Tuesday, August 3, 2010

University Research II :Merger of Ministries of Edu and Science

Coming back to lack of achievements and activity in Social sciences in our universities,amazingly our university administrations actually discourage if not forbid research and consultancy.To them,research may pollute academia and an unnecessary diversion from teaching effort;it may bring outside influences and make departments and professors financially well-off and independent and less amenable to servility and submission.And those who should not be doing and meddling with academic research are almost monopolizing it,as a comment on my previous blog on the subject revealed.Most research,according to the comment,done by the young and upcoming is somehow related to military(agencies).

Almost all social research finally leads to policies and politics and possibly herein lies the root cause of university administrations' aversion to social research.Informally almost all major parties are well represented;among students by proxy student associations and among teachers informally but forcefully.Officially politics is a taboo for teachers.I have argued elsewhere that one of the few options left to strengthen the political process in the country is to permit teachers at all levels,from university to schools,to be members of political party of their choice and get elected in local bodies and legislative assemblies.That may change the character of political parties,which are either dominated by landed elite or poor hanger-ons and often goonda-like.We close this diversion here.

Coming back to the research in natural and physical sciences,engineering and technology,it is easier said than done, especially the relevant and sustainable,as the subject of this discourse is.It is a difficult job to identify research agenda that is relevant and doable.It is difficult for researcher and professors,unlike in social sciences where problems are visible in the society,to identify research needs and choose an item of research .Often it requires funding.specific to the research.In engineering it may pertain more to development than research. Research agenda formulation in developing countries like Pakistan is to be a team effort involving industry,businesses,military and academia.Such effort is to be centrallised and commissioned by institutions like HEC ,Planning Commission etc.

In most poor developing countries the situation is the same;university research is either lacking and not relevant if at all.It is only the developed countries which have perfected this tool of progress.Muslim countries have additional problems,beyond other developing countries.Only two Muslim countries have been able to mobilize and channelize university research with obvious impact.These are Malaysia and Turkey,the two most prosperous and growing economies in the Muslim world.

One of the many reasons of lack of scientific progress in Pakistan is compartmentalization and even bureucratisation of research by forming R & D institutions under the Ministry of Science and Technology,diverting away the resource and opportunities from the university and academia.Perhaps in earnest,the policy makers thought that university being often too violent and noisy, research could be better conducted in peaceful atmosphere elsewhere and in seclusion.Practically there is no output or impact of these institutions.Some of them like PCSIR may have played an important role in early days.Today there are 20+ such faceless RDIs, on which budgetary resources are consumed without palpable outputs.These RDIs have their own complaints and grievances, the usual lack of human and financial resources.Thus there is a big research bureaucracy which is often powerful has come to stay.The model has clearly failed.It has not worked and it is not sustainable. Research requires the humbleness and kind of informality and interactive culture,which the RDIs may not be able to inculcate in their research bureaucrats.Hence the need and time for change.

RDIs should be brought in varying degrees of collaboration with the universities.An ideal arrangement would be the merger of the ministries of Education and Science& Technology.Exchange and rotation of university teachers and RDI personnel,joint research, harmonization of human resource policies and service conditions etc. could be considered.Some RDIs may be allowed to be totally swallowed and merged into compatible universities.A useful trend is already visible. Some of the RDIs have started offering educational programmes and universities and academic institutions have emerged without governments additional funding.But these pro grammes are mostly of commercial nature inducting under-grad candidates who can afford the usually high fee and often lack zeal and brilliance.This kind of Combo obviously would not yield the desired results of scientific progress through university research.But the principle and model is well demonstrated.PAEC is emerging as a full fledged specialized university in the area of nuclear sciences with its variety of degree pro-grammes.All the RDIs have to be examined on a case to case basis;some may be strong enough to host a university, while smeller and weaker ones may be appended to nearby relevant institutions.

The above having been achieved, a research triangle can be put into action consisting of universities,RDIs and the industry.Some of the required funding is already there to be utilized;the Export Development Fund,PTCLs R%D fund, Oil development Fund or Levy and other funds in offing, such as Energy Development Fund.HEC has perhaps finally and wisely shun its quixotic pro gramme of shunning the existing universities and bringing about new ones with fictional assistance of foreign governments.These pro-grammes were perhaps conceived in the light hours of cocktail parties of the foreign missions and embassies, wherein every tipsy ambassador and others indicated their readiness to support such ventures without actually having clearance from their parent governments.Establishing universities and that with foreign process requires a lot of money.And who would have come to stay and teach in Pakistan.But the idea was pursued and even entertained by the mighty Musharraf and his government.Fascism has strange bedfellows.Democracy has its own problems.The new incumbent Chairman,Dr.Jawed Leghari, a former PPP senator, a reasonable,suave and practical person, has been unduly harassed in the fake degree case.(to be continued)

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