Pakistan inherited the educational system from Britain, which was aimed at producing obedient servants for British rule in the subcontinent. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, UK was a role model for Pakistan. Whether it was for education, healthcare, trade, tourism, fashion or immigration, UK was the destination, especially for the Pakistani elite. The trend started to change since the 1980s when Pakistan was a close ally of the U.S. in the Afghan War against the former USSR occupation. Dollars flooded into Pakistan, NGOs culture promoted, etc. Since then, American influence kept increasing and visibly saw the elite of Pakistan looking toward the U.S. for education, technology, healthcare, trade, business, and migration, etc.
To date, the Government of Pakistan is dominated by the western educated class. As a result, most of our policies, governance, and approach are visibly under western influence.
Geopolitics is changing rapidly. The world order is gradually being transformed from unipolar to multipolar. There was a time when the U.S. destroyed Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and no one in the world was opposing it. But, we have witnessed a different experience in the case of Syria, where Russian resistance forced the withdrawal of Americans. China and Russia opposed any aggression against North Korea, and the U.S., in spite of many serious warnings could not attack North Korea. The U.S.-Iran tension is under control due to opposition from China and Russia.
It is time for Pakistan to think seriously and align itself with the emerging geopolitical players. The re-alignment is required at all levels and-dimensions, including the foreign and economic policies, etc. Education is the most important factor for bringing about a sustainable change in policies.
Rise of China
China’s peaceful rise and rapid development is much talked about. This second-largest economy has surpassed the rest of world in many aspects, its purchasing power stands at number one and exports, manufacturing, telecom industry, IT, digital economy, e-commerce, hi-speed trains, infrastructure development, etc., are the areas where China is a leader. Among the Fortunes 500, Chinese companies are at maximum numbers 129, while the U.S. is at the second position with 121 companies.
China is investing globally and has surpassed other nations of the world. Under the Chinese mega initiative BRI, it has partnered with 150 countries in development. Chinese influence is growing globally. Simply put, China is a rising superpower.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is passing through a very critical stage and facing severe challenges of an emerging economy. With foreign debt above USD 100 billion, debt services of around USD 10 billion, declining exports and reducing foreign remittances, the economic issues faced by Pakistan are many. The IMF bailout package has further affected the national economy as it, by default, only focuses on tax collection and controlling the expenses. With limiting the expenditures, many development projects may suffer negatively and the first victim will be the educational sector as education is a luxury in the IMF’s opinion. Our geostrategic location makes our development even more challenging as conflicting interests of major powers all lay in this region. Currently, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) requires a well-educated, well-trained workforce. Pakistan is lacking in some areas, for example: with the word economic corridor, what comes to our mind is a huge amount of logistics, while currently there is not a single public or private university teaching Logistic Engineering in Pakistan. The demand for logistics experts is very much the need of the hour. It is strongly recommended that some of the leading universities may launch specialized courses on Logistic Engineering immediately. Similarly, we are talking about railway linkages between Pakistan and its neighboring countries like China, Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia, as well as upgradation of railways systems in Pakistan (ML-1, ML-2, ML-3, Havelian-Khunjerab-Kashgar) too. But in Pakistan, there is not a single university offering Railway Engineering. On the other hand, in China there are specialized universities dedicated to Railway Engineering and many leading engineering universities are offering degrees on the subject. As a result, China became the number one country in the world in high-speed trains with a network of 25000 km in 2017. Particularly, the Beijing-Tibet railway line was no less than a miracle with it passing through the mountainous regions at the height of around 4500 meters above the sea level, terrain similar to Havelian-Khunjerab-Kashgar segments. Pakistan's leading engineering universities must launch Railway Engineering degree programs.
CPEC is focused on the energy sector, petro-chemical, mining, agriculture, and industrialization, etc. A simple Civil, Mechanical and Electrical engineer won’t do the job at hand. We need relevant specialized human resources in all of the abovementioned fields. HEC may plan to produce the requisite skilled human resource within Pakistani universities.
If the establishment of new universities is not possible under the current economic crisis, at least, the existing universities may be upgraded and strengthened to initiate new programs to meet our immediate requirement of skilled labor for CPEC.
Employment on CPEC Projects
Although there is a report that around 80,000 jobs were provided to Pakistanis under CPEC projects, yet the demand is much higher. Chinese companies have to bring the workforce from China, which is rather expensive. There are also difficulties in incentivizing them to come to Pakistan due to law and order situation as well as social disparities.
We need to conduct specific studies on the demand of human resource required under CPEC projects on the same lines of technology foresight and initiate new disciplines and programs in the existing universities.
Although China is contributing a major part of human resource development for Pakistan with approximately 32000 Pakistani students currently studying in China, we still need to develop our universities to meet the emerging demands for our future development.
According to some estimates, around 20,000 China-returned-graduates are already available in Pakistan. They cover a wide range of specializations like various disciplines of engineering sciences, natural sciences, applied sciences, and social sciences, management sciences, agricultural sciences, health sciences, and environmental sciences, etc.
There are fresh graduates, with experience of 5, 10, 20 and 30 years, some even with the experience of 40 years. These experts can be utilized positively at all levels, including as advisors and consultants.
Currently, most of them are employed at universities while some of them are extraordinarily proactive and publishing their research in high impact factor journals of international repute. Some are in the private sector and contributing well, some are in business and making good money, but very few are in the Government and at junior or unimportant positions. The potential of China-returned-graduates is quite high with their exposure to China – their expertise, knowledge, and understanding of China, Chinese experience and module of developments, work ethics and approach toward problem solving – which is of great value for Pakistan. It is strongly recommended that these graduates may be inducted in the Government of Pakistan at all levels, especially in project/departments related to CPEC and relations with China. Their expertise in the respective discipline and additional expertise of Chinese language, culture, ethics and understanding may be fully utilized in the best interest of the nation.
Pakistani youth is talented and performing very well in other countries. I have met many academically gifted Pakistani students abroad who were recognized by their respective universities for their talents. Most of the international universities in China, Japan, Europe, and America, speak highly of Pakistani students. Unfortunately, most of the extraordinary students prefer to stay in foreign countries after completion of their education. HEC needs to attract such talent back into Pakistan. Special measures need to be taken and attractive, incentive-based reforms need to be introduced.
Align Education toward Future Needs
To exploit the full potential of CPEC and to get maximum benefits from CPEC we must do our homework first, and then expect a good outcome.
It is expected that in the foreseeable future CPEC will play a vital role in the development of Pakistan, whether it is in the industrial or agricultural sectors or poverty eradication or social sector development, CPEC will play an instrumental role. Keeping this in mind, there in a dire need for major structural changes and comprehensive reforms in HEC itself.
The writer is a sinologist (ex-diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of Center for China and Globalization, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
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