by Engineer Muhammad Asghar

Rector NUST

In today’s knowledge driven world, “World-Class Universities” - regarded as research universities - play a critical role in developing and nurturing knowledge workers,

professionals, scientists, and researchers to generate new knowledge and support national innovation systems . In this context, countries across the globe are looking to ensure that their top universities operate at the cutting edge of intellectual and scientific development, and act as engines of innovation to support the needs of a knowledge driven economy.

Vision 2025, the premier policy document for future growth in Pakistan, crafted by the Planning Commission, says:

“To achieve the objective of developing a knowledge economy, we target a sizeable increase in public expenditure on higher education currently from 0.2% of GDP to 1.4% of GDP and significant expansion in higher education enrolment currently from 1.5 Million to 5 Million, increase in the number of PhD’s from 7000 to 15000 and doubling the number of degree awarding institutions currently from 156 to 300 in 2025 .”

The Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF) of Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan envisions that university development is vital for overall development of the society and Industry. As per this framework, universities will truly serve as an engine of growth, by building leadership, communities and economy for the socio-economic development of Pakistan, which currently lags far behind globally competitive economies in terms of a skilled, productive labour force, IT advancement and technological prowess.
In order to acquire the status of a World Class University, NUST aims to pursue a futuristic and progressive strategy by implementing its Vision,which states:-

“To emerge as an engine of knowledge creation and application, for socio- economic development of the country. The dimensions of its impact will include cutting edge technologies, their application for enhancing socio- economic growth, influencing policy and leaders in key positions, developing human resource with state of the art knowledge and skills and support psycho- social transformation of the young generations to support knowledge based economy.”

In line with the vision and mission statement, NUST has identified the following Strategic Thrust Lines:

Excellence in Teaching & Education: Provide high quality education by focusing on knowledge acquisition skills, interpersonal skills, including team work, leadership roles and emotional stability.

Focus on Research: Undertake high quality, yet relevant research aiming to promote innovative skills amongst students through creation and application of knowledge to solve real world challenges.

Spirit of Enterprise: Develop instruments and mechanism for promotion of enterprising spirit and entrepreneurial culture among NUST graduates to become job creators rather than job seekers. Internationalisation and Global Vision: Develop strong international linkages to ensure inflow of new knowledge and state-of-the-art technologies, while building a positive international image of the University and the country.

Positive Social Impact: Structure curriculum and programmes to influence a wider cross-section of the population in terms of education and absorption of new technologies. The learning will not only be linked to the current and future priority areas for development but to the community and society as well. 

In order to better assess and fill the gaps in NUST’s quest to achieve the status of a World Class University, It is imperative to first understand key requisites of such an institution. 
Characteristics of World Class University

In the past decade, the term “World-Class University” has become a catch phrase, not simply for improving the quality of learning and research in tertiary education but, more importantly, for developing the capacity to compete in the global marketplace through the acquisition, adaptation, and creation of advanced knowledge.The world class university today has five characteristics:-

  1. Critical mass of top students and outstanding faculty to achieve academic superiority.
  2. State-of the-art research& socially relevant applications in best equipped labs, to create a visible impact on the society.
  3. Productive interaction between higher education and Industry, to encourage transfer of knowledge & expertise, and enhance the relevance of programmes of teaching and research for a modern viable economy. Additionally, promote enterprise development through incubation based startup companies.
  4. Active involvement in policymaking;As policymakers confront increasingly complex issues involving an increasingly diverse array of stakeholders, consensus-based models are proving to be important tools in developing more effective forms of governance. Universities in advanced economies actively engage with public leaders at all levels of government , where they act as laboratories of ideas and research analyses that provide policy inputs on various aspects of the economy as well as on academic areas.
  5. Moving beyond the traditional focus as degree awarding and research institutions. This is achieved through a successful collaborative model, involving the government, academia and Industry, known as the “Triple Helix Model” for a synergistic approach that helps in innovation, industrial growth as well as human capital development and retention.

