SCIENTIFIC research has been placed at the bottom in the priorities list of the government’s budget allocations. For instance, it has set aside just $9.6m for science and technology for the current fiscal year (2015-16).
It is slightly higher over $8.6m of the previous year, but less than $12.3m allocated in 2012-13. Pakistan spends only 0.5pc of GDP on scientific research — the lowest in the region — whereas most of the advanced countries spend 2-3pc.
The budgetary allocations are continuously declining, showing low priority for this sector.
The government should introduce holistic country-wide planning for harmonising the growth of job opportunities in different fields while minimising the job-to-job financial differences
As a profession, scientific research is not popular. How many parents motivate their children to become scientists? The reason for choosing to be a physician, an engineer or a civil service officer is generally due to the allure of the social status and income associated with these professions. This tears down the concept of personal interests, human potential and passion to achieve life goals.
Career selection has to shift from merely job-oriented approach to virtuous societal goals and personal motivations. The government should introduce holistic countrywide planning for harmonising the growth of job opportunities in different fields while minimising the job-to-job financial differences.
This will facilitate the students to pursue their personal interests and motivations. They will be able to perform better and bring innovation. Moreover, there will be a national uniform distribution of talent among different sectors to optimise national performance by proper talent management.
Pakistan needs to ensure proper avenues for its young population to engage in scientific research. Their innovation could lift the country’s hampered economy.
According to a recent report issued by the Australian Academy of Science, Australia generates about $12bn annually from scientific research in addition to intangible benefits in terms of human development. Pakistan’s total budget is around $40bn and its contribution for scientific research is almost negligible.
Pakistan needs to focus on attractive research environment to pull in young talent in this area where they can present experimental results and scientific thoughts. They must be provided with state-of-the-art research facilities and rewarded with striking fringe benefits.
University faculty must be encouraged for developing their own research programmes, track-record of winning industry funding, innovation and research outcome in terms of societal and economic impacts.
Scientific issues in the country must be documented and universities must be driven to translate them into research projects. These projects must be assigned to the professors and groups of research students to find their scientific solutions.
Examples of such case studies are: decline in wheat production in a specific agricultural district; gold and copper exploration in high potential areas, environmental health issues related to industrial pollution; water resources management from localised to regional scale; innovative ways of energy saving in everyday life; and inventing a cheaper solar cell.
Country’s policies related to science and technology must be aligned with the long-term future needs and national goals.
Firstly, there is a dire need of reforming primary and secondary education system by modernising academic curricula and teaching techniques.After graduating from secondary schools, students must attain the indispensable level of numeracy, logical reasoning and scientific knowledge sufficient enough to tackle moderate to complex scientific problems.
It is to ensure that they would be able to acquire higher education and execute research activities efficiently.
Secondly, Pakistan needs to expand research opportunities for its PhD graduates to keep them productive and result-oriented. What we need from our PhDs? Basically, we require developing our own science that could address our own challenges.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, February 1st, 2016