Science and Technology (S&T) Policy for Very Developing Countries like Pakistan

Chief Coordinator, IRP
Secretary-General, South Asia Triple Helix Association
Manager ORIC, UMT
*email address protected*

Countries of the developed world have realized the importance of S&T led growth and prioritized it in budgets, law, policies and functions. The late comers followed, and leapfrogged their progress like China, India, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. We can simply call them Entrepreneurial Governments. Countries like Pakistan are yet unable to prioritize S&T and unable to catch the waves of fast progress. They might miss the future if they continue ignoring S&T led growth. This article raises basic questions as to how the leadership of a developing country like Pakistan will realize the significance of S&T led growth and prioritise areas to fix in the early stage.

Why is S&T Ignored?
Two Stories from Pakistan

Pakistan is largely dependent on imported seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and agriculture engineering. Why can scientists and innovators of Pakistan not help? The answer lies in these two stories:

  1. Pakistan used to produce 150000 bales of cotton in 1975. The scientists of NIAB FSD developed a new cotton variety and the output reached 11 million bales. For the last three decades the output is the same and has been stagnant.
  2. The scientists of the KSK Rice Institute developed a Supper Baspati variety, and Pakistan secured a good name in rice export. It is still producing the same variety of rice after more than two decades. Otherwise, imported varieties are getting popularization and adoption. Why could Pakistan not have a good variety after Supper basmati?

Both these scientists got nothing for innovation. The message is well understood by the rest of the scientific community because:

  • Our S&T policy is not responsive
  • It is led by non-technical rather than political figures
  • No IP law approved for variety, seed, etc
  • No commercial incentives for scientists. The scientists are not allowed to earn profits from their innovation as they are treated like civil servants under the ESTA code.


The Security of Countries through S&T

a) National Security Lies in Science and Technology

Science and technology makes nations strong and secure. S&T helped nations win wars and stay ahead of the enemy in defence technology. Pakistan was threatened by nuclear technology and secured by the same when Prime Minister Bhutto said: “we will eat grass but acquire nuclear technology”. The S&T father of the USA, Dr V Bush wrote the same concept to the President of the USA in “Science – Endless Frontier”. He said that the USA and allies won the war due to investment in science and better technology. The instrument of national security and competitiveness lies in uninterrupted policies and investments in science and technology. The USA has led the world in the last few decades due to leadership in economics based on science, technology and innovation. The case of other leading countries also reflects that growth, competitiveness, security and development are backed by science and technology.

b) National Security Depends on Science and Technology

Human history is known for most unwanted wars. Innovative techniques, tools, and instruments played a critical role in the national defence of nations. The balance in war technologies helped nations avoid wars and resolve conflicts through dialogue. Therefore, nations invest heavily in defence related technologies and use them for civil purposes by new innovative applications. We enjoy many good technologies these days that were earlier invented for defence purposes. Pakistan invested heavily in defence-related science and technology. Therefore, Pakistan is a nuclear power, competitive in many defence technologies, and exports defence-related products. The civil use of these technologies is not yet explored nor exploited to any great extent.

c) Food Security Depends on Science and Technology

Food security is a basic need of every society, and is reflected by many indicators like the supply of high-quality economical food, disease-free crops, high yielding varieties and sustainable food packaging. Countries invest heavily to ensure the smooth supply of food to citizens. The human history travelled from the stone-age to the agriculture age. Humans earlier learned to produce a variety of food in varied seasons and weathers. Pakistan produced eleven million bales of cotton during the last three decades due to innovation by a scientist at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology. Pakistan does not have a policy to protect innovations of plant breeders or variety developers. The scientist and the institutions get nothing in terms of royalty or reward. The lack of S&T policy for IP has killed the spirit of innovation in Pakistan in the agriculture sector. Therefore, we is left behind in agriculture innovation in every aspect. We import agricultural machinery, pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, and other value-added processes. We import flowers and herbs to produce medicine. Pakistan food security is at risk due to lack of S&T policy initiatives, less S&T investment, and particularly S&T is the lowest priority of Government till today.

d) Health Security Depends on Science and Technology

Health security of a nation can be determined by its level of dependency on foreign sources. Pakistan imports basic drugs (APIs) from India, China and other countries. The problems in supply from one major supplier can lead to a high cost of medicine. Pakistan needs to invest in the science of medicine to produce running drugs and save billions of foreign reserves. A new age of drugs is emerging around microbiology, biotechnology, marine biology and synthetic biology, and Pakistan seriously lacks S&T policies in the area of biological science, technology, and industrial production.

Pakistan was dependent on others in health care solutions due to S&T negligence, and will remain dependent as still no interest in S&T is making Pakistan unable to catch next waves of health technologies. We are left behind in health tourism and can develop only 1-2 medial specializations to attract patients from all over the world. It needs to invest heavily in science and research in the universities and the medical schools. Pakistan invests heavily on the cure side ignoring prevention and community health. This makes Pakistan vulnerable to disease attacks. The focus needs to be a shift from cure to prevention and promotion of a healthy lifestyle.

e) Economic Security Depends on Science and Technology

The economic drivers change over the course of new inventions and innovations. Now the owner of an app can run the largest car company without purchasing a single car. The little chip maker can be richer that the farmer of 1000 acres due to a great factor of value addition and technology. The largest economies of the world are tech economies. They have invested heavily in science to explore new patterns of nature. They produce more innovative products and solutions.

