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The Evolution of Universities’ Landscape in Pakistan

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Universities play a vital role in developing a nation. It's in environments like these that the future is nurtured. Extra attention needs to be given to the infrastructure, faculty and research. With over 185 universities across five provinces, here's what they're doing for us.

The oldest institute in Pakistan is Government College University Lahore. Established in 1864, it obtained a full university status in 2002. Notable alumni include Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Dr. Abdus Salam whose genius changed the world as we know it. The legacy of this institute has had a lasting impact.

But, how do we make this impact sustainable and long lasting?

The learning has to compound and be taught as values to the young minds that are walking the same halls as those who came before them.

The list is long when it comes to GCU - Ismat Beg, Ashfaq Ahmed, Patras Bokhari, M. Zafarullah Khan, General Raheel Sharif, Dr. Har Gobind Khorana and many more names that have made their mark.

University of the Punjab (Lahore) is our oldest university. Anyone who has seen it knows that it's an entire city. Such campuses have a rich history and its alumni can be seen overlapping with the graduates of GCU. Choudhry Rahmat Ali, who coined the name 'Pakistan' is also an alumnus.

Founded in 1860, King Edward Medical College (now a University) was named after King Edward VII and is the fourth oldest medical school in South Asia. Mayo Hospital became an affiliate hospital in 1871 and Lady Aitchison Hospital became the second teaching hospital in 1887. This institute has a rich history. KEMU became an independent degree-awarding institute in 2005. Notable alumni include Dr. Israr Ahmed – a renowned religious scholar, Dr. Amjad Saqib - Sitara-e-Imtiaz and founder of Akhuwat, and Dr. Faisal Sultan – Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health and former CEO of Shaukat Khannum Memorial Cancer Hospital.

In 1941 a medical college named after the son of Sir Ganga Ram was set up (Balak Ram Medical College). After independence, the college was closed and abandoned. However, Prof. Dr. Shujaat Ali and his colleagues wanted to revive the institution to teach female doctors. With this dream, they asked Muhammad Ali Jinnah for the institution to be named after his sister. He agreed. In October 1948, Fatima Jinnah Medical College admitted its first batch of 39 students and was inaugurated in March 1949 by Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din, then Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Dow University of Health Sciences (1945) was founded by Sir Hugh Dow, Governor of Sindh at the time. It's known for its strong emphasis on biomedical, health and medical research programmes. University of Karachi (1951) has over 53 departments, 19 research institutes and 9 faculties. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is an alumnus.

Forman Christian College is an independent research liberal arts university founded in 1864 by American Missionary, Dr. Charles William Forman. Forman Christian College served as an associated college of the University of Calcutta until 1947 when it became affiliated with University of the Punjab, Lahore (famously known as Punjab University).

Notable alumni of FCC include Sir Abdul Rasheed - first Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sir Mohammed Pervaiz Anwer - Co-founder and Chairman United Bank Limited, Jahangir Khan Tareen - politician and businessman, and Shah Mehmood Qureshi - Foreign Minister of Pakistan along with many others.

University of Engineering and Technology (1921), the oldest engineering institute of Pakistan, focuses on research, innovation and industry relations. In the past, it has conducted research funded by Huawei, Cavium Networks, Microsoft and MontaVista. This has been facilitated by the presence of 7 faculties and 23 Research Centers at the Lahore Campus.

Our journey has only begun when it comes to institutional legacies. Starting from my own alma mater, FAST NUCES was founded with the vision of Agha Hasan Abedi, who was the patron and gave the initial PKR.100 Million. The focus was to promote research in Computer Sciences and emerging technologies to enable other growing sectors of Pakistan.

A university I saw being formed first-hand was Information Technology University, founded in 2012 with Dr. Umar Saif as the VC. It was modelled after Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to advance scholarship and innovation in the areas of science, technology and engineering, and presence of an entrepreneurial culture in teaching and R&D.

Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was granted a charter in 1985 after Syed Babar Ali (founding Pro-Chancellor) and Abdul Razak Dawood recognized a shortage of good managers in the country. It's the only business school in Pakistan to have Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation and ranked in the top 250 universities according to QS Rankings in 2020.

Institute of Business Administration (IBA – Karachi) was established as a business school in 1955 by the government with technical support from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California. It's one of the two Pakistani business schools to be certified by the South Asian Quality System. Alumni include former Federal Minister for Finance, Asad Umar.

Beaconhouse National University is the first liberal arts university in Pakistan with dedicated faculty focused on producing quality graduates. It's part of The Beaconhouse Group founded by Mrs. Nasreen Kasuri. It's one of the world's largest private school networks with 180,000+ students globally.

Quaid-e-Azam University (originally founded as the University of Islamabad in 1967) was dedicated to post-graduate education but later moved to undergraduate studies in the 1980s. Spread across 1700 acres on the foothills of Margalla, the University holds over 13,000 students. QAU was ranked in Asia Top 75 by Times Higher Education in 2020. It is known for its intellectual interaction with the United Nations, The University of Tokyo and ICTP - International Centre for Theoretical Physics. Alumni include Maleeha Lodhi - first woman to represent Pakistan at the United Nations and Shamshad Akhtar - first female Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Allama Iqbal Open University is the world's fourth largest institute of higher learning, with an annual enrolment of 1,121,038 students (as of 2010), the majority being women. The university has 44 regional campuses. AIOU paved the way for people who can't afford private university education. At the university, online learning is mostly offered free or at a minimal cost. Established in 1974, it's Asia's first open university with an emphasis on distance education in philosophy, natural science and social sciences. It has the most applicants per year in Pakistan.

National University of Science and Technology (NUST) is a public research university, set up under the administration of the Armed Forces in 1991. QS Top Universities ranks it among the leading 50 universities under the age of fifty, among the top 400 in the world, and Number One university in Pakistan 2021.

During the first wave of COVID-19, students of NUST developed a diagnostic kit 'N-CovKit', COVID Check Pakistan - a bilingual screening app, tele-operated decontamination robot, aerial spraying drone, high-quality sanitisers for microbial control and ventilator systems for short-term stabilisation.

NED University of Engineering and Technology (1921), is another old institute in Pakistan. It was named after its benefactor Nadirshaw Eduljee Dinshaw. Originally named as the Prince of Wales Engineering College, it was training civil engineers working in building the Sukkur Barrage.

National Textile University Faisalabad is a premier institution of textile education in Pakistan and a good example of how an industry established an institute. The idea was conceived by a group of industrialists in 1954 and Government of Punjab facilitated them by providing 62 acres of state-owned land for free. Kohinoor Industries, Colony Textile Mills, Dawood Foundation and Lyallpur Cotton Mills provided funds (Rs. 2.5M), which were used for the construction and other infrastructure. The Government of UK provided the bulk of equipment and machinery, along with experts.

Agha Khan University is a leading institute with programmes and campuses in Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, UK and Afghanistan. 2 million patients per year are treated at 7 AKU hospitals and 350+ medical centres in East Africa and Pakistan. It was ranked in the top 100 for clinical medicine. Agha Khan University Hospital was the first private hospital in Pakistan to develop a COVID-19 test and has been performing testing since February 11th 2020 and treated Pakistan's first case on February 26th, 2020. AKU is known to have an economic impact in Pakistan of USD 1 billion, supporting 42,000 jobs annually.

Moving to KPK, Islamia College University Peshawar was founded in the vision of Sir S.A. Qayyum and Sir George Roos-Keppel in 1913 after they noticed a lack of educational opportunities in the province. Its historical roots trace back to the Aligarh Movement. 

University of Peshawar (1950) was a constituent college to the Islamia College. In its first year, 129 students enrolled (with only 1 female). Jinnah adopted the college as one of the heirs to his fortune. Ghulam Ishaq Khan is an alumnus who was our 7th President and established Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology (GIKI).

