Since the establishment of Higher Education Commission, the quality and direction of higher education in Pakistan has significantly improved. A number of research publications have boomed and so is the number of graduates. Recent developments include technology parks, incubation center, industry-oriented funding through Ignite - to name a few. Still, a fundamental issue is industry-academia disconnect. In the rest of the article, I will use the term “industry” as an umbrella term for enterprises such as manufacturing, finance, technology, agriculture, government entities, etc. Current establishment of academia is not able to disrupt the industry. Unfortunately, there seems no dire need from either side. One may think that it is too early to ask for an industrial impact of the research, I hardly see it happening for several reasons. Below, I will draft a few key aspects of this dilemma and potential remedies.
In a developed world, industry looks towards academia for directions. Universities and research centers become the ultimate power-houses for the industry. One key reason for such connectedness is industry's belief in innovation. This belief, and the culture it represents, is not developed by attending talk-talk sessions or eating powerpoint slides. Its due to an embedding of innovative people in respective decision making bodies.
On this hypothesis, I conducted a quick study on academic qualification of corporate bodies of top-30 German companies (FTSE 30) and compared with top-30 in Pakistan (KSE30). Note that German public companies' corporate bodies include (a) a supervisory board which monitors execution and sets directions of the business and (b) a board of directors - the executives responsible for day to day business. Pakistani companies on the other hand have usually one board called Board of Directors plus one or more management committees (often comprising of the board members). While an apple-apple comparison is difficult, here is a comparison of the baskets: Of approximately 614 board positions in KSE30, only 15 are held by PhD's i.e. ~2.5%. Compare it with Germany's 200 PhDs for 658 board positions i.e. 30%. Will Pakistan achieve this ratio, say in 10 years from now? Who should act → Government and Industry.
Another important aspect is industry’s investment in education through trainee programs. At Bachelor level, Dual Hochschule Baden-Württemberg network is a prime example where students are only enrolled on behalf of industries. Hundreds of industrial partners, including IBM, Bosch, and HP, support their technology oriented degree programs. Students in these programs spend 3 months in university and 3 months in industry each semester. Another example of industry focused study programs is Master@IBM where students primarily work at an office and secondarily join customized courses at the university. The point is, such students are market-ready by the end of their program. Who should act → Government, Academia, and Industry.
To summarize, we need to (i) incentivize industries to invest in innovation (ii) support industry improve their R&D through induction of PhDs, and (iii) complement research-focused higher education by intensive apprenticeship based education e.g. through Fachhochschules and joint degree programs.
Cofounder and Lead at Data Science Initiative Pakistan Lead Data Scientist, IBM Watson IoT, Germany