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Army-run NUST shows Pakistan the way forward

COLUMN-ENG-05-09-2020

A public research university under the administration of Pakistan’s Armed Forces, the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), with its main campus in Islamabad, was founded in 1991. It was formed initially to combine the engineering colleges and schools for the commissioned officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces. But later, it was converted into a public research university to promote science and technology. Today, NUST is a comprehensive civil-military collaboration platform comprising 19 constituent institutions (including five military colleges) spread over seven campuses across five cities of Pakistan – Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Risalpur, Karachi and Quetta, a truly national university across all four provinces of the country.

NUST adopted an American university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied sciences and engineering. The university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, including doctoral and professional degrees. 

From a wilderness at the fringes of Islamabad, the main campus is situated in sector H-12,a tailor-made amalgam of nature and nurture – housing a plethora of faculties, state-of-the-art research facilities and platforms inspiring innovation & entrepreneurship, and offering a serene and conducive learning environment, complemented by an all-inclusive campus life.

Merit is the only criterion for admission at NUST, the acceptance rate of 4% tells about the high number of applicants this university can chose its students from, a pool of most talented young people from across the country. More than 60% of the student intake come from the lower and lower-middle income groups. NUST maintains an affordable fee structure to promote inclusivity, and also has a robust need-based scholarship programme to support financially challenged students. Young people from the lower income strata often face difficulties when seeking admission in higher educational institutions. Providing Equal opportunity allows NUST to help bridge the social gap dividing the society.

Consider the growing number of female students who are earning degrees in technical and science programs: Engineering is still a male-dominant professional world, even in the West. Female candidates are few, considering engineering be a tough and demanding field. There is a myth that strength is only for males and that girls can’t handle the practical side of engineering. But the fact is that the differences that exist are learned as a result of what society deems males and females should be doing /or do. These social constructs are deeply disturbing but we should concentrate on the passion and abilities of the person in question. 

These barriers have been overcome by a growing number of exceptional women studying engineering at the NUST Pakistan Navy Engineering College (PNEC) in the heart of Karachi, and other divisions of the diverse institutes of NUST. By giving bright girls and young women a chance to develop technical and science skills, NUST serves the socio-economic needs of Pakistan and the UN Sustainable Development Goals to which this university subscribes.

Normally, girls are in a minority in engineering classes. It is usual for them to feel out of place and they face tough time settling in. However, a growing number has already succeeded and will succeed in the future.

Over the years, the quality of education and research at NUST has grown which is manifest in the quality of its undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in a range of disciplines. All the 19 engineering programmes are accredited under the Washington Accord. New institutions are added to the profile. Out of the four National Centres of Excellence established by the Government of Pakistan in leading higher educational institutions of Pakistan, two were awarded, after an open and rigorous competition, to NUST. Those are the National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (NCAI) and the National Centre of Probiotics & Automation (NCRA) which will contribute to Pakistan’s march into the 21st century.

Education and research in NUST is connected to the needs of Pakistan’s industries. NUST has produced Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) with 711 patents filed and 123 awarded (more than 80% of these in the last two years). In addition to this, NUST also happens to be the only higher educational institution in Pakistan to have transferred technology to the industry. In the past three years alone, 13 technologies have been transferred to respective industries. Accounting for a total of 36 Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), these technologies have led to import substitutions and industrial innovations across multiple fields like health, telecommunication, manufacturing, etc. The transfer of intellectual work from universities to industry forms the basis of a knowledge-driven economy.

Amongst the numerous firsts ascribed to NUST is the inauguration of Pakistan’s first Science & Technology Park – the National Science & Technology Park (NSTP) at NUST’s Islamabad campus, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in December 2019, essentially brought together industry and academia to work in close synergy to create a national research and innovation ecosystem, adding value to the technological index of Pakistan. International companies have already joined the innovation ecosystem as tenants. 

