Science and technology in Pakistan

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Abdus Salam was the world's second scientist from a Muslim country to win a Nobel Prize.

Science and technology is a growing field in Pakistan and has played an important role in the country's development since its founding. Pakistan has a large pool of scientists, engineers, doctors, and technicians assuming an active role in science and technology. Liaquat Ali Khan the first Prime Minister of Pakistan (in office 15 August 1947 – 16 October 1951), made various reforms to initiate improvement in higher education and scientific research. The real growth in science in Pakistan occurred after the establishment of the Higher education Commission in 2002 which supported science in a big way and also became the major sponsor of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman.[1] The first IT policy and implementation strategy was approved under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, then Federal Minister of Science & technology, in August 2000 which laid the foundations of the development of this sector[2] On the request of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, Intel initiated a nationwide programme to train school teachers in Information and Communication technologies in March 2002 which has led to the training of 220,000 school teachers in 70 districts and cities across Pakistan.[3] A 15-year tax holiday was approved on the recommendation of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman which has resulted in growth of IT business from $30 million in 2001 to over $3 billion.[4][5] The Pakistan Austria University of Applied Engineering (Fachhochschule) is now being established in Haripur Hazara under the Chairmanship of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman in which students will get degrees from several Austrian universities[6]

Chemistry remains the strongest subject in the country with the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences playing the lead role with the largest postgraduate research program in the country having about 600 students enrolled for PhD.[7][8]Physics (theoretical, nuclear, particle, laser, and quantum physics), material science, metallurgy (engineering), biology, and mathematics, are some of the other fields in which Pakistani scientists have contributed. From the 1960s and onwards, the Pakistani government made the development and advancement of science a national priority and showered top scientists with honours. While the government has made efforts to make science a part of national development, there have been criticisms of federal policies, such as the government's dissolution of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC)— an administrative body that supervised research in science – in 2011. This attempted dissolution failed to materialise because of a Supreme Court of Pakistan decision on a petition filed by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, former Federal Minister of Science & technology and former founding Chairman of the Higher Education Commission.[9] Pakistani scientists have also won acclaim in mathematics and in several branches of physical science, notably theoretical and nuclear physics, chemistry, and astronomy. Professor Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, being the first and only Pakistani to date to have received the honor. Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman an organic chemist was elected as Fellow of Royal Society (London) in 2006 in recognition of his contributions in the field of natural products thereby becoming the first scientist from the Islamic world to receive this honour for work carried out within an Islamic country.[10] The contributions of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman to uplift science and higher education in Pakistan were internationally acknowledged and a tribute paid to him in the world's leading science journal Nature that termed him as "a force of nature".[11] In an analysis of scientific research productivity of Pakistan, in comparison to Brazil, Russia, India and China, Thomson Reuters has applauded the developments that have taken place as a result of the reforms introduced by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS, since Pakistan has emerged as the country with the highest increase in the percentage of highly cited papers in comparison to the "BRIC" countries.[12]

Technology is most highly developed in nuclear physics and explosives engineering, where the arms race with India convinced policy makers to set aside sufficient resources for research. Due to a programme directed by Munir Ahmad Khan and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Pakistan is the seventh nation to have developed an atomic bomb, which the global intelligence community believes it had done by 1983 (see Kirana-I), nine years after India (see Pokhran-I). Pakistan first publicly tested its devices (see Chagai-I and Chagai-II) on 28 and 30 May 1998, two weeks after India carried out its own tests (See Pokhran-II).[13]

Space exploration was hastily developed, in 1990 Pakistan launched Badr-1 followed by Badr-II in 2001. Since the 1980s, the space programme dedicated itself to military technologies (Space weapons programme and Integrated missile systems), and maintains a strong programme developed for military applications.

