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Valuable export of Pakistani students

Education: our students are our most valuable export
Higher Education December: There are hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis who choose to travel abroad each year to attain a higher education. While the majority are concentrated around Europe, North America, China and Australia even countries like Cuba are no stranger to Pakistani students. Every year nearly 10,000 foreign student visas are granted in Pakistan. Our students have apparently become our biggest export. An export which most of the time does not bear any return to Pakistan itself. An export which not only bears a burden on our foreign reserves but also the families of the students.
We are currently exporting two kinds of students. One type is made up of our absolute brightest and most talented students, they generally go to elite schools and are fortunate enough to not only attain the best education the country or even the world has to offer but also to excel at it. These students set their sights on the world's best universities such as Cambridge, Harvard, Yale or Oxford. While not every one makes it, they still wind up going abroad to their "safe choices" of universities, which might not be great but are still outside of Pakistan. It is not just about the education but also the lifestyle experience at times. They either get scholarships, or their parents are able enough to arrange for their expenses on their own - while only a few struggle.

Elite schools charge them heavily for their "services" to enable them to make this journey, often making false transcripts and writing fabricated stories about them in the key letter to recommendations. One often sees advertisements of these schools boasting about how many students they got admitted abroad. Many of these students do dream of coming back to Pakistan after attaining their education and changing things, but frankly that seldom happens. In my own circle of schoolfellows and friends I only know one other apart from myself who was fortunate to study at one of the world's best universities and return. Everyone else settled there and vowed never to come back.

The second type is made up of students who are from middle or even lower middle class backgrounds. These students did not get a chance to obtain a quality education, nor did their financial circumstances allow it. These students see the dream of going abroad not primarily to study but also to work, become self-sustaining and perhaps send some money back home. Lured by dreams of a utopia abroad they become victims to "agents" who in the interest of making money package away these students to mediocre/low level or even non-existent universities! They mostly end up staying illegally abroad, away from their families forced to do menial labour jobs at low wages. There are some success stories but very rarely.

What is even more sad, that the families of these students make great sacrifices in arranging for their loved ones to go for courses abroad. Most sell their family lands, take out loans, or sell their valuables. All of this sacrifice ending up leading to not much but pain and hardship for the person they are giving all this up. There are a lot better places of getting education in Pakistan, then the substandard university and colleges these poor souls end up in.

The problem is that this mass demand for going abroad is primarily fuelled by a lack of opportunities both in number and quality in Pakistan. Undoubtedly the HEC is a big success stories when it comes to the provision of higher education in Pakistan, and it has changed the higher education landscape in the country. However, a lot still needs to be done, and I am hopeful that the HEC will continue to work in this regard.

The government also needs to cooperate more with the HEC in terms of funding. Reducing this brain drain is pivotal for the development of the country as a whole. We need more universities to accommodate the increasing number of students. The HEC needs to ensure quality and regulate higher educations specially in private sector 'business oriented' universities. There also needs to be a strive for excellence in research, which is an inherent university feature which we clearly lack in Pakistan. We also need to look to industry to create employment for our graduating students and the government to ensure fair wages.

India is a clear success model in this regard as a BBC documentary showed that most Indian students now prefer to stay in India for higher education than going abroad. This has been fuelled by an intense focus on quality, and a heavy government subsidy for local students, along with employment opportunities.

I am not saying that going abroad to attain an education is a sin, our students should go abroad. But what I am saying is that for our most talented students not coming back to Pakistan is wrong, specially after having been given the best opportunities in the country. It is sad that those given the best opportunities are not using them to add value to the country and society. Secondly there is no point in paying ten times more for the same quality education that is available in Pakistan. Going abroad is not a magical thing where everything will be better than Pakistan. There is no point for our students to go to mediocre or low level universities abroad when we can provide them better education here in Pakistan.

Pakistan's future heavily depends on how talented and educated our youth comes out. We must not export out or hope, and offer incentives to our students to come back or to study here by creating better institutions. We need to use our students to import knowledge and not to export out our intelligence.

The writer is Youth Ambassador of Geo and Jang Group. (The news)

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