|Article by: Mr Shahzada Babar Shiekh (Manager University-Industry Linkages)|
“Communities Build Universities and Universities Build Communities”, and this has been proved worldwide. Universities have frequently been regarded as key institutions in processes of social change and development; they play a vital role in social transformation which is primarily based on fundamental social changes like polity and the economy and for this; universities produce highly skilled labour and research output to meet the economic needs as well as playing its role in building new institutions of civil society and encouraging new cultural values. Thus the universities have wider educational, social, economic and cultural significance for the regions in which they operate as otherwise such opportunities wouldn’t be available in the region.
The case of University of Gujrat (UoG) is also quite impressive and fascinating in this regard as it is playing a vital role in the socio-economic transformation of the surrounding districts. Like any other modern university it is playing four major roles, i.e.; provision of higher education, knowledge creation through research & development, creating social space by inculcating awareness in the community and establishing external and industrial linkages. District Gujrat particularly and surrounding districts generally are being benefitted by having easy access to higher education, social and cultural change and economic impact in the form of income, expenditures and development of human capital.
UoG was established in September 2006 in Gujrat at Hafiz Hayat at a distance of 13 km from the city center. In between Lahore and Islamabad this is the only comprehensive public sector university serving under the visionary leadership of Prof Dr Mohammad Nizamuddin who joined it in Sept. 2006. Dynamic leadership, untiring, and relentless hardwork of Dr. Nizam has transformed UoG into a great institution. Initially, it was consisted on 4 constituent colleges only but now it has a main Hafiz Hayat Campus, 4 constituent colleges, one medical and one law college besides Institute of Hotel and Restaurant Management. Since 2006, there is an appreciable increase in students' enrollment from 227 students enrolled in its BA, BSc. Programs to 18,000 students enrolled in BS, MS/Mphil and PhD programs. University has 8 faculties, 36 departments and offers 96 degree programs. In addition to this, university has over 73 affiliated colleges and dozens of national and international linkages with both academic and non-academic organisations. University transport system is another hallmark and it commutes almost 6000 students daily from home to the university and back.
The first and foremost contribution of the University of Gujrat is the provision of higher education to a catchment area of 100 km in all directions and it has made the access to higher education possible to a wider community. Enrollment in the higher education has increased many hundred times than before. Females are the highest beneficiary of the university as the overall percentage of female students is higher than 60%. Access to higher education to such a high number of female students will bring a great revolution in the socio-economic fabric of the local community as prior to this only a minority of the female students could afford admissions in the universities of other cities after graduation. University is helping the community to retain the youth in the area for higher education and producing high level ‘Human Capital’ by offering a range of courses from diploma level to PhD level. So far, University has produced approx 20000 graduates in various disciplines. Out of this, 4000 plus students graduated in BS, MS and MPhil programs, whereas the others fall in BA and MA category. Such a big number in a brief period of only 6 years is a great contribution in raising the skill level of the community overall, side by side providing an opportunity of exposure of national and international markets. University students are interacting with local as well as national and international organizations at the platform of the university. Graduation of such big number of population is expected to bring positive change in the socio-cultural aspects of the region. Interaction of the students and faculty members from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds is also contributing in the integration of the national culture by sharing different values.
Second important role of the UoG in the economy of district Gujrat is also quite considerable. The economic benefits derived from UoG activities as an economic entity differs very little from the economic benefit one would expect from any other entity that employs people and trades in the local economy. UoG is earning income, expanding income and offering employment. The direct impact of income, expenditure and employment generated by the university is also further augmented by the “multiplier effect” as some money spent locally by the university is spent again by those who receive it. Besides the spending of the local employees the vast majority of the employees from other regions of the country spend an estimated 30-40% of their salary locally. University has around 1100 employees and an annual budget of approx 1 billion PKR. University also induces local expenditure to attract students and visitors who in turn spend money within the region. UoG is one of the largest universities with higher student enrollment, 18,000 in 2012, in Pakistan and its expenditure and employment scale is also very high, only in 6 years, as compared to other universities. Approximately, 2000 students are residing in the hostels and their monthly spending is contributing in the sales volume of the local vendors including the hotel industry, garments and shoes, bookshops, stationers, petrol stations, local traders, petrol stations and many more. Above all, the number of graduates passed out in the last few years is also a useful human capital and would directly play their role in the region and country’s overall income as there is a positive correlation between GDP and the human capital. For District Gujrat, it has another salient advantage of retaining the youth to the district and the amount of expenditures which they are supposed to spend in other districts for acquiring higher education. As the university is offering courses relevant to the region’s need thus it is going to help to stop ‘brain-drain’ after graduation, and this is going to boost the local business and economy. University is also engaged in research and innovation with a pool of PhD Faculty and research students; and in near future this will generate a much greater economic impact by applied research, commercialization of research and technology transfer collaborations with industry. Though the university is young but its spillover effect has started showing up healthy signs of development. Office of Research Innovation and Commercialisation of the university has actively been working since 2011 and it has planned to achieve various objectives by establishing academia-industry linkages. Among the future plans of the university, the establishment of incubation center for generating ‘spin-off’ companies to induce entrepreneurial impetus in the society is worth mentioning. Collaboration with other national and international organizations like British Council, University of Oklahoma, PUM Netherlands, Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan Council for Science & Technology (PCST), Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), DICE Foundation USA, SMEDA and many others is also contributing in the development of the institute itself which ultimately is in the interest of the local community. Slowly but steadily UoG is establishing linkages with the local industry. UoG is also serving a positive role in the branding of the district and now because of the university, district Gujrat is considered quite familiar among national and international academic and other organizations.
Above and beyond, one may differ from many things but the role of university in the development of local community is undeniable and its greater benefits have yet to come to the surface. UoG is generating a significant economic, educational and social impact on the district Gujrat especially and other surrounding districts generally. However, it is important to understand that the educational and economic contribution of a university extends beyond simply being a regional employer and purchaser of goods and services and UoG as an organisation is at the growth stage and it has still great potential of expansion. In a knowledge economy, innovation and human capital are essential to economic growth and it is the high level of skills, research and innovation that will yield a significantly greater impact on Pakistan’s regional and national economy.