Posted by Raza Rumi
This article appeared in STEP (Science, Technology, and Education in Pakistan), and has been reproduced with their permission.
Asad Abidi is a professor at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He served as the first dean of LUMS’ School of Science and Engineering from 2007 through 2009. In the first part of our conversation with Dr. Abidi, we talked about LUMS SSE. In this second part, we talk about the challenges faced by the higher education sector in Pakistan, possible solutions, and what Pakistanis living abroad can do to help.
STEP: Moving on to the topic of higher education. Do you think that the level of financial support that higher education, in general, and the Higher Education Commission, in particular, is getting from the government can be sustained?
Asad Abidi: It is not getting (a lot of support) or it might be getting it for a moment but, you know, Pakistan is bankrupt and all this investment is from borrowed funds from the future. The typical elected government is just running scared, trying to keep its head above water. And, unfortunately, this is not going to change (anytime soon). So, the question is how do you take a country with so many needs and keep higher education running? The only way I can see it happening is if a substantial allocation, such as from the military budget, is diverted toward higher education. The military has never deprived itself of money. In the worst of times, their budgets have gone untouched, their privileges have gone untouched. But, it will take a political leader with guts to do this.
Honestly, I think the only way it could happen is if the United States, which effectively supports the Pakistan military, were to say that ‘we don’t really believe that it is valuable to add more men to your forces or add to your existing perks and privileges; this is actually only going to lead to more disenchantment from civil society and unrest in the region. So, you must cut your budget by, let’s say, 10% or 15% and that this money must go into higher education to deliver some hope to Pakistan’s people. Otherwise we will withdraw our support’. Only then might things change. So, it’s going to be really hard unless you have massive civil protest in Pakistan. I don’t think Pakistan is quite ready for that kind of thing yet. People dispirited by spiraling inflation, power outages, unemployment, kleptocracy, can hardly be expected to rally in numbers against a bloated military budget. Continue reading