Pakistan has no choice but to prioritize science and technology to create innovative economic activities. The investment in science will help Pakistan to shift from raw material export to value-added export. Pakistan exports chromite ore for Rs.25000/- per ton, and can export dichromate for Rs.125000/- per ton if the required processing technology is developed.

The raw material economy can never be competitive nor can it achieve high export targets. Only value-addition through innovative technology can ensure the economic security of Pakistan. Pakistan has a high rate of brain drain due to the traditional economy. The investment in new technologies will create new ventures, generate employment opportunities, and increase the growth of businesses. We need S&T policies to connect innovation with economics and provide an enabling environment for science led ventures to grow and prosper.

f) Social Security Depends on Science and Technology

The adoption of new technologies, increased education, globalization and urbanization, put pressure on existing social values. The change in living style demands new rules of social living. The social fabric demands new knitting demanded from regulators, policymakers and executors. Cybercrime is one reflection of this new technology led social networking. Government investment is needed to formulate laws, develop new technologies and design execution to ensure social security for the people. In the modern world, there is the emergence of a shared economy. People share homes, room, cars, offices, and many other resources. There is a need for many new technologies to facilitate this sharing, ensure security and protect citizens from any possible harm.

Social sharing is another new phenomenon in life, where private data is shared through tools and devices. The misuse of data creates a lot of social problems. A recent well-reported incident of leaking pictures of a male and female sitting inside the car by some employees of the concerned department created social issues in society.

The government needs to invest in data security related technologies to protect the social life of people.



The speed of technological change is fast, and countries need to invent, innovate, and reinvent continuously. The process is not possible without an active and dynamic science and technology policy culture. The S&T policy creates an entrepreneurial state that pro-acts for new challenges. According to a World Bank report, Pakistan S&T sector is a salary paying machine with zero budget to produce any output. We have 300 S&T organizations whereas our export is much less.

At the moment, Naya Pakistan is without a competent S&T minister, S&T advisor, and parliamentary committee for S&T, a parliamentary secretary for S&T or any other high powered S&T position. The Government has set up a task force for the knowledge economy headed by a very competent scientist, Dr Ata ur Rahman. He has revolutionized higher education in Pakistan. The nation expects the same role in the S&T sector.


Eleven Areas of Science and Technology for S&T Led Growth

The developing world like Pakistan needs serious efforts to develop and implement science and technology policy for better socioeconomic development. Pakistan has the S&T policy 2012 waiting for the attention of Government. We present here some inputs critical to implement S&T policy in Pakistan.

1. Government Ownership and Entrepreneurial State

Historically Science and Technology are driven by the State with the help of competent scientists. General Park Chung-hee of Korea picked Dr Choe to initiate S&T led growth. President Franklin D. Roosevelt of USA picked Dr Vannevar Bush to lead S&T growth in the USA. There are other such examples that indicate S&T growth needs the leadership of scientists backed by serious support of Government. We saw this demonstrated when Dr Ata-ur–Rahman was given the leadership role to bring revolution in higher education, fully backed by the Government. Pakistan achieved S&T growth in the 1960s and 1970s due to the leadership role of scientists. Unfortunately, after that S&T was delisted from the state priories and headed by the non-scientific community. S&T led growth demands entrepreneurial behaviour of the State showing full ownership of country affairs. The blame game phenomenon can serve nothing.

Pakistan stands at around1 126th in innovation. This means 125 countries out of around 140 are ahead of Pakistan in innovation. The entrepreneurial state must take this as a responsibility, and proactively take measures to promote S&T to bring the ranking down to around fifty. Pakistan S&T should be governed by a board of competent experts to create a dynamic culture of performance and rewards. The government needs to be entrepreneurial and facilitate in all the aspects of innovation supply chain .

2. S&T Incentives for Innovators

Humans are driven by incentives. Governments always design lucrative incentives to achieve development goals. S&T in Pakistan touched the dead end due to zero incentives for innovators to solve local problems. The Government must come up with very attractive incentives for the scientists to have the will and capacity to supply innovations for the local problems of Pakistan. Pakistan has crossed BRIC countries in the area of publishing “Highly Cited Papers”, but did not cross BRIC in agriculture mechanization, hybrid seeds, ICT export, and other applied development areas. Scientists find incentives in publishing but not in supplying innovation to solve local problems. We has been funding research projects for five decades. The life of labour making bricks manually under the burning sun has improved little in the last five decades. The facial reflections of little kids playing in mud along with bricks making mothers question about R&D in Pakistan.