Pakistan is an associate member of CERN, one of the few countries to obtain that status.[14]


The Scientific and Technological Research Division (S&TR) was established in 1964 for (i) coordination and implementation of national science and technology policy; (ii) promotion and coordination of research and utilization of the results of research; (iii) development, production and utilization of nuclear energy; and (iv) coordination of utilization of scientific and technological manpower. The Division was administratively responsible for National Science Council, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Space and Upper Atmospheric Research Committee. The Ministry of Science and Technology (MoS&T) has been functioning since 1972. It is the national focal point and enabling arm of Government of Pakistan for planning, coordinating and directing efforts; to initiate and launch scientific and technological programs and projects as per national agenda for sound and sustainable Science & Technology Research base for the socio-economic development. From the areas of industrial development to renewable energy and rural development, the Ministry suggests technological development for higher growth-rates and to improve standards of living. Its principal focus is on building Pakistan's technological competence and developing a larger pool of human resources to reverse brain drain, and for integrating the existing technological infrastructure for strengthening of technology institutions, effective governance of S&TR and enhancing the capacity of indigenous innovation systems.

State controlled science[edit]

Unlike some Western countries, the majority of the research programmes are conducted not at the institutions (such as universities) but at specially set up research facilities and institutes.[15] These institutes are performed under the government's Ministry of Science that overlooks the development and promotion of science in the country, while others are performed under the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, other specialized academies and even the research arms of various government ministries.[15] At first, the core of fundamental science was the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, originally set up in 1953 and moved from Karachi to Islamabad in 1964.[16] The Pakistan Academy of Sciences has a large percentage of researchers in the natural sciences, particularly physics.[16] From 1947 to 1971, the research was being conducted independently with no government influence.[16] The High Tension Laboratories (HTL) at the Government College University, Lahore (GCU) was established by R. M. Chaudhry with funds given by the British government in the 1950s.[17] In 1967, Professor Abdus Salam led the foundation of the Institute of Theoretical Physics (ITP) at the Quaid-e-Azam University, and the establishment of the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) and the Centre for Nuclear Studies; all were independently established by Pakistan's academic scientists with financial assistance provided by European countries.[17] However, after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became President, he took control of scientific research in 1972 as part of his intensified socialist reforms and policies.[17] With advice taken from Dr. Mubashir Hassan, Bhutto established the Ministry of Science with Ishrat Hussain Usmani, a bureaucrat with a doctorate in atomic physics.[15][17]

During the 1950s and 1960s, both West Pakistan and East Pakistan had their own academies of science, with the East Pakistan relying on West Pakistan to allot the funds.[15] Medical research is coordinated and funded by the Health Ministry[18] and agricultural research is led by Agriculture Ministry[19] and likewise, the research on environmental sciences is headed by the Environment Ministry.[17][20]

An aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan Winter War was that President Bhutto increased scientific funding by the Government by more than 200%, mostly dedicated to military research and development. Bhutto, with the help of his Science Adviser Dr. Salam, gathered hundreds of Pakistani scientists working abroad to develop what became Pakistan's atom bomb. This crash programme was directed at first by Dr. Abdus Salam until 1974, and then directed and led by Dr. Munir Ahmad Khan from 1974 until 1991. For the first time an effort was made by the government when Pakistan's citizens made advancements in nuclear physics, theoretical physics and mathematics. In the 1980s, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq radicalized science by enforcing pseudoscience – by his Muslim fundamentalists as administrators – in Pakistan's schools and universities. Zia-ul-Haq later promoted Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan to export the sensitive industrial (military) technologies to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. Because of government control, academic research in Pakistan remains highly classified and unknown to the international scientific community. There have been several failed attempts made by foreign powers to infiltrate the country's research facilities to learn how much research has progressed and how much clandestine knowledge has been gained by Pakistan's scientists.[21] One of the notable cases was in the 1970s, when the Libyan intelligence made an unsuccessful attempt to gain knowledge on critical aspects of nuclear technology, and crucial mathematical fast neutron calculations in theoretical physics. It was thwarted by the ISI Directorate for Joint Intelligence Technical (JIT).[21] From the 1980s and onward, both Russian intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency made several attempts to access Pakistan's research but because of the ISI, they were unable to gain any information.[21] From the period 1980 to 2004, research in science fell short until General Pervez Mushrraf established the Higher Education Commission (HEC) which heightened the contribution of science and technology in Pakistan. The major boost to science in Pakistan occurred under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as the founding Chairman of the Higher Education Commission when about 11,000 students were sent to top universities abroad for PhD and postdoctoral training. This has resulted in the enormous increase in research output of Pakistan in Impact factor journals from about 800 per year in the year 2000 to over 12,000 publications per year.[22] This drew positive comments from Thomson Reuters about the sharp increase in highly cited papers in comparison to Brazil, Russia, India and China[23] Major research was undertaken by Pakistan's institutes in the field of natural sciences.[15] In 2003, the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of Pakistan and the United States Department of State signed a comprehensive Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement that established a framework to increase cooperation in science, technology, engineering and education for mutual benefit and peaceful purposes between the science and education communities in both countries. In 2005, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) joined with the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to support the joint Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program. Beginning in 2008, the U.S. Department of State joined USAID as U.S. co-sponsor of the program. This program, which is being implemented by the National Academy of Sciences on the U.S. side, is intended to increase the strength and breadth of cooperation and linkages between Pakistan scientists and institutions with counterparts in the United States.[24] However, with unfavourable situations,[clarification needed] research declined. In 2011, the government dissolved the HEC and the control of education was taken over by governmental ministries.[15] Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the government action. The Supreme Court decided in favour of the stand taken by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, and the federal nature of the Higher Education Commission was preserved.[9]

