Why Pakistani universities lagging behind in research?


By Khalid Khattak

Over the years there’s been much discussion on research being done by Pakistani universities and as to why these higher education institutions fail to find place among top ranking universities of the world.

However, somehow, most of the time this discussion, particularly at public level, remained devoid of any tangible benchmark leaving everyone clueless to figure out where do we actually stand in the realm of (quality of) research. The quality of research, though, is not the only parameter to measure performance of a university yet this is at the core of this process globally.

In this context the recent and the country’s first ever Quality Research Ranking (QRR) of Pakistani universities by the Information Technology University’s Scientometrics Lab has certainly ignited the discussion, rather debate, afresh—but this time contextually.

In its ranking of Pakistani universities, announced in February, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) ranked the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad on top of the list with full 100 score. The Commission ranked the universities on the basis quality assurance, teaching quality, research, finance and facilities and social integration/ community development.

The QAU has again been ranked as top university of Pakistan by the ITU-QRR. However this ranking has also used score of some foreign universities in quality of research as a benchmark. University of California, Berkeley (UCB), USA has 100 score for quality of research. Among others the score of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is 97.58, Peking University, China 62.16 and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, India 25.17 etc. Sadly, the Quaid-i-Azam University’s score for its quality of research is only 6.25.



For the ITU-QRR the Scientometrics Lab has used 6-year time window i.e. 2009-2014 and according to its criteria an institute/university is considered research active if it has more than 40 publications in a given discipline. This ranking has two categories—Broad Institutions that are research active in more than 10 disciplines and Specialized Institutions—the ones which are research active between 4 to 10 disciplines. The QAU tops the Broad Institutions by Pakistan’s Aga Khan University tops the Specialized Institutions of the country with just 6.36 score!



‘Quality’ research…..Is Pakistan spending enough?

According to this article published in the Pakistan edition of MIT Technology Review, Pakistan spends only 0.2 percent of the GDP on higher education—a country of, presently, 177 public and private universities. “Since 2006, a total of 73 patents have been filed by Pakistani universities and so far only 22 have been issued.”

A comparison of research funding for Pakistani universities and University of California, Berkeley is eye-opener like the quality research ranking.

The UCB attracted USD 691.1 million in new research funding in fiscal year 2015 which according to current currency exchange rate this is equal to PKR 72 billion. On the other hand, Higher Education Commission has a meager PKR 2 billion for all the public and private universities/ higher education institutions (HEIs) of Pakistan through its National Research Program (NRP). The universities and HEIs also allocate funding out of recurring grants these receive from the HEC.

However, a background discussion with different Vice Chancellors (VCs) reveals that PKR 2 billion too is a ‘slightly’ exaggerated figure. Also, according to their rough estimates the total funding available with all the Pakistani universities for research wouldn’t be more than PKR 6 to 8 billion. “Even the Middle East Technical University (METU) Turkey, has more funding (roughly PKR 10 billion) than the entire Pakistani universities”, says a VC.

On top of it the UCB on its faculty has as many as 7 Nobel laureates while Pakistan had only one Nobel laureate—late Abdus Salam, who won Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.

Main photo: Telegraph