Odds are, and it is no secret, that Pakistan is perfectly poised to push itself up the order among the world’s most populous nations - it currently ranks sixth.

However, what has turned this population explosion into a blessing in disguise is the growth of its workforce at a rate faster than that of the total population. Consequently, about half the population of Pakistan consists of people below 20 years and 60 percent below 30 years a vast talent pool the developed countries of the world are eyeing on enviously?

Economists say Pakistan should cash in on this opportunity and must benefit from what they call ‘demographic dividends’ from this advantageous position.

Viewed from a different, less flattering angle, there is much more to it than meets the eye. The dilemma with over a hundred million sea of youths is that they never knew a world other the one around them and it was always at odds. They inherited a world rife with religious extremism, violence, intolerance, corruption and other conundrums, thanks largely to the purblind dogmatists and extremists who had remained dead set during the past three decades against any social, moral and intellectual progress of our people. It is time for us all, irrespective of caste and creed, to join forces and create unity among our ranks to reverse the damage caused by these fundamentalist forces and help our younger generation shed their gloom and doom. Let’s tell them all is not lost.

I have always stressed that our higher education institutions do have enormous potential, and they must contribute, towards cultivating peace and promoting the importance of peaceful co-existence at this critical juncture of our history.

That the whole nation, as well as those at the helm, have come to realise the need for our youth to rediscover and rebuild their identity and, for that purpose, they are confidently looking up to higher education institutions for their all-encompassing role is satisfying, though. What is required to steer the nation towards smooth seas is more than just this realisation - something nothing short of reconstructing or building a new narrative of peace and hope. This is where the role of universities comes into play. This role, a bigger and more significant one, is quite different from the basic one of disseminating knowledge. They must focus on character-building of students and prepare the younger generation to take up the reins of the country in the future.

There is nothing more desirable and commendable than a balanced, moderate personality that a student becomes at the end of the academic journey. And, for that purpose, his link with his soil, mental as well as intellectual affiliation, should remain intact.

Our universities have not been able to play their all-important role in this regard. The fact that we are the world’s sixth largest diaspora and our much touted university graduates who, in a manner of speaking, are equipped with the most modern and up-to-date knowledge but with little or no development in their personality, intellectual approach, no confidence in themselves and the system, are waiting in the wings to be part of one of the largest diasporas in the world.

Our universities will be no more than degree awarding institutes if they keep ignoring the all-important refurbishment of these young minds. That we have a large pool of young talent is not enough to rejoice at. We are placed at the bottom in the education category in a recent global survey of 80 evaluated countries. The ‘2017 Best Countries’ survey ranked us 67th in heritage, 68th in open business, 70th in women, 76th in transparency, 77th in quality of life, etc.

We need to change the way we are looked upon by the rest of the world. Every individual who is capable of making any contribution towards this end should come forward and play their role.

The universities, as I have often said, have a bigger responsibility in this regard. They need to bind themselves through a social contract for an outright change or total transformation of this society. If it is not done now, the developed world will continue to look up to our young talent pool to fulfil its demands for labour workforce.

 

The writer is Vice Chancellor, University of Gujrat.