Scientific research institutions (SRI)[edit]

National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

A large part of research is conducted by science research institutes with semi-controlled by the Government.

Science policy[edit]

National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy[edit]

The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology has overseen the S&T sector since 1972. However, it was not until 2012 that Pakistan's first National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy was formulated: this was also the first time that the government had formally recognized innovation as being a long-term strategy for driving economic growth. The policy principally emphasizes the need for human resource development, endogenous technology development, technology transfer and greater international co-operation in research and development (R&D).[26]

The policy was informed by the technology foresight exercise undertaken by the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology from 2009 onwards. By 2014, studies had been completed in 11 areas: agriculture, energy, ICTs, education, industry, environment, health, biotechnology, water, nanotechnology and electronics. Further foresight studies were planned on pharmaceuticals, microbiology, space technology, public health, sewage and sanitation, as well as higher education.[26]

National Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy[edit]

Following the change of government in Islamabad after the May 2013 general election, the new Ministry of Science and Technology issued the draft National Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy 2014–2018, along with a request for comments from the public. This strategy has been mainstreamed into the government's long-term development plan, Vision 2025, a first for Pakistan.[26]

Investment in human resources and research[edit]

The central pillar of the draft National Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy is human development. Although the pathway to implementation is not detailed, the new strategy fixes a target of raising Pakistan's gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) from 0.29% (2013) to 0.5% of GDP by 2015 then to 1% of GDP by the end of the current government's five-year term in 2018. The ambitious target of tripling the GERD/GDP ratio in just seven years is a commendable expression of the government's resolve but ambitious reforms will need to be implemented concurrently to achieve the desired outcome.[26]

Notable scientists[edit]

Ranking of Pakistani Scientists by Pakistan Council for Science & Technology[edit]

  • The Pakistan Council for Science and Technology has published a national ranking of the best scientists in the country[27]

Nobel Prize[edit]

UNESCO Science Prize[edit]

  • Atta-ur-Rahman – winner of the UNESCO Science Prize for pioneering contributions in natural product chemistry in 1999. He is the first scientist from the Islamic world to have won this prize.

Fellows of Royal Society, London[edit]

Academician Chinese Academy of Sciences[edit]

Friendship Award of China[edit]

Fellow Korean Academy of Sciences[edit]

Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande, Austria[edit]

Khwarazmi Prize[edit]

Fellow Chinese Chemical Society[edit]

Albert Einstein Award[edit]

  • Riazuddin – winner of Einstein Award (2000) for his contribution in theoretical physics, notably the contribution in neutrinos.
  • Mujahid Kamran – winner of Einstein Award (2001) for the leading research in quantum mechanics.