There are many pioneering initiatives to its credit – like Pakistani academia’s first Technology Incubation Centre (established in 2005 and renamed to TechOne in 2019) to promote entrepreneurship; the first Intellectual Property Office to protect innovation; the first-ever technology transfers to the local industry to fuel indigenisation and high-tech manufacturing; the first university-based think tank (NUST Institute of Policy Studies – NIPS); the first production facility for cardiac stents and other medical devices at a fraction of cost of the imported devices, and much more. NUST is well-poised to become a regional hub of higher education and innovation. 

During the trying time of the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists at the NUST Atta-ur-Rahman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB) has indigenously established robust, target-sensitive and cost-effective Molecular Diagnostic Assays for the detection of Novel Coronavirus. Considering that COVID-19 may prolong or recur in future, these indigenously developed cost-effective kits named N-CovKit, will, Insha Allah, give boost to efforts for the detection of the virus in minimum time.

 Scientists at the NUST College of Electrical & Mechanical Engineering (CEME) have also indigenously developed unmanned ground vehicles named N-Rover, and assembled and deployed aerial systems named Aero-N for decontamination of open and closed spaces. These systems fight the virus’s outbreak by disinfecting critically important surroundings and locations like Indoor & outdoor quarantine camps, hospital wards, airports, residential neighbourhoods and other public places. 

The Robot Design & Development (RDD) Lab at the National Centre of Robotics & Automation (NCRA) housed at NUST CEME, has developed a bilingual (Urdu and English) screening app, which is the world’s first Urdu app for Android. The app, named COVIDCHECK PAKISTAN, was used for 8200 screenings in 9 different countries (including US, UK, UAE and Saudi Arabia) within the first 2 days of its beta rollout on March 23, 2020. And last but not least, since only alcohol-based hand sanitizers with minimum additives are effective against the Coronavirus, NUST biomedical engineers have developed N-Safe – high-quality hand sanitizers for microbial control, made according to the latest guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), USA. 

Expertise from a wide variety of sources from within/outside the country in order to boost its academic and research activities helps NUST create a deeper impact on the world of science and technology. For that purpose, the University collaborates with leading international universities, professional/ research organizations, commercial ventures, talented professionals and scholars to pursue its academic and research goals. It has developed linkages with as many as 165 international universities and organizations of 35 different countries, among them multiple institutions of China, France, Germany, South Korea, Turkey and others. It runs multiple exchange programs for undergraduate and graduate students and offers access to scholarship programs for China, Germany, France and others. By taking advantage of the international connections and study opportunities NUST students broaden their experience and establish ties with young colleagues abroad and present the best part of Pakistan in the international arena.

“NUST has not only retained its No. 1 position in Pakistan in the discipline of Engineering and Technology but also moved up 61 positions since last year, becoming the only Pakistani university in the top 300 world universities in Engineering and Technology, as per Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Subject Rankings 2020 released the other day”, said a press release. 

The rather recently founded School of Social Sciences and Humanities (S3H) despite being a fairly new school, has within a short period of time, reached close-to-the-top position in Pakistan. The achievements of NUST must be replicated in other universities of our country. 

For me NUST has a personal connection, that of my unit 4 Sindh. Before he retired, Lt Gen (Retd) Naweed Zaman, HI (M), the Rector of NUST was Corps Commander, Lahore. He is the brother-in-law of Brig Moin (Shaheed) assassinated by terrorists presently in Islamabad in 2010 near Golra, very close to the NUST campus. Very much like Brig (Retd) Mujhahid Alam, presently Principal of Lawrence College, Ghoragali, the late Moin was very much COAS material. He took 4 Sindh, already a formidable infantry unit, to new heights of professionalism and excellence. SARMAST remains “Second to None”. My pride extends to Naweed, an outstanding soldier who in is his second career has excelled not only in providing education par excellence through NUST but is showing us how education can be organised to cope and adjust to the demands of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”: He is a credit to the officers corps of the Pakistan Army. 

Pakistan can only progress on the bedrock of modern concepts and standards of education. NUST has been instrumental in achieving that. For sheer excellence, NUST must act as a model for other Pakistani universities. They must emulate what Naweed and his colleagues, many of them eminent educationists and professionals in their own right, have achieved. Along with NUST they deserve all the plaudits one can give them.

 

(The writer is a defence and security analyst).