An Oft-neglected Domain
Research is an all-time métier of Dr Zahid Yousaf, an Associate Professor and Head Center for Media and Communication Studies, University of Gujrat. His deep devotion for, and resolute commitment to, promoting research is vividly evident in the launch of, in a very short span of time, MPhil and PhD classes at the Centre, and a growing number of research scholars graduating therefrom. But, even an academic of as high calibre as Dr Yousaf, who has a vast, firsthand experience, laments that no proper research culture has been fostered in Pakistan to date. He rues the fact that most scholars bother doing research only to complete the formality of acquiring a degree. This trend has taken a heavy toll on the quality of research that, unfortunately, is still a distant dream in Pakistan. He further deplores that once these so-called scholars get a degree, they abandon this domain and prefer not to stay engaged with research. This affects quantity, we are paying the price of which in the form of embarrassingly low number of research publications from Pakistan. And, this is the reason why their researches have not bore any substantial fruit as we have not been able to reap any dividends in terms of the betterment and development of our society.
What Dr Yousaf has pointed at is a bitter yet an undeniable truth which is no less than a tragedy for us. The vices like lethargy and slackness have permeated our county’s research sector to such an extent that teachers as well as students hardly bother to work hard and put in strenuous efforts in that domain. Resultantly, the practice of cut-paste has become rampant, and it is done so skilfully that sometimes it is impossible to differentiate the original text from the copied one. Plagiarism-detection software and tools are outsmarted so aptly that one’s head spins. And, all this is done because a would-be scholar only wants a degree; to hell with learning and knowledge. Likewise, many of those assigned the task of supervising research hardly care to train students for that; rather, they just order them to do research. But, how? They don’t give a damn to that. Students are left in the lurch as if they would learn to fly by themselves. And, it hardly needs any mentions as to how good their performance has been. But, realistically speaking, neither the students nor the teachers are the real culprits. When you ask students, they bring out so many flaws and lacunae that you start believing that they are right. Similar is the case with teachers. Then, who is the real culprit? How the situation can be ameliorated? These questions themselves warrant a serious research. In our country, research, unfortunately, means only the acquisition of degree and pursuing personal development, but we are still not ready to accord any import to social research; so one can only hope and pray for a better future, as Iqbal said, “Pewasta Reh Shajar Se, Umeed-e-Bahar Rakh” (Remain attached to the tree and have spring’s expectation!)
The assertions made above are not hearsay; rather they are based on our country’s performance in research sector. Let’s have a cursory look at the research output of our country.
According to International Association of Universities’ “Worldwide Database of Higher Education Institutions, Systems and Credentials,” Pakistan is the world’s 20th largest country in terms of number of universities. But, isn’t it an irony that, with a number of 16,897 research documents, in 2017, we constituted only 0.49 percent of the world’s total and 9.77 percent of that of South Asia? These figures published by SCImago, a research group of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain’s national research council) mirror our interest in enhancing the research output. SCImago evaluates 5,637 research institution worldwide and, on the basis of different scientific indicators, it ranks countries in terms of research institutions, research journals and research documents. On its index of published research documents, it has placed Pakistan at 39th position among 230 countries and territories. It is important to mention here that these documents are a great source of knowledge-sharing because promotion of research is directly linked to its publication. In this way, people get to know about the work being done in various fields. Just imagine that if Nobel laureates had not published their research work, who would have known about them. Likewise, it is also a great source of the networking of researchers as they keep on apprising others of their ideas and thoughts. Hence, they remain in touch with the community, and others also benefit from their thoughts.
Read More: The Flood of MPhils & PhDs in Pakistan
Similarly, on SCImago’s indicator of research performance, innovations and their impacts on society, Pakistan, with 35 research institutions, is at 29th place. No institution from Pakistan, which comprises 0.62 percent of the world and 10.7 percent of South Asia, could make it to top 600 institutions – the first Pakistani institution on the list is Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) that was at 621st place. The QAU was followed by COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) that got 630th position. Pakistan’s third institution on this list was National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) with 649th position. And, the last Pakistani institution to make it to this list was Islamia College Peshawar that was at 766th place.
In a knowledge economy, innovations and improvisations are considered the basis of proliferation of development and prosperity. Research journals have a key importance in this context because they are the biggest source of disseminating research outputs as they provide experts, researchers and students with a unique platform for knowledge-sharing. On this index, as many as 34,171 research journals have been included in SCImago’s Research Journals’ Ranking 2017 which evaluates the impact, influence or prestige, as well as the number of citations. The higher the position of a journal on this ranking, the higher its impact, influence or prestige! In this global ranking, 103 Pakistani journals have been included, placing the country on 33rd position worldwide. Although the country has a share of 0.30 percent in the world and 15.6 percent in South Asia, the first Pakistani journal on this list is Plant Pathology Journal that is at 7,616th position. It means no Pakistani journal is among the world’s top 7,600 journals. Second on this list is ‘Pakistan Journal of Statistics and Operation Research (11,281st position), the third is Pakistan Journal of Medical Science (11,494th position) while the last is Pakistan Journal of Pathology which was at 33,596th place.
Although our performance in the domain of research has not been satisfactory, yet it is encouraging that a significant improvement has been seen in the recent past. As per the data collected from SCImago website, the number of research documents published in Pakistan has risen from 902 to 16,897 (a whopping increase of 1,773 percent) during the period between 1996 and 2017. This progress has been particularly considerable since the establishment of Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) in 2002. This assertion is substantiated by the fact that between 1996 and 2002 (when HEC started functioning), this increase was only 69.6 percent while from that point to 2017, the increase was a tremendous 1,004 percent. Likewise, in 1999, only 10 research journals from Pakistan were included in world ranking and the number has soared to 103 – an increase of 930 percent during the said period and it too has risen significantly after the establishment of HEC. Similarly, the number of Pakistani institutes included in this ranking has increased from 11 to 35 – an increase of 218 percent – between 2009 and 2018.
The prioritization of research in a country can be gauged from the funds spent in this sector. According to UNESCO figures, an amount of 1.7 trillion dollars is spent worldwide on research. But, in Pakistan, this expenditure is only 0.24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to World Bank, and the country is at 79th position among 96 countries for which data was available. This situation is the principal cause why we still lag behind the world in this field. And, it is due to this paucity of funds that we cannot reach our destiny of innovations and inventions. A fair idea of this can be had from acquisition of patents by our researchers. A patent is a right that not only safeguards some idea or thought from being stolen and plagiarized but also ensures that the owner of that intellectual property has an exclusive right to reap economic and social dividends for him/herself.
As per the World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018, published by World Intellectual Property Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, only 193 Pakistanis applied for patents in 2017 and only 10 of them were granted. If we analyze the figures published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, which has been in existence since 1883, we find that it received 37 applications of Pakistanis for Utility Patent, 60th biggest number in the world, and 16 of them actually were awarded this patent, again 60th biggest number in the world.
It should be noted that research culminates into new forms of knowledge, new products and new procedures and research publication depict knowledge-sharing. If we aspire to have a respectable position in the global comity of nations, we will have to foster an environment that is conducive to research. Boosting the quantity and quality of research from a creative viewpoint is also of critical import in this regard.