Einstein Professorship[edit]

  • Atta-ur-Rahman – awarded by Chinese Academy of Sciences in recognition of his contributions in the field of natural product chemistry

Highest National Order of Excellence[edit]

Scientists who are awarded the highest hierarchy of Pakistan, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence).

  • Abdus Salam – honored in 1979 for outstanding contribution in developing the Pakistan science.
  • Ishfaq Ahmad – honored with Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1998) for his contribution in nuclear physics.
  • Abdul Qadeer Khan – honored twice (1996 and 1999) for developing the gas-centrifuge programme.
  • Atta-ur-Rahman – honored in 2002 for his edge leading research in Natural product chemistry.
  • Samar Mubarakmand – honored in 2003 for the contribution in space programme and accelerator physics.
  • Ishrat Hussain Usmani – honored in 1998 for his enhancing the science in Pakistan.
  • Munir Ahmad Khan – honored in 2012 for his contribution to physics and nuclear engineering in Pakistan.

Order of Crescent[edit]

Scientists who are conferred with second highest honored, the Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Order of Crescent).

National prizes[edit]

The most prestigious government prize awarded for achievements in science and technology is Nishan-e-Imtiaz (or in English Order of Excellence). While Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, and Tamgha-e-Imtiaz occupies a unique role and importance in Pakistan's civil society. Atta-ur-Rahman is the only scientist of Pakistan to have won all these 4 Civil Awards.


In 1961, international achievements first recorded in 1961 when Pakistan became the third[clarification needed] Asian country and tenth[clarification needed] in the world when the Rehbar-I – a solid fuel expandable rocket— was launched from Sonmani Spaceport. The Rehbar-I was developed and launched under the leadership of Dr. W. J. M. Turowicz, a Polish-Pakistani scientist and then project director of this program. Since then, the program began taking flights which continued until the 1970s.

A major breakthrough occurred in 1979, when the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Abdus Salam, for formulating the electroweak theory – a theory that provides the basis of unification of weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force. In 1990, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) launched the first, and locally designed, communication satellite, Badr-1, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XLSC) of the People's Republic of China. With the launch, Pakistan became the first Muslim majority country to have developed an artificial robotic satellite, and was the second South Asian state to have launched its satellite, second to India.

One of the widely reported achievements was in 1998, when the country joined the nuclear club. In response to India's nuclear tests on 11 May and 13 May 1998, under codename Operation Shakti, in the long-constructed Pokhran Test Range (PTR). Under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) conducted five simultaneous tests at the Chagai Hills under codename Chagai-I on 28 May1998. PAEC carried out another test in the Kharan Desert, under Chagai-II, meaning it had tested six devices in under one week. With the testing of these atomic devices, Pakistan became the seventh nuclear power in the world, and the only Muslim-majority country to have mastered the technology. On 13 August 2011, SUPARCO launched its first indigenously developed geosynchronous satellite, Paksat-1R also from XLSC in China.

In 2006 Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman was elected as Fellow of Royal Society (London), thereby becoming the first scientist from the Muslim world to be so honoured in recognition of researches and contributions carried out within an Islamic country.[10] He has major contributions to the development of science and technology as Chairman Higher Education Commission during 2002–2008 which have resulted in a significant increase in research publications in Pakistan from only about 800 research papers in Impact Factor journals in 2002 to over 11,000 publications in 2016 the quality of which has been recognised by ThomsonReuters.[23] The International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences at University of Karachi which has developed as a leading research centre in the region under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman was designated as a UNESCO Centre of Excellence in 2016.[29] Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman was awarded the high Civil Award of the Government of Austria (the 'Grosses goldenes Ehrenzeichen am Bande') in 2007 in recognition for his contributions for uplifting science in Pakistan,[30] and the Government of China also honoured him with the highest Award for Foreigners (Friendship Award) in recognition of his eminent contributions.[31] The largest university of Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara, established a Research Centre entitled " Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman Research Institute of natural Product Discovery" to honour this great Muslim scientist for uplifting science in Pakistan and in the Muslim world in his capacity as Coordinator General COMSTECH, a Ministerial Committee comprising 57 Ministers of Science and Technology of the 57 OIC member countries.[32][33] More recently, the leading Chinese University on Traditional Medicine in Changsha, Hunan has also decided to neame a research institute in honour of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS, in recognition of his eminent contributions to uplift science in Pakistan and to establish strong linkages with China.[34]

