Visionary leadership and cabinets comprising educated people bring changes in their countries. Nations cannot be build by constructing roads, said former chairman, Higher Education Commission (HEC), Dr Attaur Rehman on Wednesday.

He was giving a lecture on ‘Building Knowledge Economy’ which was organised by the HEC in collaboration with the Institute of Policy Reforms (IPR). Over 60 universities from throughout the country were connected through video-conferencing on the occasion.

Dr Rehman said it was unfortunate that planners had no idea what knowledge economy was, which was why a think thank was necessary in every ministry.

He said the present system could not bring changes.

He said 18th Amendment had damaged the country because additional money provided to provinces for the education sector was lost to corruption.

Replying to questions, the former HEC chairman said he resigned in 2008 because he believed that his stay would harm the commission.

There were around 200 parliamentarians in national and provincial assemblies with forged degrees. Even an education minister had a fake degree, he claimed.

On the other hand scholarships of students, who were studying abroad, were stopped and the students were forced to become alms seeker. So I thought it would be better to quit and I resigned, he said.

However Dr Rehman said during the last two years things had improved in the HEC, in terms of funding, as the budget of the commission had increased from Rs43 billion to Rs78 billion.

The former HEC chairman was of the view that the key to progress was education and the first priority should be primary and technical education because Pakistan’s future was its children.

Even now only one out of 10 students are pursuing higher education, he said. We live in a world which is different from the world that was a few decades ago. Now oil and other minerals are not important because development is being done on the basis of knowledge. The universities should carry out research to resolve local issues, he said.

Dr Rehman said when he was the minister of science and technology, his focus was on the subject of information technology and within a few years, Pakistan progressed from 82 to 49th position in world ranking.

Pakistan is the third largest country which provides freelance programmers. If the government wants to increase GDP, it has to focus on high technology products. Singapore in terms of area is equal to Karachi and one fourth in terms of population but its annual exports are worth $518 billion. However Pakistan’s annual exports are equal to $25 billion. Singapore has progressed just because of its knowledge economy, he said.

Paper is being made with stone. New materials have been invented because of research and it has become possible to get fruits during off season. Tomorrow sea water will be used for cultivation. New generation of lights has come and brain controlled cars are being manufactured, he added.

Dr Rehman said in 2001 there were 300,000 cellphones in the country but now there are 140 million. Internet usage has increased and there are 1,500 registered firms in IT sector.

We have to see which sector can eradicate poverty from the country. About 54 per cent of the population is below 20 years, so the main focus of the government should be on education. Malaysia spent its 30 per cent budget on education for 30 years, he added.

Dr Rehman said instead of getting legal bonds from students that they would come back and serve the country, opportunities should be created because no one wants to live away from the country.

He recommended that there should be legal binding on technology transfer in contracts given to foreign companies through the Planning Commission. The government should send more students abroad for studies.

IPR Chairman Humayun Akhtar Khan presided over the session. Managing Director IPR Dr Hafeez A. Pasha, former deputy chairman Planning Commission Dr Akram Sheikh and Consultant HEC Dr Mahmoodul Hassan Butt were also present on the occasion.