Bridging the Industry-Academia Gap
By Aurangzeb Soharwardi
There are enormous environmental factors which have hampered industrial development and business growth in Pakistan. Bad governance, the energy crisis, financial embezzlement and corruption, rising inflation, high tax rates and the menace of terrorism have been the main impediments in hindering GDP growth, besides declining FDI. However, another important reason for this dilemma which requires more attention is the disrupted link between the industry and the academic world. Ironically, not much focus has been provided in this regard as education is placed very low on the government’s priority list. Business and technical education, for the last 15 years, has attracted great popularity mostly through the private sector.
Particularly after the year 2000, a huge number of universities in the public and private sector have been established. Many new degree programmes with a diverse range of subject combinations have been introduced. A number of universities have started dual degree programmes with foreign university collaborations, offering significant opportunities for students to study abroad in highly ranked universities. Establishment of higher education was also a useful step, which offered numerous scholarships and facilitated higher education for all.
In most of the public sector universities a comprehensive and pragmatic approach towards curriculum development has not been adopted and particularly in the evening programmes, many mismatching and irrelevant subject combinations are being taught at universities. Majority of the books in the curriculum are of foreign authors and do not correspond with the local business environment. There is no coordination between the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Commerce & Industry and various chambers of commerce. Although many organisations like NAVTEC, TEVTA, SMEDA, TUSDEC, NCHD and chambers of commerce etc are functional but they have no infrastructural liaison with technical and commerce colleges and public and private sector universities, in order to develop curriculum, as per industry and trade requirements, that is compatible with latest trends. These organisations have also not been able to develop a joint platform to assess job requirements in various sectors and train the students as per those requirements. Particularly, the skill development and capacity building programmes are unable to fulfill industry requirements. Some of the universities have established industry placement centers which organise job fairs and get jobs for some of their students through social networking. However, there is no standardised and coordinated system of job information and placement. Students have to use personal links for internship placements as well. In the fields of IT, behavioral & management sciences, the standards of public sector universities are on the decline. In engineering and medicine, private sector universities have to put in a lot of efforts to raise their standards and match with the contemporary era. We are not producing and developing the required skilled man power in the fields of mechanical, electrical works, IT, knitwear, construction, automobiles and many other fields.
In spite of all these developments, there are certain aspects which have not been catered for appropriately and pragmatically, thereby widening industry-academia gap. The fore most point is that most of the public and private universities are concentrated in Karachi and Islamabad. Even Lahore does not have requisite number of universities to induct a huge number of aspiring students. Other provincial capitals, Hyderabad, Peshawar and Quetta also lack satisfactory modern educational facilities. Situation in Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir is also not very encouraging. Other small cities and towns of Pakistan do not have sufficient educational facilities for the young inhabitants, forcing them to move towards larger cities, causing great inconvenience. The standard of technical and commerce colleges in the country is very low due to meager salaries of teachers with no incentives, lack of modern equipment and facilities and a poor monitoring and evaluation system. Most of the colleges do not follow latest curriculum, teaching methodologies and equipments for skill development and soft skill training. Role of TEVTA, NAVTEC, TUSDEC and various technical boards, needs drastic improvement in this regard. Books taught in the technical and business fields, particularly at the higher education level, are written by foreign authors and pose difficulties in comprehension and application for most of the students. The apparatus in laboratories is obsolete and if at all modern equipment is available in some of the colleges, it is insufficient and poorly maintained. Computer lab facilities are also very rarely found. Although the number of public and private universities increased in a short span of time, during this decade, but not much efforts were invested in faculty development. HEC made some efforts to persuade high profile academicians teaching abroad, through attractive salary packages, for joining Pakistani universities. Local faculty members too, were sent abroad through scholarships for acquiring advanced study degrees. Even then, the need for highly qualified faculty could not be met and the universities, (particularly the public sector universities) had to compromise with faculty standards. Most of the private universities inducted foreign and local qualified teachers, offering them handsome perks and privileges. Dearth of highly qualified teachers in the public sector universities has created a scenario where they mostly rely on visiting faculty, giving an open hand to chairpersons of the departments to oblige people having personal links with low level of teaching skills to join as visiting faculty members.
We are unable to produce entrepreneurs who can start their own businesses for personal prosperity and national development. If we have to ensure business growth in our country, then we will have to bridge the industry-academia gap by establishing coordinated infrastructure for integrating industrial development activities. Universities, colleges, government organizations and private bodies must work jointly for a smooth and organised system of providing well qualified and highly skilled work force, thus creating and providing maximum employment opportunities for the work force. The curriculum being followed in colleges and universities has to be revamped and should be made compatible with modern and high-tech industry requirements, matching global and local developments simultaneously. Faculty standards have to be raised and faculty development programmes need to be organised on a consistent basis. Bench marking and the procedure for evaluating the performance of the visiting faculty has to be very strict as well. Student’s career counseling and job placements have to be ensured through a systematic and effective process. NCHD can play a pivotal role in this regard, which, since its inception has not been able to justify its existence. Employment exchanges at national and provincial levels could be of use to establish a liaison with the industry and the work force for job placements. Competent researchers and authors should be encouraged through national book foundation and other platforms to edit and write business, technical and other course books and case studies, which match with Pakistan’s industry skill and knowledge requirements. Research culture should be encouraged and developed for exploring various fields of knowledge. We need a sincere, professional and coordinated effort for meeting present challenges and one of the pragmatic ways is to develop human resource and bridge the industry-academia gap