In 2017, a Chinese study published in Scientometrics (journal) revealed that Pakistan's research growth rate and time required to double the number of publications is superior than that of USA, China and India.[35]

In another landmark study undertaken by Thomson Reuters, highlighting the impact of the reforms introduced by Atta-ur-Rahman, it was revealed that the rate of growth of highly cited papers from Pakistan in a decade was even greater than that in Brazil, Russia, India or China[23]

Information technology[edit]

The rapid progress made by Pakistan in the IT and telecom sector during 2000–2002, under Professor Atta-ur-Rahman as Federal Minister, led to the spread of internet from 29 cities in the year 2000 to 1,000 cities, towns and villages by 2002, and the spread of fiber from 40 cities to 400 cities in this period. The first IT policy and implementation strategy was approved under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, then Federal Minister of Science & technology, in August 2000 which laid the foundations of the development of this sector[2] The internet prices were reduced sharply from $87,000 per month for a 2 MB line to only $3000 per month and later to $90 per month. The mobile telephony boom also occurred under the leadership of Atta-ur-Rahman, and it began by the drastic lowering of prices, bringing in of competition (Ufone) and changing the system so that the person receiving a call was no longer required to pay any charges. A satellite was placed in space (Paksat 1) at a cost of only $4 million. These changes in the IT infra-structure proved invaluable for the Higher education sector. Pakistan Educational Research Network was set up in 2004 through which one of the finest digital libraries was established in universities. In 2002, few university libraries could subscribe to a handful of journals. Today every student in every public sector university has free access to over 20,000 international journals with back volumes and over 60,000 books from 250 international publishers.[36] As of 2011, Pakistan has over 20 million internet users and is ranked as one of the top countries that have registered a high growth rate in internet penetration. Overall, it has the 15th largest population of internet users in the world. In the fiscal year 2012–2013, the Government of Pakistan aims to spend 4.6 billion rupees (Rs.) on information technology projects, with emphasis on e-government, human resource and infrastructure development.[37] Pakistan's information technology industry has gone through a dramatic change, and the country has taken the lead in adopting some technologies while also setting an example for others in global best practices.[citation needed] Matters relating to the IT industry are overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Information Technology of the Government of Pakistan. The IT industry is regarded as a successful sector of Pakistan economically, even during the financial crisis.[clarification needed] The Government of Pakistan has given numerous favors to IT investors in the country since the last decade, that resulted in the development of the IT sector. In the years 2003–2005 the country's IT exports saw a rise of about fifty percent and amounted a total of about US$48.5 million. The World Economic Forum, assessing the development of Information and Communication Technology in the country ranked Pakistan 102nd among 144 countries in the Global Information Technology report of 2012.[citation needed]

Golden age of science[edit]

The 1960s and the 1970s period is regarded as the initial rise of Pakistan's science, which gained an international reputation in the different science communities of the world.[38] During this period, scientists contributed to the fields of, particularly, Natural Product Chemistry, theoretical, particle, mathematical, and nuclear physics, and other major and sub fields of Chemistry and Physics.[38] The research was preceded by such scientista as Riazuddin, Ishfaq Ahmad, Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, Atta-ur-Rahman and Samar Mubarakmand. However the major growth in scientific output occurred after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission which was accompanied by a 60-fold increase in funding for science

The real growth of science in Pakistan occurred under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman during 2000–2008 when he was Federal Minister of Science & Technology and later Chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) with the status of Federal Minister. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education announced the first 6 years of HEC under Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as "Pakistan's golden period".[39] Thomson Reuters, in an independent assessment of Pakistan's progress in international publications, has acknowledged that in the last decade there has been a fourfold increase in international publications and a tenfold growth in highly cited papers, statistics that were better than the BRIC countries.[40]

