LAHORE: In its effort to reduce fossil fuel imports and promote employment, the Higher Education Comm­ission (HEC) has suggested vice chancellors (VCs) of all public sector universities to adopt unconventional ways to address financial crisis in the country.

However, the proposal drew a mixed reaction from the VCs with some welcoming it while others calling it irrational.

Explaining its suggestions to the public sector universities, the HEC in a statement elaborated: “Agriculture universities may come up with ways in which they could enhance the local growing of tea and promote local brands of indigenous drinks.”

Acting HEC chairperson Shaista Sohail earlier in a letter had suggested the universities to promote the consumption of local drinks such as lassi and sattu, stating that this would increase employment and generate income for the public. “Reduce fossil fuel imports and promote research in alternative energy as a substitute to imported fossil fuel in motorcycles, buses, trains, cars etc.”

HEC suggests research on tea plantation, edible oil production and alternative energy to help reduce import bill

Also, the varsities were suggested to help reduce import of edible oil and tea by promoting research on local tea plantation and production of local cooking oil as well as their marketing. Promotion of local, traditional and healthy drinks such as lassi and sattu would not only generate employment but also revenue for the country, it added.

However, Government College University Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Asghar Zaidi was of the opinion that the HEC chairperson was only “showing efficiency” and this was not an economic solution for the country. He said they would have received the order from HEC to stop serving tea in varsities and use lassi and sattu, terming it laughable/ silly.

Dr Zaidi said introduction of these measures would not fix the economy, which was in the doldrums. “We have to incentivize substantial research in educational institutions of the country to bring a societal impact,” he said.

He called for promotion of agriculture research to increase the yield of cotton, wheat and other crops in agriculture institutes. With a primitive way of agriculture, the country was not getting good yield besides facing water losses in irrigation, he said, adding that research work was needed to help promote efficient use of water with an improvement in yield of crops.

Similarly, IT universities should promote research to help expand domestic market, make a societal impact, besides preparing students to develop software and get freelance jobs in the global market, he said.

Suggesting establishment of centres of excellence for promotion of research, the VC said they should be given a time frame for deliverable results in industrial, biotechnological, pharmaceutical, engineering and chemical research.

Hybrid education system was another way to save costly fuel and electricity, he said, explaining that online classes for two days and on-campus classes for three days a week could be encouraged. “We can save fuel and electricity by using this system and the campuses would not use vehicles and open class rooms and shut all the electricity items during these days,” he suggested.

Vice chancellor of Lahore College for Women University Dr Bushra Mirza said the letter would be forwarded to all the faculties with a message to search solutions for problems of the country and conduct applied research.

“I think this letter is suggesting to promote applied research and search to address the problems of the country by using other means of energy creation by applying the local solutions,” she added.

In its statement, the HEC highlighted Saudi Arabia and Gulf, where Laban is very nicely packaged, and noted that Iran also packaged lassi smartly in strawberry and vanilla flavours.

The HEC stated attention was drawn to the fact that the universities played a pivotal role in educating and training students. “Every year students after their education secure jobs in various industries, and enterprises in public and private domains. It is, therefore, imperative that the universities train them so that they are solution-oriented and increase productivity in every sector they join,” the statement read.

The suggestion, according to the HEC, is as a part of the various measures being taken by the commission to encourage students and faculty to research issues that confront Pakistan and come up with innovative solutions. “The economic situation demands that we do not take business as usual. Therefore, university leaders have been requested to focus their research inter alia on the three main imports which could reduce foreign exchange spending,” it said, noting that it is significant that Pakistan has very few local brands.

In this context, the HEC highlighted the need for research on and commercialisation of locally produced oils and drinks so that they could be consumed off the shelf while “increasing employment and growth of the local economy”.

“The vice chancellors have also been encouraged to think of other creative ways to explore avenues that would be contributing towards growth of the national economy,” it said.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2022

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