NED Alumni Convention 2015 in Toronto Canada
By Riaz Haq
Over 600 NEDians and their families from all over North America and other parts of the world converged on Toronto to attend the Karachi-based engineering university's 11th international alumni convention for the year 2015. It was organized by the NED Alumni Association of Canada over the Labor Day weekend (September 4-6, 2015) at the Mississauga Hilton. Last year, the NED Alumni convention was held in Silicon Valley, California. Next year's convention will be held in Houston, Texas.
Arrival in Toronto
My wife and I were met by Pakistanis from the moment we landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Our first encounter was with a Karachi-born Canadian immigration officer. Our taxi driver who took us from the airport to the hotel was a Sikh gentleman. The manager at the hotel was a Pakistani as was the man minding the gift shop there.
What impressed us most was how "desis" from South Asia were very responsive and well organized in performing their jobs, a far cry from how badly the same people do the same things in their countries of origin. It's a tribute to the efficient systems put in place and operated in Canada. Rule of law is a big part of it.
Mississauga in Peel region of Greater Toronto Area is an excellent choice for any gathering of Pakistanis in North America. It has a large number of people of Pakistani origin with a strong support system. There are over 30,000 Pakistanis in Mississauga making up the second largest immigrant group in the city, according to Canadian Census Data from 2011.
Welcome Dinner on Friday
Alumni coming in from outside Toronto area were treated to Chinese food and Pakistani poetry and music at Symphony Event Center & Banquet Hall, one of many Pakistani-style shadi halls dotting the Peel region around the airport. It was a great opportunity to meet lots of friends after many years. Some were from 1974, the year I graduated. My wife met some of her Dow Medical College (DMC) alums who are now married to NEDians attending the event.
Energy Panel Discussion
After continental breakfast and a brief welcome speech by President Imran Ahmad of NED Alumni Association of Canada, there was a panel discussion on a very hot topic for most Pakistan: the energy crisis. Mr Arif Alauddin, Dr Khurshid Qureshi, Dr Asad Asghar, Dr Afzal Haq and Mr Tanveer Zuberi were on the panel. The panelists have impressive backgrounds but the content and the quality of the discussion left much to be desired. Panelists focused mostly on engineering and manufacturing while ignoring major policy issues that are mainly responsible for the severity of the crisis. The panel members looked for solution to the crisis in engineering and manufacturing solar panels and turbines while saying little or nothing about the serious policy issues ranging from badly crafted IPP power purchase contracts to impact of fuel costs, lack of incentives for generation efficiency, and extremely poor financial management of the entire energy sector.
NED University's Finances
Dr Afzal Haq discussed the precarious financial situation of the university and how he is trying to fix it. Dr Haq inherited a significant debts running in hundreds of millions of rupees when he took over as the Vice Chancellor. Much of the money was borrowed from commercial banks at high interest rates. He blamed it on heavy political patronage-based hiring of non-faculty staff who he could not easily fire. He did reduce the staff to some extent and then turned his attention to raising more revenue. One of the ways he's done that is by adding self-financed seats filled by those who pay significantly more than the standard tuition for the privilege of attending NED University. He has also added more graduate classes in the evening for working engineers who pay more. Dr Haq has so far cut NED's debt in half with these measures.
The Saturday banquet drew the largest attendance. It was well organized with good food and great entertainment. The only complaints I heard were related to the length of speeches and other presentations that took time away from people wanting to spend more time meeting friends and families.
The 2015 NED Alumni Convention went very well except for some minor irritants. The NEDians in Canada deserve full credit for pulling off the largest ever NED Alumni Convention in the last 11 years. Hope the 12th international NED Alumni Convention in Houston, Texas, will be even bigger and better. I think my fellow alum Afzaal Hafeez is quite capable of delivering it.