It is always a learning experience when you have the chance to sit amongst, listen to and talk with people from different countries. I was lucky enough to have such an opportunity recently, at the Going Global Conference, arranged by the British Council in London. While the British Council is sponsoring impressive projects with the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in the sectors of primary education, this conference was intended mainly as a platform to discuss higher education. However, the impressions I came away with were much broader than just details of how many people were applying for Masters and PhD degrees and based on which criteria.

To begin with, China is no longer the shy, simply hard working recluse it was once considered. The new China is confident, happy to talk about the mistakes it has made and what it is doing to correct them. Chinese students, raised by a nation of tiger mothers, have focused their extremely competitive nature on a quest for quality and excellence. To rephrase a speaker at the Conference, China no longer wants to offer just "Made in China"; the new goal is "Better made in China". As the 'One Child Policy' China ages, new policies will seek to reverse this decision to support an increasingly large population of older people by increasing the birth rate. Chinese policymakers are ambitious and fearless in implementing their far-sighted vision for the country.

Their ambition, while never a secret, is now keener than ever. And they are beginning to lose patience with their friends (read us), who seem to be destined to sabotage themselves at every turn, no matter how much China is willing to help. China is smart and looking for friends and allies who are equally smart and ready to move. Pakistan at the moment, with its floundering economy and circular, incomplete logic, inability to articulate where it wants to go and lack of agreement within its population on even the simplest matters, looks more like the embarrassing classmate you used to be best friends with in high school and now want to discreetly distance yourself from. If we want to keep our very impressive and hard-working friends, we will have to prove to them that we are not a lost cause, that we have a plan, that this is a temporary stalling, not a permanent state of vegetation. While there are many in Pakistan who can construct such an identity for us, it is 'we' the larger Nation (if you will), who will have to accept and buy into this plan. Just a smart label is not enough, unless we are willing to prove beyond a doubt that we own it.

Kurdistan, in Iraq, I learnt is extremely fortunate to have Mr Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, a scientist and scholar with an impressive resume, as minister of higher education in the Kurdish Regional Government. Articulate, humble and hopeful, the gentleman in question stressed at the conference that Iraq will not wallow in self-pity as regards the difficult two decades it has had to face. With the world changing as rapidly as it is, Iraq's attention is focused on the next 50 years, not the last 20. "We will have to work harder and faster and in parallel, otherwise we will be too late and still be standing where we are today," he said. Such an inspiring attitude, an absolute refusal to feel sorry for all the very real tragedies Iraq has suffered, coupled with the real work being done in rebuilding Iraq is a recipe for success. We can only wish them good luck and hope that one good man doing good work inspires many others to help Iraq propel itself forward.

Pakistan's enrolment in universities is increasing, girls are performing better than the boys and more and more young people are leaving with at least a Masters degree. This is today, but for the future we are looking at a tidal wave, with 100 million people in Pakistan under the age of 20. These are 100 million people, out of 200 million, who will be looking to go to university, graduate, get jobs and start families. While such a young population should ideally be an engine to power a developing country, it is also a resource that unlike Thar Coal and the tremendous copper reserves Pakistan boasts of, is not possible to leave alone and untouched until you have the resources to deal with them. There is also the concern that once these graduates start looking for jobs, they will find them hard to come by.

This is with most things Pakistani, mirrors the issue: how can we make money from what we have? The answer in this case was suggested by Dr Javed Laghari, Chairman HEC, at his talk: Graduates, instead of going out to deliver your CVs, open a business and start asking for them. He's absolutely right. In a country of 200 million, with all the problems that come with a large, unmanaged population, the one benefit is that you have a huge market to sell to. Graduates must be prepared not to necessarily expect a job in the Pakistani market, at the end of their university years. They will have to construct entrepreneurial solutions for themselves and fellow graduates. And armed with a decent education, there's no reason why they can't. So, no more mollycoddling for us, young lot. We know the country's in a state. And we know we're the ones who are going to have to clean it up. Let's get to it, shall we?

Email: rnizami@nawaiwaqt.com.pk