Pakistani educationists along with British Council have produced an exceptional report on the research practices prevalent in Pakistan. This report is created by a cohort of scholars aptly named as Knowledge Platform including Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque, Mahboob Mahmood, Shahbano Abbas and Ali Lodhi. Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque has recognised credentials in academia and he had remained Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission of Pakistan. He is a celebrated economist and his views carry weight. The distinguished panel was ably assisted by Dr. Maryam Rab and Catherine Sinclair Jones of the British Council. The study has been benefitted by a consultative circle comprising more than 200 faculty members of more than 20 universities and research institutions across the country.
The necessity of exploring the current research set-up is heightened by the growing need of innovation and discovery in the current world and adequate and structured research is the only way to stay attuned. The importance of research is also highlighted because it drives government policies, devises corporate strategy and is the harbinger of social change. National development is ought to be based on specifically drawn results that are possible through undertaking specific research.
The viability of research has prompted the need to evaluate the research system of countries and the current effort is directed towards undertaking this activity in Pakistan. The current study is a credible analysis of the research system followed by universities in Pakistan. The study aims to bring about a sustained evaluation of the research practices so that they are kept up-to-date and in accordance with international practices.
The report credits the establishment of Higher Education Commission a decade and a half ago as responsible for improving research system in Pakistan. HEC has tremendously aided the research in Pakistan by mandating publication activity of researchers as the basic requirement for advancement of academic career. The efforts of HEC has been successful for tremendously increasing research activity in Pakistan as is borne by the phenomenal increase in the number research publications from 800 in 2002 to over 12,000 currently produced. The report takes into consideration the factors responsible for research mechanism and aims at creating a suitable atmosphere for evolution of this process in Pakistan.
It was with the active collaboration of HEC that the proponents of the report embarked upon the research titled as the University Research System in Pakistan with a view to survey all aspects of the subject. In the process they engaged in a method of active interaction with all stakeholders with a view to better grasp the key challenges faced by Pakistani research aspect and also to suggest practical measures for bringing in required improvement where needed.
The best part of the process was the intensive engagement of the proponents with a wide cross-section of faculty members inviting them to shed light on the pressing problems encountered by researchers and to suggest remedial measures. The proponents discovered that a majority of the faculty members appreciated the efforts of the HEC and appreciated the growth of research in Pakistan that has considerably improved from a low-base in 2001 to a valuable degree. The proponents, however, also discerned dismissive feelings about the gains to be accrued from research. The dominance of non-specialist approval and implementation state machinery may be the primary reason for the lack of enthusiasm displayed by many faculty members.
The most endearing part of the exercise was the unremitting critique offered by almost every faculty member that is an incontrovertible proof of the relevance and importance of the project. Most of such critics offered very credible solutions to the problems that considerably helped the study to formulate its results. Most criticism was directed towards lack of incentives to intensify research and extreme paucity of funds for undertaking it. They were highly critical of the bureaucratic control over creative research matters. They were of the view that research methodology is restricted by inflexible controls and lacks thematic research topics.
At the outset the appreciation of the role of HEC appeared justified as it has been able to quadruple the number of accredited institutions from 52 in 2001 to over 193 today. The huge institutional apparatus now caters for 1.4 million students who are provided guidance by over 45,000 faculty members. The increase in university cadres has been rather swift and lacks experienced faculty members. This paucity is also witnessed in the research aspect that has also been consequently affected.
Despite the difficulties HEC has been able to bring out research from the typical episodic mode into the centre of activity in universities. Two factors are primarily responsible for bringing about this change: expansion of research funding and linkage of senior faculty promotions to research publications. The measures have tremendously improved the research output that is highly commendable. HEC is not sitting on its laurels and has unveiled an ambitious Vision 2025 statement underlying a wide-ranging research agenda. The plan aims at bringing higher education centres as drivers of knowledge-based research that may set future goals of development in the country.
HEC had to pay a price for its success as its focus on research publication has marginalised other research activities. The result is that almost all segments of the polity remain unaware of the research conducted in universities and such a lack is detrimental in provoking common interest in issue of national importance. The result is that research activity up to now is confined to academic advancement and no general advantage is accrued out of it. The best thing is that researchers are recognising the need for breaking out of the bonds they have themselves imposed and wish to spread their skills to other important national aspects.
The obvious realisation is that research involves a cultural shift to become part of the national mainstream. Researchers are getting aware that this faculty was cultivated in the West centuries ago and is still emphasised. The Pakistani researcher is now well-aware that he constitutes a tiny part of the national whole because he has confined himself to employing his research only for academic advantage. Pakistani researcher, however, is ill-equipped to create conditions prevalent in the western world and therefore look up to HEC for furthering the cause of public-welfare research.
HEC also operates within the restrictive bonds of bureaucratic controls and is inadequately funded. It is striving to break-out of the current atmosphere and is lobbying at every level to enhance its capabilities. The current collaboration with the British Council is part of the whole exercise aimed at branching out to every possible source of succour. The best advantage HEC is the widespread respect it commands within the country’s academic circles. Universities and institutions invariably respond to the stimulus provided by it as is amply borne out by the massive improvement in research material it has been able to churn out in a short span of time.
During its detailed engagement with all the relevant circles, the report has assessed the widespread development of research in Pakistan and has suggested further measures to strengthen the process. It emphasises greater role for academia to guide the research as it is familiar with the intricacies of conducting research. This role entails formation and establishment of research councils with the task to devise agenda and manage fund allocation so that adequate facilities are made available to researchers.
The report attaches importance to allocating larger funds for carrying out thematic researchers aimed at addressing immediate problems confronted by the country. Such research is required rather urgently as vital sectors of Pakistan lack appropriate data needed for their correct assessment. The report recommends measures to whet the appetite of university research among government agencies as well as the private sector. It also recommends similar emphasis amongst donor agencies and suggests developing linkages.
The report advocates cultivation of entire communities having practical knowledge of issues who are willing to physically engage in the activity. It recommends collaboration of domestic sources with cross-border sources so that dynamism is created in research work. The report is highly in favour of rewarding excellence and recommends providing incentives for impact-oriented research through extending its contours beyond publication metrics. The report expresses hope that its contents will provoke healthy debate within the researching community that will come up with fruitful recommendations.
Asrar Raouf is a former civil servant