As the NED Engineering University in Karachi turns 100, an academic fondly looks back at the history of engineering and engineering education in Sindh, and questions how universities can regain their lost glory. Can the engineers of tomorrow be inspired to dream of a brighter future for the country?
According to a joke commonly shared online, South Asian children have three potential career options. They can either become doctors, engineers or disappointments to their parents. The joke is shared in Pakistan and India alike. And, indeed, it resonates across borders.
There is little wonder why this is. Doctors and engineers are some of the most respected professionals in our part of the world. And thousands of graduates take up these professions every year. According to the Pakistan Engineering Council, today, Pakistan has 385 accredited engineering programmes. One hundred and one of these programmes are in Sindh.
This was not always the case. According to The NED Experience (2017), in the late 19th century, Sindh was so underdeveloped that it was referred to as the “valley of darkness” in some documents. The advancement of engineering practice and education has in no small measure played an important role in pulling the province out of this “darkness”.
NED University of Engineering and Technology, a public sector university that has produced many prolific minds, turns 100 this year. It seems like the perfect opportunity to take a look back and celebrate the history of engineering education in the province, and reflect on how we can regain our glorious past.
DOWN MEMORY LANE
Karachi was declared the capital of Sindh by Sir Charles Napier in the 1840s, when the British began developing it from a small fishing village into the principal port for the Indus River region. Surprisingly, at the time there were no rail and road links connecting Karachi with the other parts of Sindh.
Hence, the early 1840s witnessed the launch of a river-steamer service up the River Indus until Multan. Eventually, a ferry service was also started from Kotri to the upper parts of Sindh and Punjab. The ferry service warranted the construction of the Kotri Bridge and the Rohri Bridge, which acted as the forerunners of engineering works in Sindh.
These development projects are an integral part of the history of engineering education in Sindh. While these projects were envisioned and built by the British, locals were needed to oversee them and their maintenance. To fulfil this need, according to The NED Experience, an “Engineering Branch”, affiliated with the University of Bombay, was established in Hyderabad. “The classes covered fundamentals of constructions and civil engineering, and did not lead to any diploma,” Humayoun Jawaid Ahmed writes in The NED Experience.
The Hyderabad Engineering Branch would eventually move to Karachi and become part of the Dayaram Jethamal College — commonly known as DJ College — in Karachi, which had been striving to develop technical education in Sindh. As per The NED Experience, in 1887, when the first principal of DJ College, Dr Mullineux R Walmsley, arrived in Sindh from England, he was very disappointed at the state of affairs. He wrote the following to the College Committee:
“...Mr Kirkham certainly led me to believe, in London, that the position of the Technical Education in Sindh was much more forward than appears to be the case. I cannot therefore help feeling very much disappointed at finding it in the very embryonic state…”
Unsurprisingly, Dr Walmsley stayed in Pakistan for only a year before returning to England. After his departure, Dr Moses John Jackson assumed charge as the principal of DJ College in early 1888.
The Hyderabad Engineering Branch was transferred to Karachi shortly after he became the principal of the college, named DJ Sindh Arts College at the time (now DJ Sindh Government Science College), located back then on Bunder Road (now MA Jinnah road).
The DJ College building was completed in the next five years. In 1893, the college was moved from Bunder Road to its current location. The ground floor of the newly founded DJ College was reserved for the engineering school.
Dr Jackson, along with his dedicated staff, worked tirelessly to develop the engineering programme and set very high standards. As per a former student of Dr Jackson, quoted in The NED Experience, the professor clearly had a special place in his heart for the engineers. He would affectionately refer to them as “my engineers”. And during combined classes with the arts students, he would not begin class until “his engineers” came in.
“Yet, he was very strict with us…” the former student goes on, adding that, when he joined the engineering course, he was one of 21 students. “We dwindled down to 10 by the time we sat for our Preliminary [exams]. Two of us were not certified, and of the eight who were allowed to sit for the Annual [exam], two were plucked and six were asked to re-appear for a special test, in subjects in which we had obtained two or three marks less or more than the number required. And after all that, only one of us was promoted and all the rest were declared to have failed.”
The engineering school was not a degree/diploma awarding institute at the time.
After tireless efforts for years, this engineering branch of DJ Sindh College was upgraded to an engineering college and then to a full-fledged engineering university.
THE ESTABLISHING OF NED
In the early 20th century, 11 years and three principals after Dr Jackson, Mr S C Shahani took charge as the principal of DJ Sindh College. Mr Shahani pushed to get the engineering branch upgrade to a degree-awarding institute.
In 1921, when the Prince of Wales visited, the citizens of the province collected a sum of 53,000 rupees to commemorate his visit. Principal Shahani secured these funds and they were used to set up a new college named the Prince of Wales Engineering College, established under the management of Sindh Collegiate Association — a registered society of subscribers providing higher education in Sindh.
Mr Shahani continued striving to get engineering degree classes started, to cater to the demand for civil engineers for the Sukkur Barrage project.
