Low incentives forcing molecular biologists to leave Pakistan
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: Most molecular biologists have left Pakistan for countries such as the US and Canada because of better incentives and attractive jobs being offered abroad.
The Punjab University’s (PU) Centre for Applied Molecular Biology (CAMB) is still the only department of its kind in the country. It has produced a total of 27 PhD degree holders in the concerned subject (molecular biology), which has been playing an important role in identifying and collecting biological evidence since 1989. Out of the 27 PhD holders, 17 are working abroad. The remaining 10 have adjusted themselves in Pakistan. Daily Times learnt from CAMB officials that despite being offered grade 18 jobs in the department, two out of four people presently doing their PhDs in molecular biology had sought opportunities in foreign countries.
According to the list of PhD holders, Anjum Sohail was in the US, Mamdouh Fahmy was in Egypt, Fauad Al-Momani was in Jordan, Rafiul Islam was in Bangladesh, Esther Khan was in Canada, Rohi Mushtaq was in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Shahnaz Chaudhry had become a housewife, Farzana Khanum was in the US, Amtaul Mateen was in the US, Shahid Karim was in the US, Rahat Makhdoom was in Canada and Shahina Bano, Sadaf Naz, Saima Riazuddin, Naveeda Riaz, Sirosh M Bukhari and Zubair M Ahmad were also in the US.
Zahoor Ahmad, Dr Amin Akhtar, Bushra Chaudhry, Shaheen N Khan, Tahira Fatima, Zakia Latif, S Sarfaraz Hussain, Ahmad Ali Shahid, Naz Abbas and Azra Sajid were living and working in Pakistan. Most degree holders in Pakistan were working for CAMB while one was serving in PU’s recently set up School of Biological Sciences (SBS).
CAMB Director Dr Riazuddin told Daily Times that most of the PhD holders had left Pakistan because they were not being offered any incentives in the country. “My department can absorb 10 PhDs directly in grade 18 at the moment, but nobody we know is interested to work in this cadre.”
It was a trend to leave the country and serve abroad, he added. “It is not common only in Pakistan, but people are also leaving the US and Canada. High salaries are attracting people to China, Russia, India and Europe.” He said even American and Canadian degree holders were serving in other countries on high salaries.
Dr Riazuddin said CAMB, with the Science and Technology Ministry’s help, had planned to increase the number of MPhil and PhD students up to 25 and 35 respectively. “Incentives announced by the Punjab government for PhD students will also help expand this programme.” He said the increased number would help the department produce more PhDs, out of which many could stay in Pakistan. “This will help introduce a trend to serve within the country.”
He said Pakistan would benefit the experience the degree holders would gain by working in the US and Canada. “That is why we never try to force them to return.” He said domestic circumstances had forced them to leave the country and degree holders could make more than Rs 1,000,000 annually by working abroad.
He said many of the degree holders abroad had written to him that they might come back. But that only happened when the situation abroad was not favourable for them, he added. He said during the Iraq war, around 13 people wrote to the Education Ministry that they could return.
Now, NIBGE (an institution in Islamabad), Khan Research Laboratory and Karachi University had also started PhD programmes in the same subject. “This, ultimately, will help the country increase the production of molecular biologists.”
Regarding the degree holders’ return and incentives for them, Dr Riazuddin said there was a need to upgrade the infrastructure so as to have modern equipment and high incentives.
He cited of a recently returned researcher, who had returned from England, joined SBS and was in trouble because of low incentives. “He has been offered a grade 18 job, but the incentives are so low that he cannot even get a house and or run his family affairs.” Dr Riazuddin demanded the government consider the situation and attract more researchers to Pakistan.