One of Pakistan’s fastest-growing economic sectors has been information technology (IT) and IT enabled services (ITES). The estimated value of IT exports for 2021–22 is $3.5 billion, a significant rise of 66 percent from the previous year’s figure of $2.1 billion.
The IT and ITES sector has shown consistent yearly export growth over the past 15 years, typically in the double digits. When fully established, this industry has the potential to significantly contribute to the nation’s demand for foreign currency. At various points over this period, successive governments have shown varying degrees of support (by enacting policy reforms), indifference and neglect (by doing nothing), and occasionally greed (by prematurely milking the cow by drastically hiking taxes).
Additionally, data from the Board of Investment (BOI) comparing the foreign exchange earned from exports versus the foreign exchange spent on imports by the IT sector from 2006 to 2019 demonstrates how incremental increases in foreign exchange spending have coincided with a disproportionally larger increase in exports.
The Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) released its Salary Survey 2021 in August of last year. It is a thorough report that goes well beyond simply listing the salaries of various professions in Pakistan’s IT sector. Location, roles, experience level, company size, company type, and gender are used to segment the data.
The IT and ITES sector still lacks qualified professionals despite the mushrooming growth of computer science and associated programmes in colleges and universities over the past few decades. This is demonstrated by the fact that 17% of companies mentioned employee retention as the rationale for larger salary increases, while 50% of enterprises claimed a lack of experienced human resources in the market. Further proof that this is a market for experienced and trained workers can be found in the high employee turnover rates, which increased from the 14–18% range from 2017 to 2020 to a staggering 30% in 2021.
University rankings and links between industry and academia are given considerable attention in the report. It includes rankings of colleges by factors such employers’ readiness to pay graduates more, reputation for research and innovation, number of graduates employed by corporations, rankings broken down by regions, and an overall national ranking. In practically all of these rankings, the following universities are listed in alphabetical order: NUCES-FAST, NUST, LUMS, COMSATS, GIKI, IBA, UET-Lahore, NED UET, Bahria University, and SZABIST. The Times Higher Education (THE) and QS rankings, as well as other international university rankings, take into account employer reputation and links between industry and academics.
More names are included in this list thanks to regional rankings. Nearly all of the universities that appear significantly on these rankings are situated in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, the three technology hubs of Pakistan. 97% of the businesses and more than 98% of the 30,000+ employees polled for the P@SHA report are located in these three cities.
Keep in mind that the majority of names refer to private or public colleges that receive greater financial assistance than the majority of public universities. The market’s assessment of graduate employability (and value) of computer science and associated degrees at universities is reflected in the university rankings in the P@SHA report.
I wrote about some of the insights that were hidden in the candidate profile data set for batch-3 of the Kamyab Jawan programme a few months ago. The programme offered 240 distinct skill trainings of varying lengths, most of which were aimed at people with only a high school diploma or less. As a researcher in education, those with advanced degrees piqued my curiosity. 74 PhD candidates out of 279,000 total applicants
Unsurprisingly, interest was strongly skewed towards technology-sector skills. The top-five programmes by applications were: 1) Digital Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO); 2) Amazon Virtual Assistant; 3) IT (Web Graphics & Mobile App Development); 4) Cyber Security; and 5) Computer Application and Office Professional, which received between 24,000 and 18,000 applications each.
Based on data available at the time, the following were the 10 universities that supplied the most university graduates to the applicant pool: 1) University of Punjab, 2) various degree colleges across the country, 3) Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), 4) University of Sindh Jamshoro, 5) University of Karachi, 6) Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, 7) Islamia University Bahawalpur, 8) University of Peshawar, 9) Government College University Faisalabad and 10) University of Balochistan Quetta. Applicants from each institution range from many thousands to about 1300.
This can be seen as a ranking of the top big universities whose programmes don’t prepare their graduates for the workforce. Notably, they are all open to the public. Additionally, keep in mind that this list is a supplement to the list of universities that can be found in the P@SHA report’s rankings by IT and ITES businesses.
Another interesting fact is that the majority of colleges offering popular programmes are found in or close to Pakistan’s three tech centres. But outside of those tech clusters are a number of colleges whose alumni feel the need for a post-degree vocational or skills training programme. The ease with which industry-academia links can be developed and, ultimately, how many graduates can transition into the workforce are both influenced by a university’s physical distance from relevant firms.
Institutions in remote locations, or even in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, have trouble hiring and maintaining talented faculty members. This is especially true for technological programmes that stagnate in mediocrity. Politicians should bear this in mind when they demand or announce the opening of a new institution in their district. The level of talent that small-town and remote institutions have access to in their faculty has an impact on the graduates of their programmes.
The quality of (computer science and related) programmes is essentially evaluated by P@SHA’s university ranking, which is a crucial aspect that the HEC and universities profess to advocate but struggle to measure. The findings of the HEC’s one-size-fits-all approach to programme rankings group radically dissimilar programmes together, which is why they do not reflect how the general public views the reputations of the institutions.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the myriad of factors that are taken into account to arrive at the HEC’s rankings are for the most part irrelevant for the purpose of most undergraduate students who make up the bulk of university students. Undergraduate students largely do not care how many papers their faculty published in (often) obscure venues, grant proposals they won or patents they have to their name.
Data that demonstrates the value and efficacy of a programme should be gathered, published, and disseminated by institutions on their own initiative. The HEC stepped in and attempted to cover that gap with its own ranking, although it is obvious that it lacks the necessary resources to do so. In that sense, P@SHA offers the general public useful knowledge, at least in regards to computer science and IT education. P@SHA’s — the industry’s — own report, which offers a helpful, actionable, and outcome-based evaluation of regional university programmes, should be fully utilized by prospective computer science and IT programme students and their parents; one hopes it is able to continue publishing them in the years to come.