Mr Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta, who was the first elected mayor of Karachi and commonly known as ‘the maker of modern Karachi’, took a keen interest in Mr Shahani’s endeavours, and decided to extend his support for the project. He contacted the heirs of Mr Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw, a prominent Karachi-based businessman and philanthropist, and requested them for a donation. A donation of 150,000 rupees (a significant amount at the time) was secured and soon a Deed of Trust was signed between the Sindh Collegiate Association and Mr Dinshaw’s heirs.
Hoshang Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw, Faredoon Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw, Dinshaw Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw and Minocher Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw signed the deed in December 1924. Considering the family’s generous support, it was decided that the college be renamed after Mr Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw (NED).
The university still values the initial donation of the Dinshaws, and to recognise their contributions, NED University has reserved seats for the candidates nominated by the Dinshaw family. The Dinshaws have also continued supporting the institution.
In 1921, when the Prince of Wales visited, the citizens of the province collected a sum of 53,000 rupees to commemorate his visit. Principal Shahani secured these funds and they were used to set up a new college named the Prince of Wales Engineering College.
AFFILIATION WITH UNIVERSITY OF BOMBAY
The NED College remained associated with the University of Bombay for several years. But this affiliation was not easy to establish, as indicated by the following passage from D.J. College’s Golden Jubilee Book (1887 – 1937):
The University [of Bombay] did not accept this arrangement, and laid down other conditions which seemed incapable of fulfilment. Principal Shahani waged an epic fight to get his Engineering College recognised, and came near to losing it. There was a time when he, in despair, thought of applying for affiliation to the Banaras Hindu University instead.
The initial application was rejected due to insufficient funds. The University of Bombay also required the engineering college in Sindh to have separate buildings and laboratories, instead of sharing them with the rest of DJ College.
As mentioned above, donations by the Dinshaws and funds from the Prince of Wales ‘welcome fund’ went a long way in setting up the new college. Vishindas Brothers, another prominent family, also donated 40,000 rupees. And Mr Mehta secured additional donations from the Puribai and Becharbai Trust, which went towards the construction of the college’s main ‘drawing hall’.
Later, in 1944, the Hindustan Construction Company built a new academic block, housing two classrooms and the metallurgy laboratory. The company donated 44,000 rupees for this academic block.
One still feels the presence of this history at NED campuses — commemorative plaques and other reminders of how the citizens of Sindh helped establish engineering education in the region surround one.
Finally, in May 1923, the NED College was provisionally granted affiliation by the University of Bombay for first and second year courses in civil engineering. Seventy-eight students were provisionally admitted into first year classes.
This was followed by permanent affiliation in February 1927. The NED College remained affiliated with the University of Bombay until 1947. Following Partition, the college was taken over by the Government of Sindh and renamed the NED Government Engineering College.
The college was affiliated with the University of Sindh from 1947 till 1951, until the affiliation was transferred to the University of Karachi (KU) after KU was established in 1951.
As the city continued to grow, and the ‘City Campus’ became too congested, a comprehensive plan was devised in 1964 to move the college to its present location on University Road. The World Bank’s assistance played an instrumental role in this. The bank provided 118 million rupees for the relocation to the main campus in 1975.
Finally, on March 1, 1977, the NED Government Engineering College was granted the status of an engineering university.
Muhammad Hussain Panhwar, an alumnus of NED and a renowned scientist in the field of agriculture, once wrote to NED college’s principal Mr Kewalramani: “Here I am from a poor college of a poor country and poorly equipped, but with [an] excellent syllabus and devoted and hardworking teachers, that I dare say that our standards of education are much higher than those in [the] USA.” Mr Kewalramani would read this letter at annual functions with utmost pride and satisfaction.
Mr Panhwar’s batch was initially enrolled with the University of Bombay but, after Partition, they were enrolled with the University of Sindh for a year and a half. He was awarded a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) degree by the University of Sindh in 1949.
From an enrolment of 78 students in 1923, the student population has now risen to nearly 7,000, both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The university has three campuses in Karachi and one campus in Thar. The Government of Sindh had recently allocated 300 acres of land for the construction of a state-of-the-art campus at Thar. The Thar Institute of Engineering Science and Technology was established with the aim of providing quality engineering education to the locals in the area. Classes started at the Thar campus in 2020.
NED now offers engineering degrees in 19 different fields; the university houses nine Bachelor of Science programmes and also offers an undergraduate degree in architecture. Apart from the undergraduate programmes, NED University is also running its masters and PhD programmes in six faculties. And the university has 23 research centres focusing on research in fields such as artificial intelligence, cyber security, traffic analytics, affordable housing and renewable energy.
After Partition, the need for establishing more engineering institutes was felt strongly. To fulfil this need, in 1962, the federal government established the Dawood Engineering College in Karachi. The foundation stone of this college was laid by the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan.
The college was established by the Dawood Foundation under the supervision of Seth Ahmed Dawood in 1964. The college was granted the status of a university in 2013. The Dawood University of Engineering and Technology now offers bachelors, masters and PhD programmes in different engineering fields.
