Dr Rizwan Riaz Pro-Rector, NUST Exclusive Interview Conducted by Muhammad Faisal Kaleem Arranged by Adnan Arif Among top 350 universities of the world (QS Rankings 2023) and top ranked in Pakistan, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) needs more funds to develop its infrastructure as current students’ strength should be increased from 24,000 to at least 40,000 so that they could contribute to the national development by serving in the field of modern science and technology. Currently, over 42,000 NUST graduates are serving in 61 countries and earning handsome revenue for the country. “Infrastructure is the biggest issue as we need more space to enhance our present students’ strength,” Pro-Rector Dr Rizwan Riaz told Daily Times in a wide-ranging exclusive interview. Currently, over 42,000 NUST graduates are serving in 61 countries and earning handsome revenue for the country. He said the university has enough land but its utilization is the actual target which needs funding. He said the government as well as private individuals can help in this regard. Technology Park Dr Riaz said that National Science Technology Park (NSTP), which was built only three years ago, has got the status of special economic zone (SEZ), and it is now producing good results as the concerned people from abroad come to see that how it’s being functioning, adding that many renowned figures of the world are investing in this project which is a source of inspiration for other potential investors too. “During the last two months only, NUST has over $30 million investment that is a great achievement,” he recalled, adding that currently 12 international companies are opening their industrial labs in the varsity. In this way, he said, the NSTP was playing a key role in bringing together industry and academia to create a national research and innovation ecosystem. During the last two months only, NUST has over $30 million investment that is a great achievement The pro-rector mentioned that the NSTP houses tech-based start-ups, high-tech small and medium enterprises (SMEs), innovation centres of large multinationals and corporations, and industrial and business innovation centres. The Park facilitates high-tech research and development (R&D) in eight key sectors in the first phase, with more sectors to be added with time. The eight sectors include agritech, autotech, deftech, edtech, energytech, fintech, healthtech and smarttech. He said the NSTP provides a perfect launching pad for new ideas, products and businesses; adding value to the technological index of Pakistan, creating numerous job opportunities, and contributing to the knowledge economy. Business Community Engagement Dr Riaz said the business community needs to make investment in the education sector to build the nation. “Recently, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sialkot Chamber of Commerce which earned Rs27 million in first project,” he said, adding that this is the way to the incubation system which needs to be expanded. “Moreover, more than 800 industry partners are engaged in Industrial research projects, curriculum improvement, student internships and employment, faculty placements, technology transfer, and industry-specific trainings,” he mentioned. Incubation Centre The pro-rector explained that the Tech One project provides students and faculty a platform to commercialise their research and establish successful business ventures. He said industrial research projects, curriculum improvement, student internships and employment, faculty placements, technology transfer, and industry-specific trainings are also being arranged. Through this strategy, over 800 industry partners are doing their business by making investment. “Moreover, to evolve NUST into a world class centre of excellence among higher education institutions, leading the transformation of Pakistan towards a rapidly developing knowledge economy, it has 13 schools, centres and at its main campus in Islamabad with five military colleges in Rawalpindi, Karachi, Risalpur and one campus in Quetta,” said Dr Riaz. At these centres and colleges, as per available information, the university has 145 academic programmes, and 43 multidisciplinary programmes. All engineering programmes are ratified under the Washington Accord academic and research partnerships with more than 170 institutions across 35 countries for student and faculty exchange, collaborative projects, joint research papers, and much more admission purely on merit with 4 percent student acceptance rate. Modern Labs The available information suggests that the research at NUST focuses on national needs industrial as well as societal issues are the driving force for our research endeavours. The university has over 350+ world class laboratories, with state-of-the- art equipment, exist across all the campuses, while 34 key labs with some of them being the only ones of their kind in Pakistani academia, make NUST a centre of excellence in research. Over 60 research areas grouped into 6 research themes are being pursued based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More than 1,000 funded research projects are being pursued at NUST out of which 706 have been completed so far, while 295 projects are in process of completion. Besides this, the varsity established the country’s first university-based intellectual property (IP) office almost a decade ago to protect the innovative work of its researchers and provide IP lifecycle management. Pak-Japan Research Centre for Mutual Collaboration In collaboration with Embassy of Japan, NUST signed an MoA with Plus W to establish Pak Japan