The Triple Helix Factor

The academia, industries and government institutions must work together to foster technological innovation and economic growth. This Triple Helix approach is followed by most countries of the world but an alien idea in Pakistan still. In an exclusive interview, Academia Magazine talks to Abid Hussain Khan Shirwani, President of Triple Helix Association South Asia chapter and Director General of University of Management and Technology about how we can bring about a positive change in Pakistan.

n eminent professional, educationist and entrepreneur, Professor Abid Hussain Khan Shirwani has gained widespread recognition in Pakistan due to his exemplary work. His potent mix of will power, calibre, conviction, dedication and leadership has inspired many young professionals over the course of his career. Shirwani studied entrepreneurship and public administration abroad and has also penned the book, “One Belt One Road – Hands on Small Enterprises”, which depicts the role of CPEC projects in depth and their long term impact on the nation. He is working with a vision to educate the young generation in current scenario and involve them in entrepreneurship for economic sustainability. 

He is also the co-founder of University of Management and Technology, setting it up as the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) along with renowned scholar Shaheed Professor Dr Hasan Sohaib Murad in 1990. 

The Triple Helix Association (THA) was established in 2009 and is headquartered in Rome, Italy. THA’s main scope is to advance scientific knowledge and practical achievements related to all aspects of the interaction between academy-industry-government (triple helix). Explaining its purpose, Professor Shirwani said, “THA activities range from the development and debate around top class scientific studies by means of conferences, symposia, and awards; networking among both leading education & research institutions and stakeholders. It supports translating academic models into practical achievements by enhancing international exchange of scholars and the education of students, researchers and practitioners.

 

Need For Innovation

“Innovation and creativity can lead to any economy’s acceleration. The more creative and innovative a country or organisation is, the more accelerated its growth. It is an ongoing process,” the professor maintained. As an example, he referred to the first computer made for business applications developed in Manchester University. “At one time, Manchester used to be hub of textile industry. The industrial team went to the university seeking solution to their problem. There was lack of coordination between different units like production, marketing and sales. The team asked for a solution and thus the university came up with the first computer with business applications,” he explained. “The first mobile phone was made by Philips of Holland. Now nobody remembers that and companies of other countries now dominate the market.” 

“In Pakistan, the Punjab University did a project for Sui Gas Company about two decades ago. The gas pipes used to become very rusty due to some reaction with the gas. PU got research grant of Rs 50 million. The university found a solution, which is working till now,” Professor Shirwani added.  He also related the issue of Karachi Port Trust, which had a manual system for the ships that berthed in its docks. “In 1996 they opened bidding for changing the system. ILM partnered with Hamdard University to enter the bidding. We won the tender and designed the software that is still being used by KPT to date.”  “Trycast Media, a project of ILM, was a software house that makes a number of applications. The ICC World Cup application was made by Trycast Media. All the ICC activities are planned on it .

Limited Interaction

He further explained that in Pakistan, projects between academia, industry and public sector cooperation were few and far. “The triple helix is not very strong and we have only about five percent success stories.” “India’s position is much better. There are many organizations like Triple Helix working at local level. In 1972, the Indian Institute of Science was inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It was sponsored by TATA.” 

Shirwani lamented that strong linkages between academia, industry and government did not exist in Pakistan. “Many of our industries here have closed shop. For example the Kot Lakhpat industrial area of Lahore has more than 3,600 units. More than half of them have been shut down. Almost 50 percent of those working are in loss. Pakistan has many issues. Electricity and gas, which are the main ingredients for making products, are both very expensive. The bank rate has gone up and almost doubled in the last one year.

The more we are industry friendly the more things will improve. Public sector has to introduce policy to help the industries grow. When the industries will flourish they will cooperate with the academia.” 

The professor said University of Gujrat was the perfect example of an attempt to implement the triple helix model. “There was open bidding in which six organisations participated. ILM won the bidding. All the designing and infrastructure development was suggested by ILM. We did a comprehensive survey of Gujrat. The areas of Gujranwala, Sialkot and Gujrat form an ideal cluster and the university was established to cater to the needs of these three areas, which are industrial hubs. The universities are aligned with these industries,” he said. 

The UMT DG laid emphasis on the functioning of ORICs (Office of Research, Innovation and Commercialization) in universities and higher education institutions. “ORIC helps develop collaborative work environment among researchers, industrial partners, national R&D organizations and funding agencies. There are 186 universities in Pakistan. ORICs, which were the initiative of HEC, have been established in 45 universities. The ORIC in UMT is working very efficiently to establish linkages between academia, industries and the public sector. It has established linkages with over 200 industries including cement, iron, wood (furniture) and computer software,” he said.

The reduction in higher education budget will leave a bad impact on education projects and research grants. Funding for seminars, symposiums and conferences will become really difficult

Commenting on the budget cut for higher education, Shirwani regretted that it had been slashed instead of being raised. “It is not a good sign. The reduction in budget would leave a bad impact on education projects and research grants. Funding for seminars, symposiums and conferences would become difficult,” he opined. 

Professor Shirwani has a lot of experience in the field of education and understands how a positive change can be brought in the country by adopting the triple helix model. Currently the bonds between academia, industries and public sector may not be very strong, but all three sides should work together so that they do become stronger, as that is the only way forward for Pakistan.