University of Strathclyde initially signed agreements to locate offshoot campuses in the Lahore park.

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The first phase of the Namal Knowledge City project designed by Tony Ashai, an Indian-American architect, projected to cost some US$100 million, is planned to be completed by 2023, when the term of the current government ends. The second phase is planned for completion by 2027.

Rasheed Khalid, former dean of social sciences at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, told University World News: “Let me correct this. It is the second such plan, with the first being in Lahore and [which] since the last six years stands incomplete.”

He said the knowledge city announced by the prime minister might meet the same fate after 2023 when the current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government completes its term.

“It might hit snags even earlier as opposition rallies and protests are gaining strength with demands for new elections.”

Pakistan’s opposition grand alliance, comprising 11 political parties, accuses the current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government of “stealing the people’s mandate”, claiming it rigged the 2018 elections.

Others have expressed doubts that the ambitious plans for the knowledge city can be realised.

Ahsan Iqbal, former interior minister and secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, told University World Newsthat the country’s universities “are in crisis and facing a financial crunch to an extent that many universities in Pakistan now do not have enough funds to even pay salaries to teaching and non-teaching staff”.

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Ishtiaq Ahmad, vice-chancellor of the University of Sargodha in Punjab province, told University World News: “The announcement to establish another knowledge city should follow the provision of required resources and continued highest political will in the case of Pakistan, where mega projects get sluggish when a new government comes to power, halts the projects of the previous regime and announces new programmes to gain political mileage among voters.”

The regulatory body, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) allowed local higher education institutions to collaborate with foreign universities to set up affiliated colleges or local campuses in 2003. Since then around 30 local institutes or colleges registered with the HEC to offer foreign academic qualifications to local students. But foreign universities have still not set up their own campuses in the country.

Poor outlook for foreign universities

Munir Ahmed, an Islamabad-based analyst and columnist, told University World News: “The country’s economy, political instability and security situation are the main causes preventing foreign universities from operating in Pakistan.”

Currency depreciation, which would dramatically reduce any profits repatriated overseas, will limit investment by foreign academic institutions in Pakistan, he said.

The Pakistan currency, the rupee, has depreciated by 60% in value compared with the United States dollar and by nearly 50% compared with other major currencies over the past two and a half years.

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Pakistan’s economy has plunged from 5.6% GDP growth in 2018, the last year of the Pakistan Muslim League government, to -0.4% now, and the International Monetary Fund, a major lender to Pakistan, has projects growing at around 1% for the next financial year starting from July. The government blames the coronavirus pandemic for the economic situation.

Atta-ur-Rahman, a former science minister and former HEC chairman, now heading the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Science and Technology, told University World News that “foreign universities’ debut in Pakistan is materialising”.

He pointed to the inauguration by the prime minister in September this year of the Pak-Austria Fachhochschule Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (PAF-IAST), where three Austrian universities and five Chinese universities will offer courses in engineering and technological disciplines.

FH Joanneum (Graz, Austria), MCI Innsbruck (Austria), Johannes Kepler University Linz (Austria), Beijing Jiaotong University (China), Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (China) and Guangdong University (China) will offer courses in different disciplines at PAF-IAST, at Hattar city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some 45 kilometres north-west of the capital Islamabad.

Rahman said the project could take 5 to 7 years to transform into a digital park, for which the provincial government has allotted 43,000 square metres of land.

This news was originally published at University World News

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