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Research Landscape of Pakistan

by Dr. Saeed Ul Hassan

An in-depth analysis of global figures reveals Pakistani researchers are more focused on volume over value, quantity over quality; Pakistan needs a drastic policy shift.

Knowledge has become crucially important in global economies since many economies are becoming knowledge-based. The emerging economies are participating in production of new scientific knowledge that contributes to an accelerated pace of technical and scientific advancement.

The rapid growth of scientific publications is a key performance indicator (KPI) to quantify the production of these new knowledge powerhouses. This report presents the statistics of the scientific publication output of Pakistan comparing them with the world, including the emerging economies in Asia from years 2000 to 2013, using Scopus database. The results provide useful information to the scientific community, as well as to the higher education policymakers.

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Growth of scientific publications in emerging economies
Looking at the publication growth of the selected countries, interestingly, the gap between the United States and China has significantly been reduced in recent years. With the same growth rate, China is expected to surpass the United States in producing scientific publications. While the European powerhouses, United Kingdom, Germany and France, show steady growth in publication output, India is quickly catching up with France.

Another surprise is Malaysia overtaking Singapore. The reason for this rapid increase of Malaysian publications could be explained by the increase in research and development (R&D) expenditures from 0.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in year 2000 to 1.2 percent in year 2011.

Among the selected countries, Iran, Malaysia, China and Pakistan shows a phenomenal increase in publications with cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 18 percent. While all the selected emerging countries stand above the world average in terms of the CAGR, the United States and the European countries stand below the world’s CAGR.

Furthermore, drilling down into the disciplines of science and technology reveals an interesting view of the global research landscape. China produces 287,916 publications in Computer Science, i.e., 23.64 percent of the world’s share in the field. The United States stands next to China with 18.45 percent share of the world’s publication output in Computer Science.

Similarly, in Engineering, China has overtaken the United States with 620,887 publications in Engineering, i.e., 30.42 percent of the world’s share. The United States shares 17.16 percent of the world’s publication output in Engineering.

Research landscape of Pakistan: volume versus quality
The publication output of Pakistani institutes shows a tremendous growth since 2002. Using the core-2014 outlets, that ranks journals and conferences into four outlets A*, A, B, C, based on the perceived quality of their papers, the quality of the publications can be quantified.

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The publications’ volume has increased from less than 2,000 publications per year before the year 2004 to above 10,000 more recently. While the research volume has increased over the years, the quality has decreased from A*: 3.84 percent, A: 10.16 percent in 1996 to A*: 2.21 percent, A: 6.84 percent in 2013, respectively. Thus, resulting in less than 10 percent of the total research output that meets global high quality standards.

Moreover, analysis at the institute level reveals a closer view of the national research landscape. Among the selected top-tier institutes in the country namely: COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), National University of Sciences and Technology Pakistan (NUST), Quaidi-Azam University (QAU.), University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, and the University of the Punjab Lahore (PU), more than 70 percent of the publication volume does not meet global high quality standards. Excluding QAU and LUMS, the institutes hardly make 10 percent of their publications in A* or A ranked outlets.

Similarly, drilling down into the field of Computer Science does not show an encouraging picture as well. A number of top-tier institutes do not make even five percent of their total publication volume into high quality venues. Again, a large portion of their publications falls into C or unranked outlets of scientific publication venues.

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Conclusion
The research and innovation plays a vital role in the economic development of the countries. In this era – shifting towards the knowledge-based economies – the most crucial contribution is knowledge creation. The last two decades have shown a significant shift – where new emerging economies in Asia are competing with, and many actually have overtaken, the North American and European powerhouses in research and innovation. The research standing of Pakistan has become very crucial in this regard. Though research output of Pakistani institutes has grown over the years, digging deeper into the data reveals an alarming situation in terms of quality of the research produced by the Pakistani institutions.

The higher education policymakers must come up with short term and long term plans to break the cycle of ‘publish or perish.’ The following steps may be taken. Teaching-load of the faculty on tenure track system should be reduced; a clear distinction should be made and rewarded between publishing in a ‘cost-effective’ ISI indexed journal versus a high-ranking journal or conference in the field, better benchmarks need to be set, and last but not the least, more funding options should be provided by the government to promote high quality research in the country.

Dr. Saeed Ul Hassan is the director of ITU Scientometrics Lab and a permanent faculty member at the Information Technology University, Lahore.

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