Centre for Mutual Cooperation on March 16, 2022 at National Science & Technology Park at NUST. Pak Japan Centre facilitates in creating and enhancing knowledge about Japan and Japanese culture in Pakistan. Moreover, this centre offers jobs to two NUST graduates, especially in the IT sector, as and when relevant vacancies are created in the partner organisations. The main objective of this centre is to conduct workshops for NUST students in the field of IT and artificial intelligence (AI). A Japanese language course has been launched by Japan Centre in NUST. The course will be conducted online and to establish Japanese language labs in NUST. China-Pak Technology Transfer Centre The China Pakistan Technology Transfer Centre (CPTTC) established at NUST facilitates technology transfer between China and Pakistan, providing soft-landing to companies of both the countries to enter into each other’s markets. The centre acts as a bridge and gateway between the industries and innovative resources of both the countries. Establishment of Energy Centre US Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Energy, USPCAS-E was started as Centre for Energy Systems (CES) in 2012. A cooperative agreement was signed with USAID in September 2014 to upgrade CES into USPCAS-E, to address major challenges facing the energy sector of Pakistan and to facilitate applied research and education partnerships between the USA and Pakistan. The postgraduate Centre has academic and research partnerships with Arizona State University (ASU), Oregon State University and UET Peshawar. It has eight state-of-the-art research labs, and a technology centre is being established with support from ASU. With active work in social well-being, disaster relief & response, education for empowerment and leadership & social skills, the NCSC serves close to 100,000 community service hours per year. Students conduct frequent eye camps, blood donation drives, tree plantation campaigns, orphanages and school visits, awareness programmes, and much more. Smart Solar System A 10 KW Smart Solar System has been installed at the USPCAS-E at the NUST Islamabad campus, to produce solar energy for the building as well as provide research opportunities for students. Green Programme In recognition of its civic responsibilities, NUST has been taking measures to preserve and improve greenery at all its campuses. On-campus plantations drives are conducted regularly close to 100,000 trees have been planted at our Islamabad campus till date. Moreover, the varsity meets 100 percent of its horticulture water requirement of its Islamabad campus through recycled water. Using wetland filter technology, NUST treats 80,000 gallons of sewerage water per day at zero energy consumption. Internship programme In 2018, the university launched the NUST Internship Programme for International Students (NIPIS), which has gained tremendous popularity over the years. The number of interns has risen from 23 in 2018 to 51 from 26 countries in 2019, including those from International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE), and Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce (AIESEC). During the four-week internship, the international students work in different domains relevant to their fields of interest, along with participating in many extra-curricular activities especially designed for them. In 2018, the university launched the NUST Internship Programme for International Students (NIPIS), which has gained tremendous popularity over the years. Scholarships Owing to the dire economic condition of the country, the qualifying students with financial challenges exceed 61% of the total intake every year. In order to ensure that each deserving student gets access to classrooms, NUST needs support from community at large; hence, the NEED Initiative. Besides this, the varsity also has NUST Endowment for Educational Development (NEED). As many as 60 percent of the students belong to lower middle and lower income strata. The NEED Initiative is aimed “to make NUST a need blind university; providing quality education available at affordable price for inclusive growth. “The programme was launched in 2015 and has since been inviting the community to partner for progressive Pakistan by supporting education for all. It has been helping NUST students by awarding need-based scholarships to them, with support from NUST’s worthy partners,” Dr Riaz shared. For this, he added, the varsity has proper permission for being sponsored by private donors. Currently, the NUST has more than 600 partners and donors on board. In 2019, 304 students were awarded need-based scholarships. 1,662 NUST students have availed need-based scholarships. The ultimate goal of the initiative is self-sustainability through establishing endowment in order to surpass reliance on government, aid agencies and philanthropists. In the first phase, NUST is aiming to establish a minimum of 400 permanent scholarship seats with 100 slots available each year for four-year Undergraduate degree intake. “In the last four years alone, up to 4500 undergraduate and master’s students have been able to pursue higher education at NUST through support of NEED partners,” he said. However, he said, limited resources and funding from partners have only allowed the varsity to support the lowest bracket among the financially challenged intake, typically 17 percent of the annual intake. This includes, on average, 450 students every year with monthly household income less than USD 230. “As many as 565 undergraduate and master’s students financially challenged yet admitted on merit of class 2020 were