PAKISTAN: Changing landscape of higher educatin

S. Arunachalam

University World News 31 August 2008

Ever since Pakistan came into being 61 years ago, the country has been going through turbulent times. But the past six years have seen a remarkable change in the landscape of higher education, a silent revolution as a World Bank report refers to it, largely thanks to the six-year old Higher Education Commission and its extraordinarily capable chairman Professor Atta-ur-Rahman, an internationally renowned organic chemist. Rahman’s goal is to democratise quality education without diluting excellence.

Speaking at a meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy, recently, Rahman noted that:

* Research funding had increased by 2,400% in the past five years, bringing the total amount of public funding for research to more than US$1 billion.

* There had been a 20-fold increase in the budget for higher education over the past seven years.

* Performance determines pay: Pakistan’s new tenure track system allows salaries up to $5,000 a month for really productive professors with evaluation by a committee of international experts working in the best universities.

* Maximum tax payable by academics is 5%, and a 75% tax waiver exists for university professors that allows them to keep much of their salaries.

* More than 500 scientists and professors have come from abroad to work in Pakistan; although many are Pakistanis, several are foreigners attracted by good salaries and other reasons.

* Twenty centralised laboratories provide analytical testing services to all researchers.

* The Higher Education Commission’s $1 billion foreign scholarship programme helps about 2,000 students each year attend foreign universities for higher studies.

* Between 2006 and 2010, more than 600 Pakistani students will have enrolled in masters and doctoral programmes in American universities as Fulbright scholars while 500 will go to Australia.

* PhD enrolment in Pakistani universities increased to 8,000. In the past five years as 56 new universities were set up, enrolments grew by 130%. PhD output doubled from 300 a year to 600, and is expected to double in the next four years.

* Full advantage is taken of developments in information technology to stimulate learning and creativity. The Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN), a broadband fibre-optic network of 310 Mbps total bandwidth, currently links 97 universities and provides a platform for nation-wide data exchange and digital library service. PERN is now connected to the US as well to facilitate research collaboration.

* Students and faculty have access to more than 23,000 journals, and they downloaded more than 1.2 million articles in 2006. More than 40,000 textbooks and monographs published by 220 publishers are available as e-books.

* A mirror site facilitates access to the open courseware of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

* HEC has forged partnerships with reputed universities in Asia and Europe to set up campuses in Pakistan. Partners will come from Austria, China, France, Germany and Italy in the first phase. Japan, South Korea and Sweden will join later.

The Web of Science reveals that Rahman’s efforts have paid rich dividends. There has been a rapid rise in the number of papers published by Pakistani researchers in journals indexed in the Web of Science in the last few years. In 1999, Pakistan published more than 600 papers in a year for the first time. The number rose to 785 in 2002, 1,279 in 2005 and 2,457 in 2007.

Most of the papers are published in Pakistani journals and although a small number appear in overseas journals the number is increasing. Chemistry and plant science appear to be the dominant areas of research.

Social sciences seem to be lagging far behind. But, says Dr Sohail Naqvi, Executive Director of the HEC, efforts are afoot to secure 1,500 fellowships for social science students and researchers to go to foreign universities for higher studies.

The pace of progress is likely to fall this year. There is a ban on recruitment of staff although the rise in student admissions continues. A budget crunch means that of the total education budget of $3.4 billion, only $376 million, or 13%, is allocated to higher education compared with an international norm of 25%.

Addressing Pakistan’s vice chancellors, Rahman urged them to raise funds from sources other than the government, including sources outside Pakistan.

ASIA: Increase in exchange of scientists

S. Arunachalam

University World News, 20 July 2008

The Japanese government has drawn up a plan to promote exchanges of scientists and joint research among 16 Asian countries to boost the level of the region’s science and technology to that of the United States and Europe. The plan, proposed by Fumio Kishida, state minister in charge of science and technology policy, comes at a time when China and India are witnessing remarkable advances in both the economy and scientific research.

The plan will include the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six others: Japan, Australia, China, India, New Zealand and South Korea, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The plan envisages the creation of a unified database of scientists and researchers at universities and research bodies in the 16 countries. The database will help identify appropriate researchers for the planned collaborative projects. Databases on research projects carried out in the region and intellectual properties developed through the projects are also planned.

Although each of the 16 countries has its own database of domestic researchers, the databases are not interoperable. China, Indonesia and Cambodia operate their databases only in their own languages, and items listed in the databases cannot easily be cross-referenced. This has hindered the active exchange of scientists in the region.

Asia has great scientific and technological potential. There are about 1.8 million researchers in the 16 countries, compared with 1.4 million in the USA and 1.2 million in the European Union. Currently, international collaboration among the16 countries at best can be called modest as seen from the table below:

Only about 5% of the more than 35,000 papers from India and about 6% of the 97,500 papers from China in 2007, for example, have resulted from collaboration with five other leading countries of the region.

Mere number of researchers or papers is not a good indicator. What matters is how productive the scientists are and what impact their work has on science, industry and the economy. On these criteria, Asia has some way to go before it can challenge America and Europe.

The envisioned plan aims at strengthening Asia’s international competitiveness, under Japan’s initiative, as the third scientific and technological power after the United States and EU.

CHINA-INDIA: Scientists forge closer ties

S. Arunachalam

University World News, 14 September 2008

Indian and Chinese scientists are increasingly working together but it might take a few years before it becomes significant or sets the pace for South-South scientific collaboration. Until 2003, only a small percentage – around three-fourths of one per cent – of Indian papers were written in collaboration with Chinese authors, according to a report of a study published by Chennai-based Subbiah Arunachalam and IIT-Madras’ B Viswanathan.

