Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talking about engineering

Three views from Europe

Some two thousand years ago, the Greek had contradictory opinions on 'practical production' (a term similar to modern engineering). Some Greeks commented that practical production is the work of foreigners and of slaves, i.e. a work below the standards of a normal Greek. On the other hand, philosophers like Plato remarked engineering as the "power which save cities from destruction", while Paracelsus interpreted engineering as a cooperation with God in completing the work of the Universe.
Ninety years ago, Herbert Hoover was on a journey from London to United States. Hoover was making this journey to convince Oxford and Cambridge to consider engineering an education on par with social sciences. 

Herbert Hoover shares an interesting tale about his chat with a lady, having an evanescent beauty, while they both were travelling back to New York. The two chatted on philosophy, politics, art, industry, history, et cetera.

When they arrived at the New York harbour, the lady asked Hoover about his profession:

"I'm an engineer", replied Hoover.

"Why! I thought you were a gentleman", the lady involuntary remarked.
In today's world engineering is, as Hardy Cross states, "the glory of adaptation of science to human needs". Ramo's comment on engineering is much more prophetic. He says," Technology will be the key factor in the future nature of society and that engineering pervades the government, the military, the home, the life of every individual."

These opinions on engineering tell about three different times in European history. Emphasis on the importance of engineering is sporadic in the European and American peninsulas. United States recognized the importance of engineering long before the British. The Europeans were busy studying literature and classics produced during the Renaissance and Romanticism eras.

Engineering in Pakistan

Now let's come to Pakistan. Why hasn't engineering developed on the same lines as that in Europe and United States?

Firstly, Pakistani society hasn't benefited from the European intellectual projects, e.g. Renaissance and French Revolution. Societal, feudal, traditional, and cultural restrictions encapsulate and hinder in the natural development of thoughts. There are multiple layers of ethos and taboos which remain unquestioned. It is a near miracle to develop an inquisitive mind in such an atmosphere. Many analogies can be made between the modern day feudal society in Pakistan and that of Europe. Europe got rid of feudalism in the 18th century, while we have a vibrant feudal class even today. 

Secondly, there are also many economical reasons for the underdevelopment of engineering. In Pakistan — like in any other society — it is economy which dictates professional priorities. The former generation of Pakistanis mostly focused on government jobs as it guaranteed a secure and fix supply of monthly income. Entrepreneurship was never popularised, hence student chose professions which were historically 'popular' in Pakistan, i.e. engineering and medicine. It was assumed that a doctor will always have patients while construction and development is impossible without an engineer. These assumption were based on strong historical facts, hence the rational decision was to opt one of these two disciplines. This is the point where this assumption starts to break down.

According to simple economics, when there is large supply of a product and a short demand, the product starts to lose its value. The assumption that engineering and medicine are the most secure professions generates a thrust to produce more engineers and doctor. This, henceforth, decreases the value of engineers and doctor. Thanks to degraded health conditions in Pakistan, doctors always have a large supply of patients. This balanced their economy. 

On the other hand, due to low economic growth, two phases of war (1980-1990 and 2001- ongoing), low FDI (foreign direct investment), corruption, reduced PSDP (public sector development program) funds to feed military, lack of security, and deteriorating infrastructure, making progress in Pakistan was like making castles in Spain. As the supply of engineers is continuously increasing, the demand is reducing reciprocally resulting in the devaluation of engineering in Pakistan. 

A linear increase in engineering demand only allows capitalism to prosper. In the last fifteen to twenty years a plethora of new engineering schools have come on the screen. These schools try to maximize there profits in the name of providing 'quality' education. In short, this is a capitalistic swindle.

Advertisements of such engineering schools can be compared with mobile phone advertisements. Just like companies have ISO certifications, these universities have W, X, Z certifications, accreditation, charters, and a dozen of abstruse symbols which make these advertisements colourful and attractive. 

A major point of distinction is that ISO is an international measure, while university certification is done by a Pakistani panel. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, it is difficult to cancel out the personal biases of the panel, corruption, and external forces that pressurize such panels doing their job. As a result, a reliable examination never takes place.

Similar to a mobile phone billboards, these institutes try to jot down their 'special feature' in a tabular form. Features such as, for example, centrally air-conditioned building; secretive scholarship funds; number of computers installed; and purpose made architecture. Isn't this phenomenon just like mobile advertisements highlighting an extra torch, Bluetooth connectivity, and a MP3 player?

Amazingly, they don't write down their fee structure just like mobile companies don't mention their prices. This is again a capitalistic decision, because a consumer will try to get the best mobile phone for the lowest price.

In future - following mobile companies - these capitalistic institutes might sell admission tickets in concerts. This might be an excellent publicity campaign, attracting thousands of new customers.

Solving this capitalistic swindle

In my view, there are four ways to solve this problem:

Firstly, there should a greater emphasis on humanities. There are many fields completely missing, e.g. anthropology, social linguistics, art history, ancient South Asian languages. These fields will allow in discovering the sub-continental history, culture and art. It will also develop thousands of new jobs and research endeavours which will help in emancipating human intellect. As students will opt for these jobs, there will be a decrease in the demand of engineers. This will result in reducing profits of all capitalistic educational ventures, and the most greediest capitalist won't be able to survive. 

Secondly, parents should allow children to independently choose their fields. Presently, we are passing through a period in which students have gain a degree of freedom over the generation before them. The urge for a government job has reduced, and entrepreneurship is being appreciated. This will take time to develop.  A 6% growth rate might accelerate entrepreneur activities in Pakistan.

Thirdly, only international panels should be allowed to grade these engineering schools. These accreditations would be more reliable and comparable with the modern world. 

Lastly, all capital making ventures should be converted into syndicates through nationalization of higher education. Apparently, this might seem as a move towards socialism and centralized planning, but this step will help in producing engineers in accordance with the national needs. Such an action isn't a peculiarity in history. Last year, president Obama funded the American Insurance Corporation. Apparently, it was against the spirit of a free-market economy, but at the end of the day, funding AIG led United States out of the financial meltdown. Temporary nationalization will also have such an effect on higher education.


  1. Interview Request

    Hello Dear and Respected,
    I hope you are fine and carrying on the great work you have been doing at your blog. I am Amna Gilani from The Pakistani Spectator (TPS), We at TPS throw a candid look on everything happening in and for Pakistan in the world. We are trying to contribute our humble share in the webosphere. Our aim is to foster peace, progress and harmony with passion.

    We would like to interview you for our website to facilitate the bloggers and other aspirants for blogging. Please send us your approval for your interview in your reply to this email, so that I could send you the Interview questions. We would be extremely honored.

    best regards.

    Amna Gilani
    Media Manager TPS,

    1. Thank you for your appreciation. I look forward to the interview.