Pakistan climbs up research expectations ladder

Photo courtesy Higher Education Commission

Topographic map of Pakistan

Topographic map of Pakistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Dr Javaid R Leghari

Scimago, an independent research organisation and an international evaluation and ranking platform which analyses scientific outputs of institutions and countries and monitors over 30,000 journals, is considered one of the most credible databases in the world of research. Its most recent publication http:// http://www.scimagolab.com /blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/forecasting-excercise.pdf is a forecasting exercise on how the world will perform in research by 2018 based on their past performance. The top 50 countries are included in the forecast.

While China, as expected, becomes the number one country in the world by 2018 in terms of research output, three countries stand out and show the most drastic increase in numbers and rankings: Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan. Iran moves ahead from number 19 to number 4, Malaysia from 30 to 13, and Pakistan from 43 to 27. The expected output of research in Pakistan moving up 16 notches, which is the second highest increase worldwide, is primarily due to the innovative higher education policies and reforms taking place in Pakistan under the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

In Pakistan, under the HEC, in addition to quality reforms, there has been a strong resurgence of research and innovation. In particular, there is a significant growth in the number of PhDs awarded out of Pakistani universities. The numbers speak for themselves. In the first 55 years since Pakistan’s independence, a total of 3281 PhDs were awarded at Pakistani universities. However, since the establishment of the HEC in 2002, over 4000 PhDs have been awarded to-date, which is more than what was awarded in the previous 55 years.

The number of PhDs awarded per year has now increased from a low of 200 in 2002 to over 850 in the year 2011, and it is expected that over 1000 PhDs will be awarded in 2012. There is a renewed focus on engineering and technology, agriculture, biological sciences, business education and social sciences, which are relevant subjects important for the socio-economic development of Pakistan.

This increase in PhD awards is despite the fact that standards for the award of a PhD degree are today stricter than in the past, and even more than those in developed countries. There is a GRE-type entrance test for all graduate programmes, with a GAT (General) required for admission to MPhil and a GAT subject in 59 disciplines required for PhD admission. Advanced coursework is required in addition to research.

There is a zero tolerance policy on plagiarism, where every research paper, thesis and dissertation must be scrutinised by anti-plagiarism software before submission. All thesis and dissertation must be evaluated by at least two foreign referees in academically advanced countries in the relevant area of research. There is also a publication requirement in the HEC recognised journals. Degrees not following the above criteria will not be recognised.

Despite having very limited funds, HEC supports many research initiatives through grants. There are split PhDs, post-doctoral fellowships and foreign faculty programmes. While research projects are supported, there are also collaborative and joint projects with the US, UK, German and other foreign universities which are also funded by their agencies.

Support to host conferences as well as to attend them to present papers anywhere in the world is provided to PhD scholars and faculty. All new PhD faculty from the 7500 that have been awarded merit based scholarships are not only placed in universities at a respectable salary, but are also awarded a research grant. Just in the last three years, over 1100 new faculty have been placed in universities across Pakistan. Due to these incentives offered, there are hardly any defaults on returning scholars and the brain drain has also been significantly reversed.

It is primarily due to this new flourishing research culture at the higher education institutions that the number of international research publications with impact factor has increased drastically by a factor of 8 in the last 10 years! While 816 impact factor papers were published in 2002, it has now increased to over 6300 in 2011, with the largest numbers of publications in areas of relevance to economic development.

As a result of this phenomenal increase in research publications, the world share of Pakistan’s research has gone up by 300 percent in the last five years. In other words, Pakistan is taking back what it had lost out to the world in earlier years. And at the rate Pakistanis are publishing, Scimago forecasts that by 2018, the research output of Pakistan will exceed 29,661. We are beginning to earn our recognition and rightful place in the world scholarly community. Who knows there may be quite a few potential Nobel Laureates walking the corridors of our universities already.

As a result of the reforms, which include research output, Pakistan’s higher education sector is finally beginning to appear on the world scene. While no university was ranked in the top universities of the world three years back, according to the most recent QS Asian Universities Rankings 2012, there are now six Pakistani universities that are ranked among the top 300 universities. Similarly, according to QS World Universities Ranking 2011, two Pakistani universities are ranked among the top 300 technology universities of the world. This is another achievement and recognition that has been widely acknowledged.

But all of that may change and reverse if the higher education sector is not supported by the government. Despite having lost over 40 percent of its allocated development funding over the last three years, and receiving the funds today as it did in 2005, the higher education sector has performed exceptionally well. It is a moment for all Pakistanis to be proud of.

While all other sectors in Pakistan have been showing a decline in performance, the HEC has stood its ground like a rock and is shining like a star among the dark skies. Not supporting higher education will be detrimental to our bulging youth population where the threat of extremism hangs over their head like the sword of Damocles. It is high time that the government and the political leadership should place their bet on a winning horse, for it is only an educated Pakistan that can lead this nation out of illiteracy and poverty into economic development and prosperity.

The writer is chairperson Higher Education Commission. Email: jlaghari@ hec.gov.pk

This piece originally appeared in The News on August 2, 2012

The views expressed by experts in the writings included in the Opinion section are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect editorial policy of MyGlobalCommunityToday.

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