COMSATS striving for S and T-led development of the South

The Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) was established in 1994, as a realization of an ambitious plan envisaged by the Nobel Laureate from Pakistan, Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam, to catalyze the socio-economic uplift of the developing countries by promoting and inculcating science and technology (SandT) culture.

COMSATS is an apex body whose Commission comprises Heads of State/Government as its Members. Currently, there are 21 Member States of COMSATS with the President of the Republic of Ghana as its incumbent Chairperson. The structure of COMSATS is unique in a way that it not only leverages the organization to facilitate capacity building of scientists from developing countries, but also enables clusters of high-quality RandD centres, working independently in their national capacities, to cooperate with one another as a part of COMSATS Network of Centres of Excellence. Currently, 18 such Centres spread across four continents are affiliated with COMSATS and provide it an enormously rich resource base for scientific cooperation at the level of working scientists. The heads of these Centres constitute COMSATS Coordinating Council. The political patronage of the Member States towards the Network comes from a Consultative Committee comprising relevant officials from focal ministries in these countries.

The mission statement of COMSATS is “to help create a world where all nations/states are at peace with each other and capable of providing a good quality of life to their populations in a sustainable way using modern scientific and technological means”. One of the key objectives of COMSATS is to sensitize the countries in the South to the centrality of science and technology in the development process, adequate allocation of resources for research and development, and integration of science and technology in the national and regional development plans.

In order to achieve its objectives, COMSATS has been using a variety of conventional and innovative mechanisms, over the last 18 years. Capacity-building at the level of individuals and institutions has been conducted through seminars, symposia, workshops, training programmes, pilot-projects and sponsorship of scientific activities. Over 180 national and international events have been organized in specific areas of science and technology that have a direct relevance to the socio-economic development of the Member States. Despite its engagement in a number of such activities, COMSATS is not a funding agency and manages the execution of its programmes with its limited financial resources. Apart from voluntary financial inputs from member countries, its major contribution comes from the Government of Pakistan, which generously provides adequate funding to cover the operating expenditure of COMSATS Secretariat based in Islamabad. In spite of its financial limitations, the organization has instituted a number of mechanisms to meet its funding requirements. First and foremost in this connection is the policy of organizing international capacity-building programmes in partnership with other international organizations, such as ISESCO, to gain maximum benefits with limited financial input.

Being signatories of the International Agreement to establish COMSATS, all member countries have been contributing to, and taking tangible benefits from, the organization, especially the host country, Pakistan. Soon after the establishment of COMSATS, ways and means were considered to bring the benefits of science to the common people in Pakistan. It was realized during mid 90s that Information and Communication Technology was going to dominate the world in future, affecting all segments of society with respect to information dissemination and interactivity among scientists as well as common people. Two institutions were, therefore, set up by COMSATS to get the country ready for this unfolding information revolution. The COMSATS Internet Services (CIS), started in 1996, was the pioneer of high-quality Internet access in Pakistan, while in 1998, an I.T. training centre was launched under the name of COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT). The latter is now a well-established public sector degree-awarding institute with around 26,000 enrolled students, and over 2,295 faculty members, 615 of which have Ph.D degrees. The Institute offers 86 degree programmes spread in eight campuses across Pakistan. The Institutes quality of education can be judged by its HEC ranking, according to which CIIT is placed at number 4 among 132 universities of Pakistan in terms of Research Productivity; whereas it has been ranked as top most in the field of Computer Science and IT. The university also offers post-graduate scholarships to students from COMSATS Member States. COMSATS Internet Services (CIS) is operating successfully although a multitude of Internet service providers have entered the field with corporate investment, offering services on highly competitive prices.

COMSATS also launched other pioneering projects, which were later patronized and up-scaled by other stakeholders, such as pilot-project of bio-gas production and the tele-health programme. The COMSATS project on the provision of medical consultation to remote areas of Pakistan through tele-health facility is being expanded under a grant approved by the Planning Commission of Pakistan. The remarkable success of these projects is a testimony of how investment in a scientific organization pays back several-times of the original investment.

Due to its international programmes, COMSATS is taking a leadership role in the South for promoting SandT in the developing countries and providing them a platform to cooperate with one another. To further augment its efforts of making SandT a vehicle for progress, COMSATS has devised a five-year strategy, the lynch-pin of which is a radically new initiative of conducting COMSATS sponsored thematic research in areas relevant to direct socio-economic benefits. The three International Thematic Research Groups (ITRGs) are currently undertaking research in areas of: Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs); Natural Products Sciences; and Climate Change and Environmental Protection. COMSATS, employing various cooperative mechanisms, remains committed to its mission of scientific and technological progress of the developing world.

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