World class universities across the globe achieve the above mentioned characteristics through three key factors:-

  • Appropriate Governance & Professional Management:  The first and foremost dimension involves institutionalising a culture of continuous improvement and critical self-analysis, adopting sound policies, practices and mechanisms that ensure long term sustainability  supported by transparent reporting systems, robust control/audit function and latest technology. The Economist (2005) referred to the tertiary education system in the United States as “the best in the world” and associated this success not only to its wealth but to its relative independence from the government, the competitive spirit that encompasses every aspect of it, and its ability to make academic work and product relevant and useful to society.  The Indian Parliament has designated their top universities as “Institutes of National Importance” - publicly funded institutions enjoying maximum academic and managerial freedom- offering programmes of high quality and relevance in engineering, technology, applied sciences and management at undergraduate, masters, and doctorate level, with the autonomy to raise salaries and offer more competitive employment packages in order to retain competitive edge.
  • Concentration and Retention of Talent:In the field of science and technology, being at the right university—the one where the most state of- the-art research is being done in the best-equipped labs by the most visible scientists—is extremely important. George Stigler describes this as a snowballing process, where an outstanding scientist gets funded to do exciting research, attracts other faculty, then the best students—until a critical mass is formed that has an irresistible appeal to any young person entering the field .This has always been the hallmark of the Ivy League universities in the United States or the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. And it is also a feature of the newer world-class universities, such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) or Tsinghua University in China .
  • Abundant Resources:This is the third element that characterises most world-class universities, in response to the huge costs involved in running a complex research–intensive university.  These universities usually have the following main sources of financing:
  • •    Government funding for operational expenditures and research.
  • •    Financial returns generated by endowments.
  • •    Appropriate tuition fee structure to ensure financial independence.

These abundant resources create a virtuous circle that allows the concerned institutions to attract even more top professors and researchers, as is often the case among elite universities across the world where faculty is offered attractive emolument to induce motivation and guarantee retention.

NUST – Present standing and future goals

In line with the identified parameters of WCU, NUST has taken some unique initiatives to achieve the desired goals:-

