Higher Education Reforms in Pakistan Discussed in Washington


Left to Right: Dr Atta ur Rehman, Ali Chaudhry, and a section of the audience

Washington, DC: The Pakistani American Leadership Center (PAL-C) organized an engaging discussion on "Higher Education Reforms in Pakistan" on February 12, 2007 at the Robert and Bernice Alumni House in Georgetown University. The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Atta ur Rehman, Chairman of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.
Mr. Ali Chaudhry, Executive Director of PAL-C, welcomed the Chairman and thanked him for his participation and desire to engage students and academics on this important issue. Mr. Chaudhry briefed the audience on PAL-C's mission, activities and its efforts to promote education and dialogue within the Pakistani-American community.
Dr Att aur Rehman told students at Georgetown University that efforts are afoot to develop strong linkages between Pakistani and American institutions of science and technology to spur Pakistan towards a knowledge-based economy. He highlighted some of the reforms introduced to revamp the higher education system in Pakistan on modern lines. Pakistan would be sending a large number of students to the United States in the coming years for higher education, he said, while hinting at the possibility of the two countries coming up with a 10-year program for the training of Pakistani students in various disciplines.
Pakistan desires to send about 3000 students to the United States in the coming years for training at Masters, PhD, post-doctoral and technical levels in wide-ranging fields including basic, applied and social sciences. Pakistan, he said, has established 50 linkages with British universities and is running the world’s largest Fulbright program. As many as 640 Pakistani students would be sent to American Ivy League universities in the next five years, mostly for applied and basic sciences. He spoke about the establishment of high-tech universities in Pakistan with Pakistani resources in collaboration with Germany, France, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, Austria, Italy and China. Once operational, these universities would have some 50,000 students on their rolls and produce 10,000 highly qualified engineers every year.
He said that "these will be closely connected with the needs of industry of today and tomorrow and promote the development of a knowledge economy. As a result of this program we hope to provide a large number of suitably qualified engineers in sectors including telecom, steel, metallurgy, ship building, information technology, computer, software, sports, surgical and automobile industries as well as in the agriculture sector for improving crop yields.”
Addressing another meeting later in the afternoon at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr Attaur Rehman, who is also chairman of the Higher Education Commission, said education was the best tool for building a moderate society. Terrorism, he stressed, stems from hopelessness and alienation, from ignorance and illiteracy and from lack of opportunity, conditions and states of mind which can be set right through education. He pointed out that the United States is spending $2 billion a week on the wars presently being fought, while just 10 percent of the amount that has been spent so far could have ensured 100 percent literacy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr Rehman told the meeting that the total GDP of OIC member countries is $1,400 billion, which is 50 percent of the GDP of Germany alone. Twenty-two of the Arab states surveyed spend 7.1 percent of their GDP on defense and only 0.2 percent on research and development. Their spending on health is just 1.25 percent. He argued that by opening up unprecedented opportunities for higher scientific and technical education, Pakistan has put a “top-down” approach in motion. Those who argue that what Pakistan needs is not higher education but basic education, should study Sri Lanka, 95 percent of whose population is literate, but which remains lacking in vital areas of development. The former Soviet Union was a great military power but it was unable to produce a good car or a nice TV set. He said 2,000 of US companies with sales of $232 billion were run by MIT-trained men and women. He provided the meeting with a detailed briefing on the steps Pakistan has taken to make up for time lost because of the pursuit of education policies that did not emphasis the right things and failed to propel the country in the right direction.
Dr Atta, who was in the US capital to co-chair the inaugural meeting of Pakistan-US Science and Technology Committee last Tuesday, suggested that Pakistan and the United States could jointly sponsor a program, spanning over the next ten years to train the Pakistani students.
The presentation was followed by an interactive “Question and Answer” session.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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