Former minister for science and technology and founding chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Attaur Rehman chaired a meeting at the Lahore Knowledge Park Company (LKPC) the other day to share his experiences of nurturing a knowledge economy.
The high-level meeting was attended by Higher Education Minister Yasir Humayun Sarfraz, LKPC Chairman Lt Gen (r) Mohammad Akram, Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) Chairman Dr Muhammad Nizamuddin, Higher Education Department (HED) Additional Secretary Tanvir Jabbar and other members of the LKPC management.
Dr Attaur Rehman briefed the participants about the importance of the knowledge economy, hurdles and setbacks for the LKPC and other issues plaguing the higher education sector of the country.
He said highlighted the significance of knowledge economy and the untapped potential of science, technology and innovation in the higher education sector of the province. The former minister said modern economic progression was driven by knowledge creation and transfer, which enabled high export value through product innovation.
Dr Rehman also presented a set of pragmatic recommendations to improve the quality of higher education in Punjab. He informed the minister that the single most important factor that could improve varsities in Punjab was high quality faculty. He observed that the current average ratio of PhD faculty to students was 1 to 80, whereas a respectable ratio was 1 to 20. He also told the minister that the federal HEC had experienced serious financial problems with huge budgetary cuts, with only Rs 15 billion released against Rs 35 billion allocated in last financial year, a cut of 45% from the previous year.
Dr Rehman suggested the Punjab government launch a faculty development programme where 1,000 students should be sent abroad annually to leading universities in Europe and Asia for the next 10 years. He argued that the students should not be sent to the USA or UK for costs and other reasons. He said that the cost of PhD training was estimated at average of Rs 10 billion per year for 10 years. Furthermore, he said that a research grant of $50,000 should be made available to each of the students to facilitate absorption and productivity on their return. He suggested that jobs should be ensured on arrival with placements being made a year before the scholars returned to Pakistan.
To improve quality, the former HEC chairman suggested that a research budget of Rs3 billion annually should be created to promote research in universities and a separate Punjab Innovation Fund of Rs 2 billion a year should be side-lined to promote innovation. He suggested that it should be mandatory for university professors to work in the private industrial/agricultural institutions/social organisations. He also complained of the abandoned Tenure Track faculty initiative by the HEC, which was not implemented in most universities in Punjab. The noted scientists said it was a major reason why mediocrity prevailed in Punjab. Another suggestion floated by Dr Rehman was establishment of Innovation Parks in every public sector university.
The former minister also lay emphasis on the significance of technology parks for uplifting the standard of higher education and to promote an entire ecosystem of innovation in the country.
Higher Education Minister Yasir Humayun Sarfraz not only welcomed the recommendations presented by Dr Attaur Rehman, but also expressed resolve to steer a robust plan to transform Punjab into a role model for higher education in the country. He also mentioned that enabling efficient and effective reforms in the higher education system was one of the top priorities highlighted in the hundred days’ plan of provincial government.
Dr Attaur Rehman is the convener of the Steering Committee of LKPC and is spearheading the project of Pak-Italy University of Lahore Knowledge Park. The university will be established as a consortium of three frontline Italian universities.