Three Ways Expatriate Pakistani Academics can Support Higher Education in Pakistan

August 28, 2012 in Education

 Naveed R. Butt, Taimoor Abbas, and Asad Mahmood

Abstract

There are many expatriate Pakistani academics and researchers working in internationally renowned universities and research firms. Pakistani university students can benefit immensely from their knowledge and expertise. In  this  work, we discuss three practically feasible ways of connecting these academics/researchers to Pakistani  students. The proposed ways include online seminars, short courses, and joint project/thesis supervision. It is  hoped that this work will encourage interested academics to consider how they can play a role in improving higher education and research in Pakistan.

Index  Terms

 Pakistani academics abroad, short courses, online seminars, external supervision.

INTRODUCTION

There are approximately seven million Pakistanis living abroad [1]. Among them are an increasing number of academics and researchers working in internationally renowned universities and research firms. It is well known that Pakistani emigrants and their children influence their homeland culturally and economically by maintaining close ties, travelling to Pakistan and investing there [2]. A relatively less explored avenue, however, is that of exploiting the academic and advanced technological skills of expatriate Pakistanis. In the field of science and technology, it is commonly felt that Pakistan needs to improve its research profile and that Pakistani university students (particularly, graduate students) need to be given more ’quality time’ with researchers of international repute/exposure. We believe that expatriate academics can play an important role in this regard. Accordingly, the main objective of this paper is to discuss three possible ways in which expatriate academics/researchers can contribute (to some extent) to the improvement of higher education in Pakistan, while continuing their stay/work abroad. Some of the key elements of the proposals discussed in this work include:

  • Introducing university students to state-of-the-art scientific and technical developments taking place around the world through periodic online seminars.
  • Diversifying the course material taught at universities by engaging specialists as short-term visiting lecturers.
  • Increasing research collaboration with international groups through joint project/thesis supervision.

The remainder of this work is organized as follows. In the next section we discuss the three proposed approaches in more detail. The objective is to introduce interested expatriate and local academics to the different possibilities, in the hope that they would consider adopting some of them. In section III, we give important details of our own short experiment in this regard. Finally, section IV contains a summary of our suggestions.

THE THREE WAYS

In this section, we discuss three of the many different ways Pakistani academics in international universities can contribute to the improvement of higher education in Pakistan. The proposed approaches are given in the order of level of involvement.

A. Online Seminars

Exposure to emerging fields, ideas, and technologies plays an important role in building a university student’s knowledge-base. A very large number of expatriate researchers and professors are working with international teams on cutting-edge technologies. They can help students in Pakistani universities by giving illuminating talks on their work subjects. Since travelling to Pakistan for such seminar in not usually feasible, these academics can be approached to give online seminars (or, ‘webinars’) from time to time. There are currently several technologies available for interactive webinars. In particular, we have successfully tested TeamViewer between Pakistan and Sweden (http://www.teamviewer.com/en/index.aspx). The software provides tools for sharing desktop, giving presentations, as well as for type- and video-chats. Some of the proposed ways of establishing a culture for such webinars in Pakistan are:

  • A Pakistani university may encourage its students to establish a society for interactive learning. Among the main tasks of the society would be to organize periodic webinars by choosing important topics, contacting speakers, making presentation arrangements (multimedia lecture room, etc.), and advertising the talk among students. It is expected that after a few such webinars, the process would become streamlined and easy to repeat.
  • STEP Lecture Series offers an excellent opportunity for interested speakers to give online lectures that are viewed in several Pakistani universities [3]. The STEP team have successfully organized several talks since 2009, ranging in content from rural development and disaster management to advances in computing, modelling and communications etc. Similar other series can be organized to increase this culture of sharing knowledge and expertise. We encourage Pakistani researchers and academicians working abroad to communicate with such teams and volunteer to give talks that would benefit university students in Pakistani universities.

