It's a pity that Pakistan was ranked at 131 out of 141 countries in the 2015 report of the Global Innovation Index — which explores the impact of innovation-oriented policies on economic growth and development.
The Ministry of Science and Technology, upon inquiry from the National Assembly, stated in a report that the reasons for the country's poor ranking include:
1) Low percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for science and development.
2) Low standards of science education in our educational institutions.
Emphasising only on Pakistan's low ranking, the Ministry of Science and Education fell short of mentioning why 61,000 researchers with 10,670 PhDs in Pakistan, which is by no means a minuscule figure, are not significantly contributing to the country's technological development.
Even though the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has sent thousands of scholars abroad for PhDs since 2002 and spent billions of rupees, the history of Pakistan’s innovation index over the past five years reveal interesting facts.
The country's GII index has declined significantly from 2011 (the maximum), despite the fact that thousands of PhDs have returned to Pakistan after completing their degrees during this period.
This is alarming.
It shows that instead of lamenting over the deteriorating condition of basic science education in Pakistan, we must search for the problem elsewhere.
Switzerland, the top-ranked country on GII's list, has 57 per cent of researchers from foreign countries due to the numerous incentives offered to them. But in Pakistan, there are no special packages, allowances or incentives for researchers.
HEC's fallacious policies
The HEC’s fallacious policies also contribute to frustration among researchers in Pakistan. Most of the PhDs in Pakistan are employed in universities controlled by the HEC.
Take a look: The HEC should never rank Pakistan's universities
The HEC did introduce a Tenure Track System (TTS) with high payscales and other incentives for PhDs. However, this system is seriously flawed and entails significant modifications in its policies and academic infrastructure.
It was meant to be based purely on performance in teaching and research but on the contrary, the TTS faculty in most universities has engaged in administrative and non-academic activities, consequently destroying its fundamental purpose.
Even though the TTS faculty enjoys a higher salary than those on regular pay scales, their contribution towards research is next to nil due to their excessive involvement in administrative activities.
With a minor raise in salary after completing a PhD, every researcher on a regular pay struggles to get promoted to be eligible for financial benefits.
HEC’s current criterion of promotion emphasises only on quantity, with little or no emphasis on quality, by asking researchers to produce a number of publications.
This is, perhaps, the major reason as to why not even a single Pakistani research journal in the field of engineering has received international exposure, or impacted the scientific community at large.
The policies and the review process of most Pakistani research journals are flawed.
To get promoted and justify the effort put to obtain a PhD degree, a researcher is left with no option but to publish in Pakistani research journals to fulfill the HEC’s criteria of promotion.
Even a highly-talented researcher may be compelled to participate in this unproductive activity, which has no scientific significance.
It also prevents him/her from taking part in activities which are prerequisites for productive research, for example, establishing research groups to attract indigenous and foreign researchers, collaborating with other scientific communities to exchange innovative ideas, organising scientific events to promote research and dissemination of scientific knowledge.
Under these circumstances, improving Pakistan's ranking on the innovation list is analogous to a fairytale coming true.
Pakistan's scientific progress is also hindered by the huge collaboration gap between universities and industries. A large number of research projects in universities are necessitated and funded by industries across the world.
Examine: Enough PhD’s, thank you
While research funding agencies like the HEC, Pakistan Science Foundation and the National ICT R&D Fund are trying to bridge the gap between industries and universities, most of the research projects funded by them turn out to be mere works of engineering, rather than any novel scientific work.
The main reasons behind this lethargic system are:
1. A lack of disseminating appropriate information to industries
2. Lack of motivation and scientific awareness
3. Little to no initiatives of collaboration with funding agencies and/or universities.
The plight of basic education in our educational institutions is also pathetic. Let alone government institutions, even expensive private educational institutions in Pakistan lack syllabus homogeneity, a carefully designed curriculum without logical fallacies, laboratory facilities and an emphasis on rational thinking.
The flawed systems of admission and examination in many universities just add to the misery.
Merely funding people to pursue a PhD in foreign institutions without paying attention to the dismal standards of basic education is akin to constructing a skyscraper with a vulnerable foundation.
To prevent this, we need to bring revolutionary changes in our basic education system. Besides revisiting our elementary school syllabus and improving the academic infrastructure, we need to ensure that teaching jobs are well-paid to attract qualified candidates.
Our children must be encouraged to learn and practice science in the same way as religion — this is the only way we can expect to excel in innovation.