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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sorry Islamia College Peshawar, you are no more unique

Sorry Islamia College Peshawar, you are no more unique
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Prof. Yaseen Iqbal

Islamia College Peshawar was established in 1913 as a unique institution to educate the people of the province. These were the times when modern education used to be considered a great sin by the clergy; however, the founders of this unique institution were also unique and were so sincere with the people of this land that they laid down the foundation stone of this College at the hands of Haji Sahib of Turangzai who was leading the holy war (Jihad) against the British rulers. Even the British, being sympathetic with this institution or the people of the region didn’t block the way of Haji Sahib because they knew that without Haji Sahib’s involvement this institution will be a complete failure.
Well done, Islamia College Peshawar! You produced great graduates and stood unique for the last 95 years at undergraduate level but unfortunately when I look at you today, I cannot compare you with Government College Lahore of nearly the same age. Government College Lahore was not fortunate enough to have the blessing of Haji Sahib of Turangzai, nor Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Khan was there to water its plants, no generous Pakhtuns gave it hundreds of acres of their lands and probably no Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave his one third of property to GC Lahore but still this great college produced Nobel Laureate like Abdus Salam. Yes, Government College Lahore you are unique but unfortunately Islamia College Peshawar could not be unique. It is at the same level as it was 95 years but education needs of the day have changed too much. Yesterday, we needed education but today we need research and that as well compatible with our modern-day needs. Let me shed some light on the reasons why Islamia College Peshawar could not be made unique instead of its enormous financial resources and blessings:

1) Let’s presume that may be the people of this land are not interested in making there institutions unique. If this is true, then why these people send their kids to various institutions in spite of their poverty and very limited resources? They split their only living home into two, sell the one half to educate their kids and live in the other half. This clearly proves that the people of this land are not fools but sensible 21st century human beings with all the five senses in place but unfortunately helpless to ask for their due rights and hence suffer whatever comes on their poor heads. After complete disappointment from their institutions, a considerable number of our youth prefers admissions in other provinces or has migrated to the outside world and doing odd jobs with the hope for a better life. It must be noted that this is not the solution and a person thrown out by his/her own society can never earn respect from others.
2) The second reason could be the lack of vision of our leaders and literate and privileged class to design and run our institutions consistent with our needs and available human and natural resources to optimise their utilisation. This vision cannot only create jobs for the people but can play a pivotal role in improving the economy of the land as well. In order to explain this let us have a look at the world around us and learn from them the manner in which they developed their societies.
In the modern world, the living standards, honour and dignity of both the individual and society are judged in terms of ranking in the field of science & technology and the resultant economy. Countries of the world are categorised, in fact, into “Developed”, “Developing” and “Under-developed”. The masses of the under-developed nations don’t have the skills, resources or ability to utilise their resources and their leaders lack a clear vision to develop their societies. On the other hand, the developed nations have developed their institutions to exploit their manpower, natural and technical resources. They have the vision to manipulate their present and future needs and the needs of their fellow beings and nations. Their leaders have the wisdom to design and run their institutions to exploit their resources. This clearly means that for economic survival and development, a nation must have a) the vision: to foresee their present and future needs; b) the knowledge to manage her natural/mineral resources; and c) the technical capability to design and produce affordable products. Keeping the above requirements in mind, one can easily understand the causes of poverty in the under-developed and developing nations, and the reasons for prosperity in the developed world.
USA was a leading member of the G7 countries (now G8) but when realised that it must give special preference to dedicated research in specific hot areas of applied sciences: consequently, the U.S. National Science Foundation established Materials Research Science & Engineering Centres. The goal of these centres was to develop the areas of science & technology exponentially which could directly transform scientific ideas into visible market and accelerate the economic growth and benefit the society. Today, the Pennsylvania State University alone has 24 such centres. Similar examples, either in one form or the other, can be observed all over the world such as China, India, UK and Japan.
The resources we have are not ordinary but extraordinary and are called the mineral wealth. The importance of these resources can be judged from the fact that various eras marking the developmental stages of human history such as Stone Age, Bronze Age and Steel Age are defined in terms of the materials used or developed during those periods. Today, it has become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to draw solid lines among various disciplines of science and engineering as semiconductors, physics, chemistry, polymers, cement, metals, ceramics, composites, biomaterials and tissue engineering are studied and investigated under the one roof of the Materials Science. Broadly speaking, the engineering of materials deals with the designing of chemical compositions and controlled processing to tailor materials with desired properties.
Keeping in view the mineral resources of Pakistan, given proper attention, the field of Materials Science certainly seems to have a bright future not only for the people of NWFP and Pakistan but for the surrounding regions as well.
The upgradation of Islamia College Peshawar to University Level were really good news for all of us but do we need to repeat what we already have? If we are interested in developing another photocopying machine of teachers, then we have enough of it. A postgraduate degree can be awarded by any postgraduate college or a couple of rooms with a few master degree holders as faculty members. Islamia College has been unique at undergraduate level and must be unique at postgraduate level. As it led the province in undergraduate education, it is expected to play a similar at postgraduate level. It should not be an ordinary university but a unique institution.
The new Islamia College University should be able to address the issues in hand and make our education compatible with our needs and available resources. Every government is shouting big slogans of the richness of our land in mineral resources but none has established a single institution to systematically and scientifically characterise and optimise the utilisation of these resources. The establishment of an Institute of Materials or a Materials University instead of an ordinary degree-awarding body or a photocopying machine of teachers would have been a really great step towards the prosperity of the region. This institute or university would have systematically characterised the explored minerals and initiated intensive research on engineering of the available materials into useful products to optimise their utilisation. Such developments would have automatically attracted industry because without a strong academia-industry linkage, the development of science & technology has little impact on the society. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone interested in such activities.
A strong linkage between the Academia and Industry of a country is the key to optimise the utilisation of natural, mineral and technical resources. It is the only way to transform the mineral resources into world-class products in accordance with national and international consumer needs through materialisation of the innovative ideas and research findings of the academia. This university-industry linkage is missing, particularly in this part of the country. Joblessness, non-technical approach to technical issues, poor industry and lack of technical manpower are some of the consequences of this missing linkage. A highly technical institution would have been a key to impress our industry to share mutual knowledge and expertise.
Our mineral resources are second to none, our manpower is talented and hardworking but the problem is the lack of coordination and synchronisation of these resources and availability of sophisticated laboratories to suit the needs of research and modern-day industry. A world class Materials Research Institution is the only way out.
The Way Out
It is an established fact that the introduction and consequent development of the field of Materials Science has already changed the pace of industry and economy in the developed world. Obviously, today, the future of our industry and academia will become ever more dependent upon the quality of our research and ability to innovate. At present, we urgently need Materials Research Institutes in NWFP and it must be brought to the level to act as world-class institute on a priority basis. The basic setup should include material processing kits, phase and micro-structural analysis equipment and property measurement kits. This institution needs to be appropriately staffed and equipped with facilities consistent with our industrial needs. The staff diversity in terms of scientists/engineers in the relevant disciplines, are urgently required.
As evident from the preceding description, our mineral resources need proper characterisation to optimise their utilisation. Our manpower needs proper technical training to process the raw minerals and utilise them in the production of compatible products. All this will need the development of S&T on a priority basis. Unfortunately, we don’t have Materials Research Centres/Institutes which have processing, phase, micro-structural analysis and property-measurement laboratories in Pakistan and such an institution will be unique and will make Islamia University unique.
We need to be more practical with clear target-seeking strategies. The file culture needs to be replaced with trust-based alternatives where quick decisions can be made. A national campaign is required to stimulate both our academia and industry to look for improved ways of working together to ensure that the training of our graduates and research scholars meets the challenges of the 21st century such as innovation in industrial and academic sectors, and addressing of the issues regarding the conservation of energy, environment and health. We are not the only nation undergoing this conflicting experience but most of the nations including Europe and USA went through these experiences and we must learn from their technological history, realise the problem in the real sense and step forward before it is too late.
The upgradation of Islamia College Peshawar to university provided us with a golden opportunity to make our education in accordance with our needs. I was to present the same proposal to the governor and chief minister NWFP but my keynote talk was excluded from the schedule at the 11th hour, on the plea that the governor will be short of time and it is not possible. This is enough for me to believe that every sincere effort is discouraged in this land. I hope the people involved will realise the situation and will not allow the unique Islamia College Peshawar to lose its uniqueness.

(Dr. Yaseen Iqbal has been involved in promoting a research culture and the field of Materials Science in Pakistan for the last couple of years. Recently, he organised a One-Day Seminar entitled “Where Academia & Industry Meet 2007” under the HEC University-Industry-Interaction Project with the collaboration of GIKI (Swabi) and UET, Peshawar. He has given several invited talks on various aspects of Materials in UK. Dr. Iqbal did his Masters in Physics from Gomal University in 1987 and PhD in Engineering Materials from the University of Sheffield (UK) in 1997. Before joining HEC as a Foreign Professor, Dr. Iqbal had been working at the University of Sheffield. His research areas of interest include Electro-Ceramics, Glass-Ceramics, Vitreous Ceramics and Ultra Low Loss Soft Magnetic Alloys. He has published several articles in world class peer reviewed international journals of applied and engineering sciences. Having a keen interest in applied research, he has worked on several projects for UK Electro- & Vitreous-Ceramics industries)

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