Higher Education Commission HEC research work and journals

Published on January 31, 2011 at 10:45 am

Higher Education Commission HEC research work and journals
Islamabad: The mandate of HEC is to promote higher education in the country through universities. It has to make such policies that encourage the universities to produce world-class professionals. Apart from teaching, research is an integral part of a university.

HEC has formulated a number of policies to encourage faculty members to do research. The entire promotion scheme of faculty members is dependent on research output. Even the ranking of universities is largely dependent on their research. To this extent HEC seems to be on the right track and following what is done in developed countries.

The problem starts with the kind of research output that is rewarded. The current policy of HEC is that for a faculty member to get any type of career benefit his research has to be published in a selected list of journals. This list is maintained by an organisation called “web of Knowledge” based in the USA. The list contains around 6,000 journals, most of which deal with basic sciences like physics, chemistry, biology etc. The focus of these journals is to publish cutting edge advancements in sciences. The only type of research activity that HEC is recognising is work that is accepted by this selected list of journals. However, there is a key missing link completely ignored by HEC. The link is that in the developed countries there are organisations and people who take this science and convert it into technology. Only when science is converted into technology, that we get the products and fruits of this research. Without this conversion, basic research alone cannot touch the lives of people or contribute to a country’s economy.

What Pakistan lacks badly is not science but technology. People should realize that knowledge of science is free and freely available. The mere fact that research has to be published, for it to have any worth, shows that it is made available to everyone and in every country. What is not available is the technology to convert that science into a working product. Let me explain through an example: the scientific knowledge required to build a car engine is about 150 years old. (As a matter of fact the first description of a piston engine was given by Al-Jazari, an Iraqi Mechanical engineer in 1206 in his book “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”). It is based on basic thermodynamic principals developed by French engineer Sadi Carnot in 1823. Every first year mechanical engineering student in Pakistan studies these principles. The technology to build a car engine however, is only available with car manufacturing companies like Honda, Toyota or Mercedes. It is heavily guarded by them and is not available in any textbook, journal or on the internet.

There is always a huge gap between understanding the science, and developing a product using that science. Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Japan etc are economic super powers because they make products like DVD players, computers, cars, LCDs etc. The science behind these products is available to anyone with internet access. It’s the technology that is not there.

We need people within our universities who can convert science and basic research into technology and products. We need people who can build refrigerator compressors, car engines, solar cells, laptops, cell phones, software etc. The problem is that making a working cell phone will not be accepted for publication in web of knowledge listed journals, as it will not be something new and does not deal with the problems being faced by the developed countries. This is ok as far as the policy of the journals is concerned. It is definitely not ok, when it is the policy of HEC not to recognise any work not accepted by these journals, no matter how important it may be for the country.

It seems that the way HEC has designed the system, our best and the brightest brains seem to be working for the developed countries, providing them with novel ideas, which they can easily convert into useful products, rather than working on problems being faced by Pakistan. The expectation of HEC that the industry of Pakistan will bridge this gap is not based on reality. Industry in Pakistan has never developed any new technology and will not do so anytime in the future. Besides researchers in academia have no incentive to collaborate with the industry as that work is not recognised by HEC as holding any value.

If people in universities, who have the rare ability to convert research into products are not rewarded, and their careers are stifled, they will leave the country and go to the developed world where such abilities are very highly valued and rewarded. As a matter of fact this has already been happening for a number of years, and the country has suffered badly because of it.

The reward and promotion criteria of faculty members in our universities is so far removed from the immediate and basic needs of Pakistan, that is mind boggling. Not only that, these policies will hardly recognise the contribution of say Bill Gates. A technology guru and visionary like Bill Gates cannot be promoted to Assistant Professor of IT according to the HEC criteria as he has no publications in the selected list of journals. Steve Jobs – creator of I-phone, Mac book, and responsible for the entire PC revolution – would not be promoted to Associate Professor as he neither has a PhD nor any publication in the above mentioned journals. Gordon Moore – the founder of Intel and developer of the microchip which changed the world – will also not be promoted as he does have a PhD, but only 3 publications in the stated journals, where as HEC requires 7 publications for associate professor. These examples have been cited to show how restrictive and myopic the policies of HEC are. These HEC policies would have destroyed the three most important technology personalities of the 20th century. In the United States, universities like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard bend over backwards to get just a one hour lecture from these people.

Creation of knowledge and value takes many different forms and require many different skill sets. HEC must widen its definition of what is valuable from its current limited definition of the web of knowledge list. HEC must change its criteria and create a system that produces, develops, and nurtures people like Steve Jobs, instead of just rewarding PhDs producing research that does nothing for Pakistan.

Jehanzeb_ahmad@yahoo.com – (The author is head of EE department at Bahria University and an ex-Intel chip designer)

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