Published in Current Science, a prominent Indian science publication, the study says that from 2004 onwards there has been a slow but perceptible rise in collaboration.

“International collaboration in scientific research is on the rise… The two great civilisations (of China and India) have learnt from each other for many centuries since the days of the Buddha and have had cultural and trade relations long before the well-documented travels in India by Fahian and Xuanzang,” note the authors.

But the past 50 years have seen the two Asian neighbours go through some border disputes and an uneasy peace. Yet, with doors open for improving ties, bilateral trade between the two countries has spurted in recent years.

In the study, South-South Cooperation: The case of Indo-Chinese collaboration in scientific research, Arunachalam and Viswanathan note that until a little over a decade ago, scientists in India were publishing a larger number of papers than those in China in journals indexed by the global Science Citation Index.

In 1997, China overtook India when Chinese scientists published 17,177 papers in SCI-indexed journals, as against 16,909 papers published by Indian scientists. Since then, China has accelerated the pace of R&D, and in 2007, China accounted for more than 2.76 times the number of papers from India, note the authors.

They found that in eight years from 2000, researchers from India and China have co-authored 1,807 papers. Of these, 1,682 were articles, 45 were reviews, 18 were letters, 36 were meeting abstracts and 26 concerned other issues.

“The number of Indo-Chinese papers has steadily increased over these eight years (from 124 in 2000 to 361 in 2007),” says the study.

Physics was found to be the most prominent area of India-China collaboration. Way behind came medicine. Multidisciplinary physics, physics of particles and fields, astronomy and astrophysics, nuclear physics and applied physics top the list with 468, 189, 181, 83 and 59 papers respectively
In many cases, India and China collaborated with partners from other countries, especially in areas like experimental high physics.

Other prominent nations on the global research scene considered collaboration with China to a much larger extent than with India, said the study. It noted that the ratio of preferring China over India for different countries was 4.2 for Japan, 3.52 for the US, 2.42 for South Korea, 2.30 for Russia and 1.95 for France.

How do journals on the periphery compare with mainstream scientific journals?

S. Arunachalam and K. Manorama

Scientometrics Volume 14, Numbers 1-2 / July, 1988

Based on the premise that citations in scientific journals can tell us a lot about the journals, we have compared Indian journals in the fields of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geology and ecology with leading world journals. The two criteria compared are the age of references and the journals often cited in each of the journals considered. Our results show that although overall Indian science is mediocre, parts of India’s scientific enterprise are cognitively better related to world science. The peripherality is not uniform across the board, but some areas like astronomy and to some extent physics are closer to the central or mainstream science than others. Although citation analysis is not normally used for cross-field comparisons, this paper demonstrates that, if used judiciously, citation analysis can yield valuable insights into issues involving many fields.

How relevant is medical research done in India? – A study based on Medline

S. Arunachalam

Current Science Volume 72, Issue 12, 25 June 1997, Pages 912-922

Does India perform medical research in areas where it is most needed? According to Government of India sources, India suffers mainly from diarrhoeal diseases, infancy diseases, respiratory diseases, tuberculosis and malaria. An analysis of journal use as seen from seven years of Medline reveals that Indian researchers are active in general and internal medicine, paediatrics, pharmacology, immunology, pathology, oncology, surgery, cardiovascular research, gastroenterology and neurosciences. Apart from analysing the reasons for the mismatch, this study provides inventories of the amount and nature of available expertise and its institutional and geographic distribution.

Science in India – A profile based on India’s publications as covered by Science Citation Index 1989-1992

S. Arunachalam, R. Srinivansan and Vidhyalakshmi Raman

Current Science Volume 74, Issue 5, 10 March 1998, Pages 433-441

With a view to mapping scientific research in India, we have analysed papers originating in India and indexed in the CD-ROM version of Science Citation Index (SCI) in the four years 1989-1992 With more than 10,000 papers in each year (more than 42,000 papers in about 2,300 journals indexed in SCI in the four years), India is the twelfth largest publishing nation, down from eighth in 1980. Italy, the Netherlands, Australia and Spain have published more papers than India in journals indexed in SCI in 1992. Chemistry and physics account for the bulk of the papers, followed by engineering and clinical medicine. India’s contribution to areas such as classical biology and agriculture is not properly reflected in SCI, as many journals in which Indian scientists publish are not covered by SCI. Although most Indian papers appear in low impact journals, the number of papers appearing in leading journals of the world especially in the areas of physics, chemistry and materials science is increasing, even if only marginally. Also, the number of papers appearing in foreign journals as a whole as well as the average impact factor of journals in which Indian scientists have published their work, is increasing, reflecting the increasing awareness among Indian scientists for the need to publish in high-impact journals. While the slide from the eighth to the twelfth position – from 2.8% of the world literature to about 2.0% – should be of concern, the increasing use of high impact journals is a welcome trend. In this macrolevel analysis we have looked at India as a whole and have not attempted to analyse the data at lesser levels of aggregation.

Use of SCI-based publication counts

S. Arunachalam


Recently Karandikar and Sunder 1 and Pichappan 2 have expressed some misgivings about the use of Science Citation Index-based publication counts. I would, however, like to argue that the stand that the total number of papers published from a country should not be used as a science indicator is extreme. There is, I think, a strong risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.