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Higher education in Pakistan – by Dr. Javaid Laghari

The developing countries are no longer content to be a source of cheap labour. Instead, they are rapidly becoming the driving force of innovation and creativity. They are redesigning entire products and business processes to reduce costs. IBM today employs more people in the developing world than in the developed one. The number of US companies listed on Fortune 500 in 2009 fell to its lowest level ever, while more Chinese, South Koreans and Indian firms appeared on the list than ever before. (The Economist, April 15.)

If Pakistan wishes to become an emerging power, it needs to enhance its knowledge and intellectual capital drastically. It is well known that countries with sound technological base make rapid strides in development. There is a direct correlation between the knowledge capital and economic development.

Pakistan has one of the lowest tertiary enrolment densities in the world and therefore also the lowest GDP per capita. If we wish to follow in the footsteps of the emerging powers, we need to focus on increasing our knowledge power. We need to quadruple our knowledge density before we can even reach the levels of the per capita GDP of our fellow Muslim countries Malaysia and Turkey, let alone the emerging giants.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has brought about a revolutionary change in Pakistan since its formation in 2002. It has increased the number of universities from 98 to 132, and tripled university enrolment. As a result, universities are providing knowledge capital to every developing sector in Pakistan. While only 3,000 PhD degrees were awarded till 2002, over 3,280 have been awarded in the last eight years alone. The number of scholars on HEC scholarships currently pursuing PhD degrees overseas is over 2,800, while another 3,800 are pursuing it locally. With only 3,500 (20 per cent) of university faculties having PhD degrees, the numbers will triple over the next five years. Simultaneously, the number of research publications has increased from 815 in 2002 to over 4,000 in 2009 and is still growing exponentially each year with the number of returning PhD scholars. Pakistan will thus be on its way to becoming a knowledge power if this pace of growth and development is continued over the next 10 years.

Every dollar invested in higher education brings an exponential return of over 800 per cent to the national exchequer. That is why countries like South Korea have invested heavily in higher education over the last few decades. Korea’s higher education accessibility, which was only five per cent in 1960 (the same as in Pakistan today), steadily increased to nine per cent in 1970, 16 per cent in 1980, 38 per cent in 1990, and 68 per cent in 2000, and is currently 80 per cent. South Korea’s exports have steadily climbed from $32 million in 1960, $660 million in 1970, $17 billion in 1980, $63 billion in 1990, $150 billion in 2000, to over 364 billion now.

Today Pakistan is facing a mounting challenge from neighbouring India. India has embarked on a revolutionary plan to boost its higher education sector to international standards. It is already spending 1.03 per cent of its GDP on higher education, compared to only 0.28 per cent for Pakistan.

The government needs to make a solid financial and political commitment to support higher education and increase its funding by at least 30-35 per cent every year over the next ten years. Otherwise, Pakistan will only slide back to join sub-Saharan African states, instead of moving forward and becoming an Asian tiger.

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

Source: The News, 8 May 2010