“The Making of an Expert Engineer” was officially launched in Lahore at the Avari Hotel on March 3rd before a gathering of 120 engineers, engineering faculty, aspiring engineers, and friends. Prof. Fazal Ahmad Khalid, Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Engineering and Technology (UET) presided at the launch. The launch was sponsored by the author’s company Close Comfort.
James Trevelyan demonstrating the Close Comfort bed tent with air conditioner.
Electricity supply is capital intensive engineering. Pakistan built the existing electricity supply network with the help of large loans on favourable terms from the World Bank and other international institutions.
In addition, Pakistan has benefited from the generosity of Saudi Arabia in providing low-cost fuel.
Pakistan has reaped the benefits of large hydroelectric generating plants at Mangla, Tarbela and other dams: they generate electricity with no ongoing fuel costs.
As fuel and capital borrowing costs rose for Pakistan in the last 20 years, and the proportion of cheap hydro power reduced, Pakistan governments shielded people from the real cost of electricity generation with generous subsidies but these cannot continue.
Another factor that frustrates efforts to find energy solutions is the high cost of engineering in Pakistan. Through research we have identified many factors that Pakistan engineers struggle to overcome, such as the deep social divides that inhibit effective collaboration and knowledge sharing between engineers, investors and labour. Given the same requirements for product availability and service quality, the cost is almost invariably higher in Pakistan than in industrialised economies like Europe and the USA. Just as an example, when indirect costs are taken into account, the cost of safe drinking water ranges from US$50 to $150 per tonne in Pakistan while the cost in Australia, the driest continent, is US$3 per tonne.
(This is an updated and extended version of an article published in The News, Pakistan, 31st May 2013)
A Pakistan university Vice Chancellor told me how, when he first took up his position, he challenged his engineering faculty.
“Listen, he said, you and other engineering schools in Pakistan have graduated tens of thousands of electrical engineers, yet, the more you graduate, the worse electricity load shedding becomes.”
“Sir, they replied, that is a political problem, it’s nothing to do with engineering! The politicians have accumulated a huge circular debt, which is not real debt, just an accounting aberration to cover the fact that rich people don’t pay for electricity.”
The Vice Chancellor smiled. “Please remember, he said, electricity and water utilities are staffed and run by engineers. Furthermore, the debt is real debt: Pakistan State Oil now has to pay cash in advance of delivery because it ran up too much unpaid debt with suppliers. As long as people can use electricity without paying enough to cover the cost of fuel to run generators and maintaining and extending all the transformers and cables, the problem will get worse. So whether you like it or not, as far as Pakistan is concerned, it is an engineering problem. That means it’s your problem too!”
Pakistan’s politicians and business community have a low opinion of Pakistan engineers: it is not just load shedding and poor water service quality. Pakistan is a high cost operating environment, and Pakistan engineers (with a few notable exceptions) have a poor record for delivering on promises: on-time, with good quality, high safety standards, and within financial constraints. In short, Pakistan is an unattractive destination for capital investment because engineers (among others) don’t deliver what they promise.
In the last two decades we have seen waves of advocacy for changing engineering education, while at the same time we have entrenched the existing model ever deeper through international standardization and accreditation models like the Washington Accord.
Our research on engineering practice, what engineers actually do, demonstrates the need for changes – see my recent blog post on Dave Goldberg’s Big Beacon site.
Students know that they will never have to solve partial differential equations as engineers, so why do we continue to teach that, and not teach them the things they will actually be doing in practice? Continue reading →