B. Accelerated/Summer Courses

In many international universities, students are given select courses by visiting professors at an accelerated pace. The duration of such courses may vary from a week to a month. Similarly, summer courses often provide a good opportunity for students to learn from experts in specific fields. Pakistani academics in international universities can play a very important role in broadening the curricula of Pakistani universities by offering complementary accelerated or summer courses during their visits to Pakistan. Some possible approaches are:

  • It is common for expatriate Pakistanis to make yearly visits to Pakistan. You may allocate a week to giving a course at a nearby university during such a visit.
  • Quite often, researchers in international universities have travel funds for extending their research collaborations. You may explore the possibility of using some of such funds to visiting carefully selected research teams in Pakistan. Accelerated or joint courses can also be given during such visits.
  • Universities in Pakistan can approach Pakistani professors in foreign universities to explore possibilities for such courses.

C. Joint Projects or Thesis Supervision

There are some known instances of Pakistani researchers abroad taking on joint supervision of post-graduate students in Pakistan. Academics in Pakistan and abroad should be encouraged to actively seek each other for carrying out joint research (via projects or joint Ph.D. supervision, etc.). A platform, such as an annual workshop, may be created to facilitate such matches. We will be doing further research to provide a more comprehensive review of this approach.

AN EXAMPLE

In the summer of 2010, we organized a research visit to Pakistan to extend academic collaboration between CASE (Pakistan) and LTH (Sweden). The visit was jointly funded by a travel grant from LTH and teaching funds from CASE. Some of the important aspects of the visit are listed below as an example of the proposed summer-courses approach.

1)  The visit had two main objectives: (a) to jointly work on the topic of cognitive radios, and (b) to give an advanced course related to Mr. Butt’s field of research (Statistical Signal Processing and Modelling).

2)  The 8-week summer course was attended by 20 graduate students at CASE, and covered advanced topics that comple- mented the curriculum at CASE. Based on the official feedback from the students, it was concluded that the students found the course very useful.

3)  Other benefits of the visit include: (a) a joint paper was presented at an IEEE-sponsored conference in Pakistan, (b) due to this link, a professor from LTH later served as an external reviewer for the thesis of a Ph.D. student from CASE, (c) discussions during the visit have led to identification of further avenues for joint research.

Although this is just one example, it is hoped that a culture of such visits by Pakistani academics can help graduate students in Pakistan in many different ways, and can also lead to improvement in the research profile of Pakistani universities.

SUMMARY OF SUGGESTIONS

If you are a Pakistani academic/researcher working abroad:

1)  Contact active academics at Pakistani universities and volunteer to give seminars in your field of research.

2)  Consider giving a short course at a Pakistani university either during a regular visit or through jointly funded short visits.

3)  Actively seek research groups in Pakistan with whom you can carry out joint research – a good way of which is through joint Ph.D. thesis supervision.

If you are an active academic in Pakistan:

1)  Encourage students to form a society for interactive learning to facilitate delivery of online seminars (see section II-A for details).

2)  Actively seek international research groups with whom you can carry out joint research – a good way of which is through joint Ph.D. thesis supervision.

REFERENCES

[1]  “Pakistani diaspora,” Wikipedia. [Online]. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistani diaspora

[2]  N. M. Abbasi, “The pakistani diaspora in europe and its impact on democracy building in pakistan,” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Stockholm., November 2009. [Online]. Available: http://www.idea.int/resources/analysis/pakistani diaspora  eu.cfm

[3]  Science, Technology, and Education in Pakistan (STEP). [Online]. Available: http://www.nextstepforward.net/

(N. R. Butt and Taimoor Abbas are with the Lund Institute of Technology (LTH), Sweden (email:naveed@maths.lth.se; taimoor.abbas@eit.lth.se). Asad Mehmood is an Asst. Professor at CASE, Pakistan)

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and are not necessarily endorsed by TFS. We encourage a healthy debate about any of the points raised in all TFS publications.