The remarkable transformation of science and higher education under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as Federal Minister of Science & Technology and later as Chairman of Higher Education Commission with status of a Federal Minister during the period 2000–2008 was applauded by many independent experts and he was called a "force of nature" in a review published in Nature[11]

Dr. Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, was the father of physics research in Pakistan.[38] Under the watchful direction of Salam, mathematicians and physicists tackled the greatest and outstanding problems in physics and mathematics.[38] From 1960 to 1974, Salam was responsible for leading the research at its maximum point. This prompted the international recognition of Pakistani mathematicians and physicists, allowing them to conduct their research at CERN.[38] Salam and his students (Riazuddin, Fayyazuddin and others) revolutionized particle and theoretical physics, are thought to be modern pioneers of particle physics at all aspect of it. Pure research was undertaken in Quantum electrodynamics, Quantum field theory, protonic decay and major fields in physics, were pioneered by Pakistan's scientists. With the establishment of nuclear and neutron institutes in the country, Pakistan's mathematicians introduced complex mathematical applications to study and examine the behaviours of elements during the fission process. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, Atta-ur-Rahman and Iqbal Choudhary are the pioneering personalities for studying the isolation of unique chemical compounds from the Neem (Azadirachta indica), Rauwolfia, periwinkle ("Catharanthus roseus"), ("Buxus papillosa") and various other plants.

Higher education reforms[edit]

Reform 2002–2009[edit]

In 2002, the University Grants Commission was replaced by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which has an independent chairperson. The HEC was charged with reforming Pakistan's higher education system by introducing better financial incentives, increasing university enrolment and the number of PhD graduates, boosting foreign scholarships and research collaboration and providing all the major universities with state-of-the-art ICT facilities.[26]

In a series of reforms in 2002, the HEC instituted major upgrades for scientific laboratories, rehabilitating existing educational facilities, expanding research support and overseeing the development of one of the best digital libraries in the region. Seeking to meeting international standards, a quality assurance and accreditation process was also established. Some ~95% of students sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country, in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities as well as bonding and strict follow-up by the commission, Fulbright and others. Within a limited timespan, the HEC provided all universities with free, high-speed Internet access to scientific literature, an upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country and a programme for the creation of new universities of science and technology, including science parks which attracted foreign investors.

International praise for these reforms[edit]

Since the Higher Education Commission (HEC) reforms have been carried out in 2002, HEC has received praise from international higher education observers. Rahman, founding Chairman of HEC, has received a number of international awards for the transformation of the higher education sector under his leadership.[25] German academic, Dr. Wolfgang Voelter of Tübingen University in Germany over viewed the performance of HEC under the leadership of Rahman and described the reforms in HEC as "A miracle happened." After teaching and visiting in 15 universities of Pakistan, Voelter wrote that the "scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan has changed dramatically, as never before in the history of the country.[25] The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced the first 6 years of HEC under Rahman as "Pakistan's golden period in higher education".[39]

American academic Prof. Fred M. Hayward has also praised the reform process undertaken by Pakistan, admitting that "since 2002, a number of extraordinary changes have taken place."[41] Hayward pointed our that "over the last six years almost 4,000 scholars have participated in PhD programs in Pakistan in which more than 600 students have studied in foreign PhD programs'.[41]

The HEC's reforms were also applauded by the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) which reported that the "progress made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects."[42] The UNCSTD has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the conclusion that HEC's program initiated under the leadership of Rahman is a "best-practice" example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.".[42] According to an article published in the leading science journal Nature "Rahman's strong scientific background, enthusiasm for reform and impressive ability to secure cash made him a hit at home and abroad. "It really was an anomaly that we had a person of that stature with that kind of backing,----Atta-ur-Rahman was a force of nature[11]