Keeping in view the growing need of engineers in the province, an engineering college — the Sindh University Engineering College — was also established in Jamshoro in 1963. The college was later renamed the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, and an additional campus was built in Nawabshah. In 1996, this constituent college of Mehran University at Nawabshah became the Quaid-e-Awam University of Engineering Science and Technology. Mehran University, besides offering undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, has established some quality research centres.
The absence of any public engineering university in the north of Sindh was also addressed by the government when a Mehran University campus was established in Khairpur. The Quaid-e-Awam University of Engineering Science and Technology (Quest) also established a campus in Larkana in 2009 to provide engineering education to the students from northern Sindh. However, there is a shortage of PhD qualified faculty in this campus.
Apart from public sector universities, many private universities are also offering degree programmes in different fields of engineering. However, the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology is the only dedicated private engineering university in Sindh.
University campuses around Sindh have provided students across the province easier access to an engineering education but, unfortunately, not all of it is quality education.
Since 2017, Pakistan has been a signatory of the Washington Accord — a multilateral agreement between bodies responsible for the accreditation or recognition of tertiary-level engineering qualifications. The benefit of having a degree accredited by the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) under the Washington Accord is that Pakistani engineering degrees are considered of the same high standard as degrees awarded in any developed country.
In accordance with the accord, PEC has made some mandatory changes to the teaching methodology, and set standards for accreditation purposes. Unfortunately, not all universities are able to meet these standards.
Only a few months ago, it was reported that programmes offered at the Quest Larkana campus are not being accredited by PEC. Students there claim that the university stretches the programme to six years in absence of accreditation of the programme by PEC. Quest Larkana is not the only engineering university struggling to get accreditation for its programmes under the Washington Accord. Neither is accreditation the only problem facing engineering education today.
Although universities have been churning out a large number of engineers every year, we do not see much noteworthy work being carried out by the graduates. The simplest comparison can be made with the Sukkur Barrage, where the local engineers worked, and the shoddy structures and projects that have been built in recent times.
This does not mean that Pakistan is not producing good engineering graduates. Indeed, when many of our graduates go abroad for higher education, they excel. But they do not feel similarly inspired and challenged here. When they are out in the field in Pakistan, they see that cutting corners is considered being street-smart here, and have to unlearn much of their education in order to survive in the ‘real’ world.
A GLORIOUS PAST, A BRIGHT FUTURE?
M H Panhwar, the renowned agriculturist of Pakistan and an early graduate of NED Engineering College, once wrote, “The standards of Bombay University came to my notice when I looked at the examination paper and textbooks used in Cambridge, and found that the syllabus and textbooks at the two universities were the same, and many question papers of the Bombay University examinations were repetitions from Cambridge University examinations.”
But today, while exceptions still exist, the standard of engineering education has significantly declined in Sindh. This can be gauged from the fact that none of the universities from the province made it to the QS World Universities Ranking 2021 — a list of the top 1,000 universities around the world, ranked by Quacquarelli Symonds, which describes itself as the largest international education network in the world.
With the presence of political parties, campuses have witnessed the worst kind of violence in the 73-year history of Pakistan. Issues of campus security go beyond just engineering colleges and universities.
More recently, there has been the undeniable threat of radicalisation. Earlier this year, a student at an engineering university was arrested on suspicion of having links with militants of the so-called Islamic State. Along with all the other challenges, it has become increasingly difficult for university administrations to monitor elements that can radicalise and influence young impressionable minds.
There are no simple solutions to these grave concerns.
While the academy should, ideally, be a safe space where students can explore and learn, campuses do not exist in a vacuum. They represent the societies and times in which they stand. In the late 19th century, when Sindh was developing, these campuses represented the future; they represented hope; they represented development. Today, they are, largely, a picture of neglect; remnants of a bygone era.
But, perhaps, they also represent hope.
Despite having limited budgets for research, Sindh’s engineering institutes and universities have made significant progress in research publications. Although the quality of research is not at par with international standards yet, the progress is encouraging nonetheless.
The industry-academia linkage remains low, especially in those universities which are in the far flung areas of the province. Universities need to focus on developing stronger links. It is also important for the teachers to promote critical thinking in students in order to make them self-directed and lifelong learners. Promoting rote learning only results in disinterest in the students, and discourages them from exploring different possibilities.
These students are part of a rich tradition of engineering education in the province. These young minds, if inspired and given the right opportunities, will be the harbingers of change and bring their province, and country, out of ‘darkness’ — in the same way those before them did over a century ago.
The writer is an academic and a researcher. She is currently working as an Associate Professor at NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi. She pursued a PhD from The University of Birmingham, The United Kingdom and taught at the same university
Acknowledgements: The author is thankful to Dr Dur Muhammad Pathan from Gul Hayat Institute, Ram Daryani, Hiro Thakur and Dr Sarosh Hashmat Lodi (Vice Chancellor NED University) for providing access to historical documents
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 28th, 2021