3. S&T Incentives for Industries/Investors

Real estate in Pakistan has skyrocketed due to very high profits on investments. Private sector investments in R&D touched the bottom because there is no profit in R&D investments. Pakistan lacks regulation and legislation regarding venture funds. Industry finds insignificant incentives to pour money into R&D and spend 4-5 years to develop innovative products in collaboration with local innovators. We need to announce S&T incentives like zero import duty on R&D imports, reduced duty for five years on import substitution and export-oriented innovative products, five years tax credit for university-born innovations and one window operation for startups/R&D venture. These incentives will attract private incentives to invest in R&D and help the government to build a knowledge economy in Pakistan.

4. Strengthening IP Regime

Pakistan has ignored developments in the area of IP protection. This has resulted in low motivation for technology development and commercialization. The weak IP culture is worsened by poor law enforcement and legal support. We register a patent in six years, whereas the USA grants a patent in 2-3 years on average.

Pakistan needs S&T policy related to strengthening IP organization, improving law enforcement, developing a specialized judiciary system for IPR, promoting IP education from school to university, launching a specialized degree program in IP management, developing human resource in IP management and fostering IP commercialization.

5. Students and Faculty Training for Technology

Faculty and students in Pakistan are not trained for technology development nor inspired to take challenges of supplying innovations. The academic system needs to shift its focus from data to concept-based learning. Learning and teaching should shift from contents delivery and memorization, to application based projects and assignments. Faculty needs to get projects from the market and assign students to work on real-life problems of community and industry.

The university governance system should not allow students to pass without good skills based on real-time projects. Faculty needs to be appraised for real-life research based on market inputs, and should be interact with community and industry, spend time there, and do summer internships in the field to get training on technology development.

6. Funding for Technology

Pakistan has only one fund for technology development by the HEC, which was initiated in 2017. The rest of the funding programs are aimed to fund science and research. This has caused a serious weakness in the capacity of Pakistan to develop prototypes and diffuse technologies. We need an S&T policy to initiate a minimum of ten technology funds in a few identified S&T priorities. These funds should be available only for prototyping and commercialization of academic research results. This funding should be based on industry partnership and economic viability. TDF–HEC is an excellent example and needs to be replicated across 10-15 disciplines.

7. Inquiry-Based Science in Schools and Colleges

Technology output is mostly expected from graduates at the higher education level. Their prior academic training from school to college highly affects their performance in higher education. In the advanced world, students are trained to deal with inquiry, solve problems, and discover new ways of business in the previous twelve years of education. In Pakistan, they are trained to memorize and they do the same when reaching higher education. This inculcates blocked thinking leaving no room to think freely and independently.

We must reframe the education system from Ratta to inquiry-based teaching and learning. The students from family to school and college should be inspired to think and develop a curiosity about nature and life. They should be given such training and an environment where they can challenge the existing rules of business and invent a new one. This will help them to develop innovative solutions when joining higher education and create new ventures to solve global problems.

8. S&T Policy as Subject in Academia

All the developed countries in the world offer degree programs in S&T policy, innovation management, technology and IP management. These countries develop their own human resource to deal with S&T policy affairs. S&T policies are guided by leaders having a proper education in science, technology, and the policy formulation process. Unluckily, there is only one-degree program in Mehran University on science and technology policy. S&T policy needs to be endorsed by the HEC, who need to encourage universities to launch S&T policy programs to provide a trained human resource.

9. International S&T Collaborations

Pakistan still needs to speed up its journey in science, technology and innovation through proper policy implementation and dynamic leadership. The world has made tremendous advancements in this area. Few countries started the same S&T journey 200 years before the birth of Pakistan. Few started much after Pakistan but leapfrogged the progress. We need to learn from these countries and develop collaboration in S&T policy areas. The ideal countries would be UK, South Korea, China and USA. We need to launch joint degree programs on S&T policy education, and make some arrangements to bring advanced technologies and build local capacity. S&T collaborations with the developed world would help us learn technology quickly and help incorporate best practices into its own systems and culture. Pakistan can increase export many times by initiating S&T collaborations with developed countries and develop own technology capacity for innovation and value addition.

10. Vocational Training for S&T

Countries that have strong vocational capabilities can rise to a great innovation level. Technology business in production setup cannot be advanced unless handled by highly trained skilled workers. The precision in machining and tooling is a must to produce innovation based value-added products. The high standard and quality of products by the advanced world rely on their sophisticated trained and skilled workers. Pakistan, in spite of many attempts, could not make a mark in the area of vocational training. We are still supplying raw labour to our own industries and to the international market. Highly skilled labour can increase Pakistan’s foreign revenue many folds in the form of remittances. The innovation capacity of industries also depends heavily on technically skilled workers, so we should make vocational training a top priority to provide employment.

11. Quality Standards and Enforcement

Innovation rests and prospers in the environment of quality standards. The market having product standards enables innovators and thinkers to compete on innovation, creativity and unique ideas, ensuring compliance with minimum standards. The poor standards and poor compliance in Pakistan encourage duplicators to produce very low quality products and kill the spirit of innovation and creativity in society. Nobody can invest in R&D if there is a risk of being copied by low quality duplications.



Published by the Triple Helix Association  –  ISSN 2281-4515

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