The stunning advances in various fields of science and technology have had a deep impact on our lives in almost every sphere of our activity, such as health, agriculture, communication, transportation, and defense. These advances have been driven by an ever-growing volume of exciting discoveries, largely originating from science laboratories in the West, and by their transformation into new products or processes that have flooded world markets. These floods in turn shower vast economic rewards on those nations that have the will and vision to make science and technology the cornerstone of their development programmes.
The world is today abruptly divided by a technology boundary that separates the technologically advanced countries from the technologically backward ones. The former has been able to use their scientists and engineers for rapid economic growth, whereas the so-called developing countries (which in reality are not developing at all) are relegated to the role of consumers of technological products. They become almost totally dependent on the advanced countries for most of their needs, be they chemicals, pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, transportation equipment, or defense equipment. In the process, more and more funds from developing countries are being transferred to developed countries, raising the level of poverty in the developing countries.
Countries like USA, China, Malaysia and Japan that have invested sufficiently in promoting emerging technologies over the past decade are the ones that have developed successfully. India is also thriving in the technology industry and successfully establishes their Indian Silicon Valley in Bangalore and providing special rebates and incentives, tax holidays and other facilities to their local industries related to technology and for achieving its goal they are striving hard for the last 20 years and invest in this sector of economy through R&D activities.
In comparison, Pakistan is lagging behind in terms of technology. We have a polarized democracy and inefficient governance system which contribute to overall poor human development conditions and less educational opportunities, and the state does not priorities to scale up new technologies. Today, we live in a completely transformed and different world, which is overwhelmed with hordes of information, communication and technology.
If we wants to compete with the entire world Pakistan needs to invest more and more in education and R&D activities so, that we are not only able take benefit from imitating technology but also able to innovate for which government should take certain measures, which ease adoption and innovation of technology which includes, more guidance, educational facilities, availability of infrastructure, services and training centers, skilled labor force, tax rebates, efficient capital market and more amount to be allocated to this sector which guarantee harmonized growth and improvement in each and every sector of economy.
In Pakistan, due to negligence and faulty vision of planners in successive governments, the science and technology sector was never given the status required to effectively use it as a contributor to national and economic growth. Due to meagre funding provided by the government, our R&D institutions could not produce any valuable research. Lack of proper facilities and environment for research in the universities and research institutes led to deterioration in the standard of higher education to the extent that today our universities have been demoted to the status of low-level colleges in which valuable university-economy links are totally missing.
The present government places science and technology, including information technology (IT), amongst its highest priorities. A comprehensive programme has been worked out and launched for building a knowledge-based economy by integrating science and technology with economic development programmes. The government has raised the financial commitment to the ministry I head to more than Rs. 7 billion (US$120 million; a 6000% increase). In turn, the ministry, taking a holistic view of the dismal scenario in Pakistan, has launched a large number of projects that fall under other ministries but that involve the effective use of science and technology for economic growth. Since June 2000 the government has launched over 260 development projects worth a total of about Rs. 18 billion (US$300 million) in various fields of the IT, telecommunications, and science and technology sectors.
In the science and technology domain, our programmes aim mainly at human resource development, technology development and industrialization, strengthening of R&D activities, and use of science and technology for economic development.
Pakistan faces another problem: Higher education has also been neglected, and the quality and quantity of Ph.D.-level research in universities has been constantly deteriorating. As a result of four Ph.D.-level programmes launched and financed by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ph.D. output has increased from 60 per year to 400 per year. Under the Indigenous Ph.D. Programme, grants are being given to both young scholars and their supervisors. Each supervisor gets Rs. 5 lacs (Rs. 500,000 or US$8400) per student per year for the purchase of equipment, chemicals, consumables, and so on. This provides much-needed infrastructural support to our universities. Rs. 600 million (US$10 million) will be spent over the next 4 years on this programme.
In addition to these Ph.D. programmes, the ministry has launched a postdoctoral fellowship programme to help teachers and researchers update their knowledge. To ensure that these researchers are gainfully employed on their return to Pakistan, jobs will be guaranteed for them by the nominating institutions on their return. A system of? starter grants? will provide them with immediate access to research funds on their return. To improve the standard of research, the laboratories of 25 universities have been strengthened with grants of Rs. 37 million to Rs. 39 million (US$630,000 to US$660,000) each.
A very interesting initiative that should have a far reaching impact on the economic development of Pakistan is a programme entitled Science and Technology for Economic Development (STED). Under this programme, joint projects are being initiated between public-sector institutions and private-sector industries for technology-based production of high-value-added goods. This partnership between academia and industry represents an exciting new approach to achieving a certain level of technological development. These are not just research projects but involve the application of existing technologies for agricultural or industrial development. So far 28 projects in different sectors including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, IT, energy, and health have been launched under public-private collaboration. The STED programme is expected to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the country and set the trend for commercially worthwhile high-value-added products and processes.
IT and biotechnology are the main thrust areas of the government. The government has established the National Commission on Biotechnology and initiated 15 projects worth Rs. 415 million for various fields of biotechnology, mainly in the health and agriculture sectors.
The government has given uppermost priority to IT education. As a result of the multidimensional strategy adopted by us in Pakistan to overcome the deficiency in human resources in the field of IT, a large number of short-, medium-, and long-term training programmes have been initiated, and some have been completed. Six new IT universities have been established, and 34 IT and computer science departments have been set up or strengthened in public-sector universities. Through an educational intranet programme, about 56 universities are being interconnected so that they may share knowledge and information. Internships and scholarships have been offered in various fields of IT to encourage bright students.
While seven new IT universities are in the process of being set up in the public sector and two in the private sector, in order to save money and time we have decided not to invest government funds in construction but rather to use existing campuses and convert them into IT universities or institutes. The most exciting educational programme, however, is the establishment of the Virtual IT University, which started functioning 26 March 2002. It will allow us to train tens of thousands of IT professionals from all over the country. Under this distance-learning programme, high-quality TV programmes are being prepared and then broadcast through the television and Internet across the country. Four separate digital TV channels are now being established for educational programs and will begin to function later this year.
To aid software development, the government has set up a chain of well-equipped technology parks in major cities. And a project has been launched for industrial automation of small- and medium-sized industries and ISO certification for IT companies.
Regional differentials in growth rates among developed and developing countries are an important central point for nations today. Technology, technological progress and human capital are considered to be the main driving forces behind the economic progress of all developed countries so; it’s time to work and invest in this sector that will enable us to cope up with the challenges ahead.