“Man's flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.”
This statement by an unknown author holds so true in these times. Today, the world we live in revolves around information and knowledge. They are the driving factors for socio-economic development in the country. Human resources are the most critical asset we possess, and the way towards progress and development lies in heavy investment in training this human resource. Only then can a country's human resources play an effective role in developing a knowledge economy in the competitive global environment.
With the successive and constant developments in all major fields, such as information technology, material sciences, biotechnology, management sciences, renewable energy, etc, the need for an effective training and education system for our youth is essential. These developments are rapidly changing the world. The countries that keep up with these changes, they become world leaders; the countries that don't, are left behind. In order to keep up with these changes, we need to be able to set our human resource into motion at a moment's notice, to grapple the latest bit of knowledge and innovations in all fields.
Several developing countries have taken initiatives and focused on the development of new disciplinary areas and have made enormous discoveries such as nanotechnology to leap frog ahead of the leading countries in the scientific world. Such developments are essential for countries such as Pakistan to rise into the list of developed or modern nations.
Knowledge, specially new knowledge about technology, requires a lot of research. Governments and organizations have to adapt new technology and innovations in all fields to keep up with the rest of the world. Such innovations require extensive research and development programs that need to be carried out by our universities and R&D organizations. Strengthening of our universities and R&D organizations, as well as establishing smooth and streamlined links between them and the industries are critical for the absorption of new technology and further innovations.
A strong R&D backbone translates into an increase of knowledge and innovations in our production and service sectors, which further translates into a considerable growth in our GDP. This growth and absorption of technology into the various sectors of our economy, combined with extensive development of our human resources are vital if we are to compete in the global economy.
Innovation plays an important role in several sectors of society, including the government, the private sector, universities and R&D institutes. Hence, innovation in the education sector is an area of utmost importance, as new developments in this sector will gradually bring changes in the complete system. New and improved teaching methodologies, examination systems or curriculum will lay the groundwork for a stronger economy and socio-economic system. These innovations will improve the quality of our human capital with enhanced training and skills, and will greatly speed up the progress of the country.
The world is rapidly going towards globalization and the establishment of a global economy. The concept of Global Economy requires an open mind, and out-of-the-box and lateral thinking. This means that we need to reassess and reconfigure our current education system to incorporate critical thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship, effective communication, teamwork orientation, and flexibility.
This is where the Higher Education Commission steps in. The commission was established to assist in transforming the country into a knowledge economy, a hub for knowledge and information. Ever since it was set up, the HEC has started on a systematic course of action to achieve the goals outlined in their Medium Term Development Framework, or the MTDF. They have identified Access, Quality, and Relevance as the most critical challenges of the sector.
To counter these challenges, they have come up with a strategy that encompasses Faculty Development, Improvement of Access, Excellence in Learning & Research, and Relevance to National Priorities. The most pertinent issues in the country are a lack of access to quality higher education and qualified faculty. These issues need to be addressed as they ensure the development of a skilled workforce which will develop the country further. Learning and Research are also important areas that need to be focused on as without them, we cannot progress our manufacturing and production sectors.
Programs focusing on the development of leadership, governance and management, as well as enhancing quality assessment and accreditation are already underway and the development of sound physical and technological infrastructures is also under way. These projects are key for the achievement of the core strategic aims.
The development of faculty is essential for improving the quality and standards of education in the country. Human resource development and enhancement of local research activities are key areas of several developmental projects. One key program set up by the commission is the Indigenous Scholarship Program. This program has awarded 2000 doctoral scholarships so far and the program has taken steps to ensure international standards of quality.
Another key program, the Foreign Scholarship Program, aims to improve the research and development base in areas that are crucial for the nation, specially focusing on engineering, applied and pure sciences. Links have been established with Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Netherlands, Korea, China, US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand under this program, and more than 821 Masters and PhD level scholarships have been awarded so far. Another project, amounting to $250 million, to further fund 2000 students for foreign studies was recently approved by the government.
The world's largest program, the Fulbright Scholarship Program, ($150 million) has been set up by the HEC with US assistance. Through this program, 640 students will study in top American universities while another 500 students will be awarded scholarships in Australia under the Australia Pakistan Scholarship Program. A program for funding Post Doctoral Fellowships has also been set up to place more than 255 scholars in premier academic and research institutions abroad for 9 to 12 month fellowships.
Additionally, the commission has also jump started the Foreign Faculty Hiring Program to recruit highly qualified teachers and scholars from abroad on short and long term contracts. More than 270 foreign faculty members have been recruited up till now through this program. An in-service teacher training program has also been set up which focuses on enhancement of subject knowledge, communication, computer, and teaching skills, as well as advanced assessment methodologies. It aims to train all active teachers in the next three years and more than 340 teachers have gone through this training program so far. Short term training sessions have also upgraded an additional 430 teachers. While in the past two years, the HEC has trained more than 2500 university teachers through various Master training courses. These scholarship and training programs are very critical to raise the standard of our education sector and will bring us on par with international norms.
Accessibility is a very critical factor that restricts our academic output, and with the increase in population and economic demands, addressing this factor is imperative for the country. Enrolment in universities is up by 40% and by 19% through distance learning programs due to a substantial program started by the commission to increase the number of seats available in universities.
Thirteen new universities are also being established to enhance the education sector further and due to the implementation of the indigenous PhD program, there has been a 56% increase in the number of students registered for PhD degrees.
The commission has set up 20 Central Research Laboratories in the major universities in Pakistan to improve and promote research in the country. Additionally, they have set up several programs that support and promote research such as the Competitive Research Program, which has funded over 333 other research programs. However, there is a need to set up more programs such as this to sponsor our researchers so they can participate in international conferences and workshops, presenting original papers.
The University Linkage Program has been established to link up our universities with international universities to increase international collaboration in our research programs. The commission has set up 50 such linkages with British universities based on this program and it aims to improve the quality of research.
The development programs started by the HEC are providing significant assistance to the engineering sector by providing funds for the strengthening of our current engineering departments and by establishing additional campuses and the development of central resource laboratories and institutes. Additionally, they are also supporting biotechnology by setting up institutes in Bio-Informatics, Proteomies, Stem Cell Research, Plant Genomics and Genetic Engineering.