Rahman has won four international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought in the HEC. Nature, a leading science journal, has also written a number of editorials and articles about the transformation brought about in Pakistan in the higher education sector under the HEC. In an article entitled "Pakistan Threat to Indian Science" published in the leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, India, it has been reported that Professor C. N. R. Rao, Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister at the rapid progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector under the leadership of Rahman, Chairman, Higher Education Commission. It was reported that as a result of the reforms, "Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science". "Science is a lucrative profession in Pakistan. It has tripled the salaries of its scientists in the last few years."[43]

Decentralizing the governance of higher education[edit]

In 2011–2012, the HEC found itself on the brink of dissolution in the face of the 18th amendment to the Constitution, which devolved several governance functions to provincial governments, including that of higher education. It was only after the Supreme Court intervened in April 2011, in response to a petition from the former Chair of the HEC, that the commission was spared from being divided up among the four Provinces of Baluchistan, Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.[26]

Notwithstanding this, the HEC's developmental budget – that spent on scholarships and faculty training, etc. – was slashed by 37.8% in 2011–2012, from a peak of R. 22.5 billion (circa US$0.22 billion) in 2009–2010 to Rs 14 billion (circa US$0.14 billion). The higher education sector continues to face an uncertain future, despite the marginal increase in developmental spending wrought by the new administration in Islamabad: Rs. 18.5 billion (circa US$0.18 billion) in the 2013–2014 budget. According to HEC statistics, the organization's budget as a percentage of national GDP has consistently fallen from the 2006–2007 peak of 0.33% to 0.19% in 2011–2012.[26]

In defiance of the Supreme Court ruling of April 2011, the provincial assembly of Sindh Province passed the unprecedented Sindh Higher Commission Act in 2013 creating Pakistan's first provincial higher education commission. In October 2014, Punjab Province followed suit as part of a massive restructuring of its own higher education system.[26]

Effect of reforms on student numbers and academic output[edit]

Despite the turbulence caused by the legal battle being waged since the 2011 constitutional amendment discussed above, the number of degree-awarding institutions continues to grow throughout the country, both in the private and public sectors. University student rolls have continued to rise, from 0.28 million in 2001 to 0.47 million in 2005 and more than 1.2 million in 2014. Just under half of universities are privately owned.[26]

Between 2002 and 2009, the HEC increased the number of PhD graduates to 6 000 per year and in provided up to 11 000 scholarships for study abroad. The number of Pakistani publications recorded in Thomson Reuter's Web of Science (Science Citation Index Expanded) leapt from 714 to 3 614 over the same period then to 6778 by 2014. This progress in scientific productivity appears to be due to the momentum generated by the larger numbers of faculty and student scholarships for study abroad, as well as the swelling ranks of PhD graduates. Critics argue that the rapid, massive increase in numbers has compromised quality, a claim supported by the stagnation of Pakistani universities in global education rankings by 2009.[26][44]


Pakistan has been known internationally for some of its major achievements in science and technology such as successful development of media and military technologies and a growing base of doctors and engineers, as well as its new influx of software engineers who have been actively contributing to Pakistan's potential in the Information Technology industry. Due to present situation in Pakistan, around 3,000 Pakistani doctors emigrate to Western economies in search of suitable employment opportunities and hence contribute intellectually to the health sector of developed countries and at the same time leaving the effects of a brain drain in Pakistan.[citation needed]

Despite some progressive scientific achievements, Pervez Hoodbhoy published a report on scientific output in Pakistan in which he pointed out that research and scientific activities are significantly lower than many other developing countries[45] Hoodbhoy cites that Pakistan has produces fewer papers than neighboring India.[46] The contentions of Hoodbhoy have been strongly refuted by neutral international experts who have praised the tremendous increase in research output from Pakistan after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in 2002,.[23][47][48] In a report published by Thomson Reuters in 2016, it has been concluded that the rate of increase of highly cited papers in international journals from Pakistan is higher than that from Brazil, Russia, India or China.[23] Also, in November 2017, a Chinese study published in Scientometrics (journal) revealed that Pakistan's research growth rate and time required to double the number of publications is superior than that of USA, China and India.[35]

Science community of Pakistan[edit]

See also[edit]


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