Towards an education ‘renaissance’

July 26, 2014

BR Report – According to a physicist, Muslim nations do not concentrate much on fundamental research-they delve more into experimental science. There is need for value addition; to spend time with entrepreneurs; emphasis on laboratories; new generation technologies; super-computers, food and biotechnology and nano-technology. Besides, planning and implementation in policies are crucial important as South Korea has vividly demonstrated.

Shift from low-valued added agriculture to knowledge-based economy, nano-technologies, bio-informatics, genomics, effective linkage of university with industry, tapping of technical professional diaspora, creation of technical parks, incentives to private sector to undertake R&D -are some of the means to lift the quality of universities. This is what a writer calls as “disruptive research.”

The stark fact is that difficult times in many of the Islamic world may persist for some time in future till their economies stabilise. In the meantime, the universities have to start thinking anew and seriously ponder how to become autonomous and self-sustaining in financial matters by generating own funds. This may seem very challenging but is not entirely impossible.

It is important to shift from low-valued added agriculture to knowledge-based economy, nano-technology, bio-informatics, genomics, effective linkage of university with industry, tapping of technical professional diaspora, creation of technical parks, incentives to private sector to undertake R&D. These are some of the means to lift the level of academic/technical level of universities.

Impact of education investment and allocation of funds should not be considered as simple linear function of inputs and outputs. This applies equally at national level and in the universities. The entire process by which outcomes occur need to be addressed: emphasising good governance viz., performance benchmarks; system of monitoring and accountability; and revamping of accounting and budgeting formulae for allocation of funds. The system should go beyond the criteria of mere apportionment of funds, number of student enrolled and student results etc.

Performance should be judged at different tiers through online systems as eg instituted in Mexico and Colombia in providing updates to decision makers. In this regard, statistical and data-collection systems have to be continuously updated for providing accurate and latest information to the policy planners. Encouragingly, Pakistan government is thinking upon similar lines in its Vision 2025 Plan and the Five Year Plan.

“Desperate times call for desperate remedies,” is an old saying. Universities need to attract endowments, undertake bold financial investments and generate own finances through pro-active collaboration with industries, technological centers and collaboration with foreign universities. University degrees should only be offered to students that are linked with industrial-technical development.

The sad fact is that universities in the Muslim world are today adrift and have lost grip over the wrenching changes occurring in their societies. Hence it is imperative that they should be in sync with contemporary demands and times. Economic growth and technological development are quite important – yet hardly enough for national development. Education in science and humanities are not mutually exclusive entities – as commonly thought. In raising a balanced, humane and socially vibrant citizenry- hard sciences and liberal sciences ought to go hand in hand.

Realistically, universities in the Islamic world in the foreseeable future may remain dependent upon their own governments. Yet the above policy suggestions/measures could enable a gradual weaning away from total dependence on governmental resources and instead provide stimulus in attaining relative fiscal autonomy.

Needless to say that education for any nation is a long-term but a serious, solid investment. While it may not yield immediate dividends, investment in human resources is a sine qua non for any meaningful socio-economic development. This has been witnessed in the Western world and some semi-industrialized societies. No nation can economically, socially or culturally progress and earn global respect without according top priority to education, technology and innovation.

Here, it would be appropriate to honour Dr Mahbubul Haq’s ardent desire that allocation to social services like education and health in Pakistan be raised to 10 percent of the GDP. This would help in matching ‘soft power’ with ‘hard power’ of the country. And universities are no doubt one of the primary agents and nodal points for generating this ‘soft power.’ In conclusion, one should keep on striving for an ‘educational renaissance’ in the Islamic World and in Pakistan with a missionary spirit – despite all intervening odds and challenges.

(The writer is Adviser in COMSATS Institute of Information Technology.)

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