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Pakistan: Knowledge city mirage

EducationWorld January 2021 | International News
Pak Knowledge City: widespread scepticism. Inset: Imran Khan

Pak Knowledge City: widespread scepticism. Inset: Imran Khan

Experts are sceptical of the merits and feasibility of the Pakistan government’s plan to create a new ‘knowledge city’. Prime minister Imran Khan tweeted that it was his “dream to build Pakistan’s first knowledge city”, after launching the first phase of the project last October. It will be developed around the Namal Institute, which was established in 2008 and began as an affiliate college of the UK’s Bradford University where Khan was then chancellor.

The plan is for the institute, located in rural Punjab, to evolve into the largest university town of Pakistan, with several academic centres, libraries and technology parks, as well as schools, shopping centres and hotels. Major construction work is expected to be complete by 2027, but the target is 800 students and 50 faculty members in the ‘city’ by 2023.

Mehvish Riaz, assistant professor at the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, says the knowledge city “could transform the education, economy and technology sectors” in Pakistan, but there are more pressing higher education issues the country should focus on. “Considering the situation prevailing in existing universities that are facing budgetary cuts for research, salaries and other purposes, I don’t think starting a mega project like the new knowledge city is practical,” says Riaz who believes “it would be wiser to transform and upgrade existing schools, colleges and universities and provide much-needed facilities there before starting this mega project.”

Pervez Hoodbhoy, Zohra and ZZ Ahmed Foundation distinguished professor in mathematics and physics at Lahore’s Forman Christian College, says the “trademark of past governments… has been to excitedly announce new science cities, technology parks, software hubs and centres of excellence” but none of them have ultimately delivered. “Our planners have no clue of how critically deficient Pakistan is in terms of high-level professors and researchers,” he adds.

(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education and The Economist)

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