supported through need initiative. NTF is an independent not-for-profit organisation and its trust deed empowers its board of trustees (BoT) to administer the affairs of the trust in light of the provisions of the deed. Presently, the trust is being governed by 15 members including 10 independent and five NUST ex-officio members,” he mentioned. The fund consists of generic contribution which will become part of a permanent endowment pool utilised for sponsoring research, upgrading laboratories and developing infrastructure in addition to supporting need-based scholars to ensure an ecosystem that promotes transformative education and innovative research. Alternatively, partners can establish specific endowments in their names; restricted to be spent only for need-based scholarships or designated avenues. Created at a minimum of $21,000, a single endowment can support one scholarship seat on a permanent basis at NUST. As soon as a beneficiary graduates, it rolls over to support another bright student from the new intake. The federal government launched four National Centres of Excellence in 2018 competitive open bidding process while out of them two of these four national centres have been won by NUST which included National Centre of Artificial Intelligence, and National Centre of Robotics and Automation. These centres will bring together prominent researchers from all across the country in these cutting-edge fields, thereby becoming leading hubs of innovation, scientific research, knowledge transfer to local economy, and training of specialists. Besides this, two labs have been won by NUST in the National Centre of Cyber Security and the National Centre of Big Data and Cloud Computing that have been awarded to two other Pakistani universities. Furthermore, on 16th October, 2020, N-ovative Health Technology Facility was established at NUST. N-ovative Health Technologies (NHT) Pvt Ltd is dedicated to create healthcare solutions that meet the immediate demand of the country, with a special emphasis on saving precious foreign exchange, amounting to Rs8.5 billion, on cardiac stent and catheter imports every year, and on the generation of foreign exchange through exports. The NHT is a state-of-the-art medical device manufacturing facility actively working in research and development of healthcare technologies as well as mass production of life-saving medical devices and implants such as bare metal stents, drug-eluting stents, angioplasty balloon catheters, diagnostic angiographic catheters, ventilators etc., to be made available at a fraction of prices of their imported versions. Sponsored by the Ministry of Sciences & Technology (MoST) with the mandate of indigenously manufacturing cost-effective high-quality medical devices, the facility is established as a public sector company, certified from European Commission notified body and is approved by Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP). The pro-rector said the university plays an instrumental role in the country’s positive image building and perception management through active interaction within and outside Pakistan. Keeping in view this, he said, the administration launched NUST Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS) in 2019 in order to utilise the high policy formulation and advisory potential of the university, in line with the best practices of the top university-affiliated think tanks in the world. The NIPS has high-quality research and analysis in key domains of national, regional and global significance, policy intervention/advocacy in key domains of national development, bridging the gap between knowledge production and policy, formulation, identification of projects for socioeconomic development having national impact, promotion of academia-industry linkages. Dr Rizwan Riaz Dr Rizwan Riaz assumed the office of Pro-Rector for Research, Innovation & Commercialisation at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST) in April 2021, bringing with him extensive experience in academics, research and technology management. His affiliation with NUST dates back to 2008 as faculty member and, recently, as Principal Research Centre for Modelling & Simulation (RCMS), NUST. A graduate in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, USA, with distinction in 1990, he obtained Masters in Aerospace Engineering from NUST, Pakistan, in 2004 and PhD in Mechanical Engineering (Computational Fluid Dynamics) from the University of Manchester, UK, in 2008. Dr Rizwan Riaz has over a decade of experience in R&D, project management, organisational R&D policy, and academia-industry linkage measures. An avid proponent of applied research, Dr Rizwan has been part of national-level projects which have won him laurels and saved the nation millions in foreign exchange. He recently completed the establishment of the NUST Interdisciplinary Cluster for Higher Education (NICHE), a cutting-edge interdisciplinary research powerhouse and a first for Pakistan. In recognition of his meritorious services, he has also been awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Military). In his current role as Pro-Rector for Research, Innovation & Commercialisation, Dr Rizwan is committed to taking NUST to ever higher levels of meaningful R&D as a fourth-generation university, promoting innovation and technology transfer to the industry and striving for the betterment of society as a whole. He aims to build strong internal and external relationships and a positive public profile that supports the university’s mission to be one of the most innovative and research-intensive universities in the region.