GIKI is spread over 400 acres in Swabi. Founded in 1993, it was shaped by Pakistan's most influential scientists Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan (founding member), Dr. Asghar Qadir and Dr. Shaukat Hameed Khan into one of the finest science and engineering colleges.

Establishment of the Women University Mardan and Women University Swabi in 2016 are momentous steps taken for women's education in KPK.

Similarly, University of Baltistan (2017) has a goal of improving access to higher education for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. University of Balochistan (1970) has produced notable women leaders like Rahila Hameed - first female Speaker Provincial Assembly of Balochistan, Zobaida Jalal - Minister for Defence Production, and Syeda Tahira Safdar - first female Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court.

The University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (1980) is the biggest educational institution in AJK. Its Institute of Geology is one of the oldest departments and one of the finest in Pakistan. The lack of educational infrastructure in Kashmir has to be fixed to empower its people.

Institutes like NAMAL Institute Mianwali (with Prime Minister Imran Khan as the Chairman of the Board) and Akhuwat University - Pakistan's first 'fee-free university' established by Dr. Amjad Saqib, are efforts that focus on providing free quality education for all.

The efforts put in by Pakistani entrepreneurs, businessmen and educationists in setting up institutions like Superior University founded by Prof. Dr. Chaudhry Abdul Rehman, University of Management and Technology (UMT) founded by Dr. Hasan Sohaib Murad, University of Central Punjab founded by Mian Amir Mahmood and University of Lahore founded by Awais Raoof, are playing an important role in Punjab’s educational landscape.

Universities shape the landscape of a country and strengthen its foundations. Having visited 80+ universities across Pakistan, an industry-academia divide is evident which hampers the efforts to commercialize research at a national level. Where the work being done by our institutes is commendable, our faculty, industry leaders and entrepreneurs need to take a keener interest in education. The industry needs to build demand for research in our institutes to cultivate a culture of innovation.

A multidimensional strategy can be adopted for this - embedding a practical, entrepreneurial approach in higher education and promoting corporate innovation. The key is to introduce intensive, hands-on, project based courses that equip students to design and test new business concepts that address real world needs. In addition to unleashing the creative potential of students, it nurtures in them an entrepreneurial mindset; a mindset that makes them prefer learning over comfort, embrace risk and challenges, adopt a problem-solving attitude and take value-based decisions. All these factors put together indicate towards a proactive approach adopted by an entrepreneur (a startup founder) or an interpreneur (a corporate employee who takes risks, innovates and works with an entrepreneurial mindset in the organization).

This is applicable to research students as well. Though seeking to pursue a career in academics, plugging in entrepreneurial models to their research will add to its commercialization and therefore, the research value.

This is complemented by Corporate Innovation - a method enabling corporations to capture new markets by the virtue of innovation yet being able to reduce costs, thereby adding to their global competitiveness.

Organisations, both large and small, need to display openness in shifting away from traditional ways of working and incorporating start-ups in their systems. Startups' innovative ways of doing things paired with companies' experiences is that ingenious, disruptive combination that will bring unmatched value addition to the economy benefiting players at all three ends - companies, startups and customers. This is how companies will sustain, nurture and scale in-house innovation departments at costs much lower than they would have to incur otherwise.

On the social and economic front, large organizations and SMEs need to incorporate research driven, data-backed innovative solutions for real-world challenges. This is precisely where Corporate Innovation platforms available at universities come into play. Universities then provide organizations access to startups and research labs; instead of hiring an in-house innovation and R&D teams, organizations can collaborate through university-led Corporate Innovation Programs for these services.

The landscape of universities in Pakistan presents a blend of history, tradition and innovation. The next natural progression in its evolution is building a dynamic and responsible community of entrepreneurs and thought leaders that contributes in making Pakistan an innovation-driven growth economy.

Pakistan Zindabad!

Last updated: 4th April, 2021