PAKISTAN: Reform model for developing countries

Pakistan has been recognised by the World Bank for its innovative reform to higher education. Besides having some of its universities among the top 600 in the world, Pakistan was given "Rising Star" status in five scientific disciplines last year for the first time by Science Watch, a Thomson Reuters Publication.

The output data for publications and citations for Pakistan's universities showed a remarkable 600% increase in ISI abstracted publications in international journals.

"The reform process has included a number of innovative steps for promoting human resource development and enhancing capacity building with the aim to establish a world-class faculty, expand access and improve the quality and relevance of higher education and research to economic growth and sustainable development," said Unesco Science Laureate and Federal Education Minister Atta-Ur-Rahman.

To attract the brightest students into academia and research revolutionary measures have been taken including dramatic changes in salary structure. Atta-Ur-Rahman said that Pakistan was the only country in the world where the salary of a professor could be about four times of a minister in the government.

In the past five years, 47 new universities and degree-awarding institutions were established, almost tripling the enrolments, while 56 universities were linked with fibre and international research networks.

Besides initiating huge foreign and indigenous PhD scholarship programmes, the world's largest Fulbright scheme has been launched to send students to Ivy League universities in the US. A digital library has also been set up to provide free nationwide access to 25,000 international journals and 45,000 books and research monographs from 220 international publishers.

"Pakistan today is the only country in the world where every student in every public sector university has free access to 25,000 international journals and 45,000 text books or research monographs, not only accessible from the universities but also from their homes," Atta-Ur-Rahman said.

Pakistan placed a large educational satellite in space (Paksat-1) with 36 transponders that is now used for distance learning. Two new digital television channels have been launched under the Virtual University and two more will start soon exclusively for higher education on this satellite.

As with most developing countries, Pakistan has a high proportion of young people - about 85 million below the age of 19 or 54% of the total population.

"Thus, innovative measures must be implemented to attract the brightest among the young population to opt for careers in education and research as they can transform the country through the development of knowledge based economy," Atta-Ur-Rahman said.

Asked about present challenges facing higher education sector as a result of current global economic crisis, Tanveer Naim, former chair of Pakistan's Council on Science and Technology and a consultant to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, told University World News: "Besides increasing the budget for higher education hundred-fold over the last six years, the 2009 budget announced on Saturday has increased spending on higher education by 15 % and boosted the Ministry of Science and Technology budget by 50 %, despite the extremely difficult conditions, including the war in our northern areas and terrorism all over Pakistan, as well as as a slower growth in the economy."