  • Critical Mass of Top Students and Outstanding Faculty to Achieve Academic Superiority: NUST seeks  to establish centres of excellence in the form of constituent institutions, running academic programmes in Engineering, IT, Basic Sciences, Bio-sciences, Medical Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, Management/Business Studies, Art, Design & Architecture and Peace and Conflict Studies. NUST has now established a Centre of Advanced Studies in Energy with the help of USAID. Likewise, a Research Centre for Modelling and Simulation supported by a 132-terraflop supercomputing lab actively supports inter-disciplinary academic programmes and research.
  • NUST is providing quality education to a student populace exceeding 14,000, more than one third of them being graduate students, at its multiple campuses offering 130 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in wide ranging fields. NUST is also trying to engage the best to serve as faculty members. NUST faculty is highly qualified and comprises committed men and women, of whom over 450 earned their PhD degree from some of the best International universities.
  • Academic programmes at NUST are constantly being tailored to meet the nation’s needs and challenges of the new millennium. Fields of Engineering, Life Sciences and Natural Sciences are continuously updated with emerging trends.Modern disciplines are being offered to prepare professionals to manage the ever-growing demands of a knowledge economy with requisite degree of expertise. NUST, overall world ranking is 481st, as per Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University Rankings®, UK. In subject-wise ranking, NUST is rated 398th in Engineering & IT. Amongst Asian Universities, NUST is ranked 129th in Asia by QS of UK. Within the country, NUST holds the top position in large general universities, as ranked by HEC.
  • The main challenge for NUST is to sustain quality education and its ranking, despite the financial crunch which indeed is a huge challenge.
  • State-of the-Art Research and Socially Relevant Research in Best Equipped Labs: In the last 5 years, the faculty members and students completed 152 sponsored R&D projects, increasing publications in journals of repute by more than three times and doubling conference papers. In continuation of this trend,NUST aims to emerge as a leading research-intensive university in Pakistan, comparable to the best in the world within the next 10 years. The main thrust is to impart high-quality teaching with goal-oriented research and development (R&D). This would require generous funding both from public and private sectors.
  • Productive interaction between University and Industry: NUST has developed linkages with industrial and business enterprises, through the establishment of its Corporate Advisory Council (CAC).The CAC has been working to bring NUST institutes and the Industry together on a common platform, enabling them to join hands to find workable solutions, through R&D, to real-life problems encountered in product development, design and commercialisation in the 11 Sector Committees of the Council, including Automotive, Health & Pharmaceuticals, Infrastructure, Information & Communications Technology (ICT), Engineering, Banking & Financial Services, Energy, Chemical, Defence Technologies, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), and the Social Sector. This nascent initiative needs to be institutionalized.
  • Active Involvement in Policymaking: NUST is the first university in Pakistan to develop itself on the lines of an Academic Think Tank. By capitalising on its international collaborations, NUST has taken a unique initiative viz; NUST Global Think Tank Network(GTTN).The GTTN aims to conduct high-quality, original policy research and advocacy on a range of areas of common and regional interest. It will eventually interact with a global network of academia and industrial leadership, and utilise policy imperatives to be an agent of economic and social change. With NUST as the hub, the GTTN aims to further develop regional nodes, the first of which is the China-Pakistan Think Tank, launched in January 2012, with the collaboration of Tsinghua University, Beijing and Southwest University of Political Science and Law (SWUPL), Chongquin, China.
  • Moving Beyond the Traditional Focus as Degree Awarding and Research Institution: This is the new frontier for NUST, and the first concrete step in this regard is theNational Science & Technology Park(NSTP)project, actively being pursued to develop, retain and expand the country’s workforce to ensure a sufficient intellectual, entrepreneurial and technological talent base.NUST aims to establish the first of its kind Science and Technology Park in Pakistan which is also a key requisite in its quest toward achieving the status of a World Class University. It will be a major step in achieving the goals of the Triple Helix Alliance, as mentioned earlier between the University, the Government, &Business Enterprise, with the objective of creating a dynamic Knowledge Ecosystem drawing together the best intellectual minds, their innovative research and the latest technologies in a wide number of areas. However NUST needs dynamic and progressive management structures and economic/ financial support both from the public as well as private sector to actualise this project.
  • NSTP development is linked with our effort to develop centres of excellence in energy, water security, nano-technology, bio-technology, ICT and gaming design based on art and science integration.
  • A Socially Engaged University: NUST believes in emerging as a world class university with its roots in Pakistani society.  It is possible only if its faculty and student body are engaged in community development. A sustainable community development effort requires marriage between idealism and enterprise spirit, termed social entrepreneurship. A clear intellectual framework and vocabulary are required to make entrepreneurship a part of university culture.
  • NUST has taken a big leap in this direction by orienting its curriculum and co-curricular activities towards finding sustainable development solutions, bringing community service and entrepreneurship to the core of its teaching, learning, research and application for all the students, launching enterprise development competition, and establishing a business incubator where social entrepreneurs get priority. In the last four years, student volunteerism has registered phenomenal growth starting from 150 in 2010 to 4500 in 2014 and they have generated 97,538 community service hours in the form of free tutoring of orphans and underprivileged students, disaster relief support, blood donation for thalassemia and cancer patients, hospital/old home renovations, neighborhood development support, environment protection and skill development workshops/vocational training of underprivileged men and women.
  • NUST is playing lead role in Pakistan and has collected about 49 Universities to join hands with it by becoming members of international network called the Talloires Network that champions the cause of civic engagement and community development.
  • NUST Teaching Hospital and Medical College: This initiative is now under development, will introduce a culture of excellence in health care and medical education. The hospital and college will combine their resources to reach out to Basic Health Units and Rural Health Centres, and extend medical support to the people through tele-medicine and health informatics. The medical college will produce not only doctors but also quality nurses, paramedics and technicians.
  • NUST is considering establishment of a ‘K-12 School of the Future’: This will help our educational scientists to apply their knowledge and research ability to promote creativity, independent thinking and ethical practices among our future generations. Assistive technology, current principles of educational psychology, and student learning environment will be designed and applied to foster learner motivation and achievement. NUST School of the Future will get ‘Teachers of the Future Generation’ graduating from NUST educational programme focusing on Innovative Technologies in Education, Counseling and Development.

Conclusion

The value of a knowledge based economy for Pakistan cannot be understated. Central to development of this concept are the World Class Universities that can act as catalyst for Industry academia synergy, leading to growth and progress. Pakistan is rich in human resource, which remains critical for innovation entrepreneurship and an ultimate knowledge based economy. Herein lies the future of a young nation with burden of expectation of burgeoning population, seeking new vistas and opportunities for themselves. The challenge is to prevent the brain drain by providing better opportunities within the country and utilising their full potentials for national growth. The development of human capital is the foremost requirement of Pakistan at the moment, in parallel with acquiring the most advanced and relevant technologies. NUST, with its sterling track record and futuristic programs is well poised to capture the leading spot in the national quest for a knowledge based economy. Much will depend on an enabling environment that can turn this dream into reality.