By Engr. Muhammad Hassan.
What is the role of higher education in someone’s life, a quote just came across my eyes “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad”. It might be humorous, but inside it explains the power of higher education. The person making the statement is highlighting the power of education, albeit in a humorous fashion. Indeed, higher education can change the thinking ability of the person if it is delivered in a right way.
When one considers professions, Engineering is no doubt among the top or very best. Arguably, among higher education, the engineering education will also be rated as ranking very highly in importance. And so it should be.
However many questions pertaining to the same need to be addressed. Such as the level of engineering education good enough in Pakistan? Can it lead to the desired employment which the students seek? Is the Engineering Education as being imparted to the students relevant to the industry where engineering as a profession is practiced? The last one perhaps, is the most important question. Is the education given in our engineering universities relevant to the practice of engineering in the field?
I was sitting in a meeting at chamber of commerce of well-known city of Pakistan and a presentation was being made regarding “Implementation of a special techniques of engineering” by some respectable professors. Many factory owners were in the audience. In the Q&A session which proceeded after the presentation by the respectable professors, a factory owner got up from his seat and asked “Sir, how can we incorporate this special technique in our industry i.e. in simple words what is the Pakistani version of this special technique.”, then he asked some questions that could contradict with the general implementation of the technique being presented by the professor in Pakistani environment. The words the factory owner chose to state his thoughts were something like, “The example of implementation of this technique in Pakistan’s industrial sector is like that, if you have some fields to plow but instead of giving farmer a tractor, give him a BMW to Plow”. In his words it was like killing a fly with a hammer.
Although the professor responded, but his response was neither convincing nor seemed appropriate even to me, a student of engineering, leave alone a businessman.
This was not the first time. I have faced similar type of situations in past. Once I was telling a businessman relative of mine about some special type of heuristic that could improve process efficiency. He cut my talk in the middle to ask me the simple question, “Son, which Pakistani industry is using this technique to improve its process?” I gave him couple of examples of multinational companies. He smiled and again asked “Let me rephrase it for you, which local Industry of Pakistan is currently using it?” I just looked at his smile and remained silent because I didn’t know what to say. I could have answered him in one of the two ways, one that I have not visited enough industries, or, it as actually not happening in Pakistan. My current job has given me a lot of opportunity to visit different industries. After visiting more than 50 different local industries, I have come to the conclusion that local industry is not using the particular heuristic.
In my current job, I have to do the safety audits of different businesses for risk assessment purpose, and about 80% of business are not following any kind of safety standards. As a safety professional, in my opinion, safety and better housekeeping are the least thing that you can do to make your process a better one. But looking upon the percentage of ill condition, I am forced to say that they are in deplorable conditions. Even small steps in the right direction could make a lot of difference.
If such small things like housekeeping and maintenance are not effectively implemented by our local industry than how can we incorporate the “perfect techniques” of engineering which are the practice the world over? How can we compete with the other companies which have better approach and a better professional culture?
Let’s come towards the reasons i.e. why universities are not delivering engineering in the right way after some sober deliberations, I landed up with the following four main reasons:
- Lack of Industrial-Academia linkage
- Feudalistic behavior of factory owners
- Lack of interest by Government Authorities
- Research Vs Re-search
Universities are not effectively collaborating with industrial sectors i.e. what are the problems of Pakistan’s local industrial sector and how engineering techniques will help them to resolve these problems. It means we have to give them a simplified form of the complex techniques according to their local environment, that can be easily absorbed by their blue and white collar employees and factory management itself.
In local sectors, a quote is famous “when an owner sits at its office chair, his heart just vanished from his chest”. At some way, its true but seeing towards the bigger picture it’s not good for overall benefits. As university has the responsibility, similarly factory owner also has the responsibility towards improvement. In local sector, some factory owners just neglect the improvement chances for some short term benefits by completely misunderstanding the long term effects of improvements.
Hundreds of research papers are published every year in international journals from Pakistan. This is not because we are Researching but because we are Re-Searching. We got a technique to publish a research paper and we are focusing on it. Research brings the paradigm shift in society but there are no signs of improvement in Pakistan. Because when we do research most of the time our focus is on the current research going on abroad, without a thought to what is being done or needs to be done here in Pakistan.
Government has the responsibility to keep check on the curriculum of the universities e.g. whether courses that are being taught by universities, are they helping to bring prosperity in Pakistan? How can these courses help to improve the economic and industrial growth? etc. Although authorities are there, but polices are weak and if policy is strong then implementation is weak. Government is approving new educational institutions irrespective of the situation i.e. are these institutes going to deliver the required education or not? Education has become a business and getting out of control with every coming day.
Pakistan has its own social, cultural, economic and moral conditions and the techniques that we teach in engineering come from a completely different societies, mostly from developed countries, some of them are applicable in our Industrial environment while most of them are not. These countries are capable of implementing these techniques as it is. But in Pakistan we need to translate these techniques according to the local environment and then gradually come towards the original one. Such type of activity will not only boost our industrial efficiency but also develop the better Industrial-Academia linkage.
We have to develop some strong solutions of above mentioned problems. A collective effort is needed from all the stake holders. These things can be solved easily but we need a right direction. There are brilliant minds in universities, authorities and industrial sections. We just need to give them some space. If we want one step forward we need to think something new and big i.e. we need to think first and then act positively. Only thinking, or, acting without thinking, is not a solution.