CPEC: Challenges for Pakistani universities

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Muhammad Murtaza Noor

UNIVERSITIES are not only considered as hub of ideas, innovation and research but also engine for socio-economic development of any country.  In Pakistan, the number of recognized public and private sector universities has increased   to 183 with 110 countrywide campuses. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as game changer for South Asian region and beyond serves identical interests for Pakistan and China in trade, education, culture and other spheres of life.  Both the countries have joined hands to develop their poverty ridden and comparatively under-developed regions through this project. As this mega project is great opportunity for Pakistani universities but at the same time, it has also associated a lot of challenges for Pakistani higher education sector which need to be tackled by Pakistani universities in order to get maximum benefits for Pakistani academia and educated youth.  No doubt, the construction of corridor will bring peace and prosperity by securing economic ties on the basis of mutual economic interests.

This challenge can be overcome by Pakistani universities through undertaking  various research projects,  analyzing and guiding the concerned stakeholders about socio-economic and environment impact  of CPEC over Pakistani society and associated requirements especially  human resources.  The universities also need to provide and train required skilled and trained human resources for making this mega project a success.  Through this step, job opportunities will also be created for Pakistani professionals.   This would be only possible when Pakistani universities would come up with innovative methods of teaching, learning, training, research and equipping the university graduates with the skills and ability to work efficiently to meet the specific requirements of CPEC.

Universities have also pivotal role for collaborative linkages among the three major components viz., the academia, government and industry. According to the experts, university takes a leading role and puts existing knowledge to use proactively in creating new knowledge and takes upon itself important mission of involvement in socio- economic developments in addition to teaching and research. These collaborative links also help to enhance the role of universities in the production of scientific research.

Establishment of units for Policy Studies on CPEC at Pakistani universities and holding frequent academia-government dialogue and joint events can be useful in guiding the government and thinking into innovation and facilitative mode for effective implementation of CPEC.   Another suggested intervention which can be undertaken at Pakistani universities is activation of ORICs (Office of Research and Innovation Centres) which are functional in most of Pakistani universities.  ORICs can act as an effective focal point for linkages with industry and government for related interventions in Pakistan.

Realizing their pivotal role in CPEC, Pakistani universities have started undertaking various steps in this regard.   China Study Centre was recently established at University of Peshawar. The vast panorama of Centre’s research themes include but not limited to Pak-China relations, Pak-China joint projects, Gwadar Port and CPEC. The Centre would be greatly helpful in strengthening institutional linkages with Chinese universities and think tanks. Such Centres also need to be established across the country especially in the universities which are situated on CPEC route. Such Centres will not only develop  institutional linkages with Chinese higher education institutions to enhance cooperation and collaboration in different fields of knowledge but also strengthen scientific research on CPEC, higher education, trade, sports, culture, cooperation among civilizations, Confucius, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other areas of mutual interests.

Governments of the Punjab and Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) have also undertaken a number of initiatives in this regard through active involvement of universities. In order to train 500 Pakistani professionals and university graduates in Chinese language and culture, two years Chinese Language Scholarship Program has been launched in collaboration with University of Education Lahore with the amount of 600 million rupees. Under this program, so far 350 Pakistanis have availed the scholarship and remaining 150 would be sent to China soon. Punjab Higher Education Commission has also signed MoU with Chinese institutions for establishment of Skill and Technology University and Chinese Language and Culture Centres at the selected universities of the Punjab. Chinese Study Centre has also been established at Government College University Lahore with financial assistance of government of the Punjab to foster bilateral relationship in various spheres of life. The Centre will forward recommendations to federal and provincial governments based on objective research and will also explore avenues to further strengthen China-Pakistan relations under CPEC.

In addition, three universities are also being established with assistance of federal government along the western route in the provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan. The proposed setting up of these universities, while passing through underdeveloped zones, would bring financial investments, prosperity and promote linkages with industries, technological centers and foreign universities.

As per QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2016, Chinese higher education system is considered among the best higher education systems of the world as it has secured 83.5 score as compared to Pakistan‘s score of 9.2. In 2013, China produced 71,003 documents with international collaboration, compared to India with 17,484 and Pakistan with 4,278.

For Pakistan, it is time to learn from Chinese experience and other South East Asian countries to cope with the situation of higher education in the country and especially improving the ranking/visibility of Pakistani universities at regional and international levels. We need to learn from continuous efforts across Asia aimed at building world-class universities including new schemes concentrating government funding support to develop a few selected universities to compete globally. For instance, China has undertaken Project 985 that aims to transform China’s most elite universities i.e Peking University and Tsinghua University into “super-elite” world-class institutions.South Korea has initiated Brain Korea 21 program with the goal of developing home-grown academic talent. Learning from international best practices, experiences and effective institutional linkages with top Chinese higher education institutions, can also be good opportunity for promoting higher education in Pakistan and brining at par with international standards.

Muhammad Murtaza Noor is freelance columnist associated with development and education sector for last more than 15 years. Currently he is associated with Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences as National Coordinator.