Saudi Arabia has made huge investment in science and technology infrastructure


Interview: Prof. Mukhtiar Baig

Saudi Arabia has made huge investment
in science and technology infrastructure

Medical Universities have increased Research Grants, recognize
and Award distinguished researchers to promote Research Culture

Govt. spending 25% of its total annual budget on Education
(SR 217 Billion) and   19% (SR 160 Billion) on Health

KARACHI: Prof. Mukhtiar Baig is a distinguished teacher in Clinical Biochemistry. A graduate of Liaquat Medical College (1994) he did his M. Phil from BMSI at JPMC Karachi and later earned PhD from Karachi University. He was in the first batch of MHPE started by Dow University of Health Sciences and qualified in 2012. He served at numerous medical colleges in Pakistan before leaving for Saudi Arabia where at present he is Prof.  of Clinical Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Rabigh, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah Saudi Arabia. He is currently in Pakistan on leave. In an exclusive interview with Pulse International last week, Prof. Mukhtiar Baig talked about the enormous development being made by Saudi Arabia by establishing State of the Art medical institutions, universities, Centers of Excellence, recognition of researchers to promote research culture as well as his own professional academic journey. Given below are the excerpts from the conversation:

Prof. Mukhtiar Baig

“Having realized the importance of investment in Science & Technology and the important role it plays in the overall development of the country, Saudi Arabia has made tremendous investment in Science & Technology infrastructure since the last two decades. Medical Universities, Centers of Excellence and healthcare facilities all over the Kingdom are equipped with the most modern, latest equipment and instruments, staffed with experienced, highly qualified faculty recruited from overseas. At present there are thirty five medical colleges but more are being established in the days to come. King Saud University at Riyadh is one of the leading universities in the country. King Abdulaziz University was founded in 1967 in Jeddah while King Abdulaziz City of Science & Technology (KACST) were established in 1977 at Riyadh. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology established in 2009 at Thuwal, Jeddah is the only institution of its kind. It has co-education and almost 90% of the faculty is foreign from USA and Europe. Every university has a Deanship of Scientific Research. Lot of research work is going on at various universities and their affiliated institutions. To promote research culture, the universities have increased research grants and recognize, award the distinguished research workers at the Annual Research Day where the details of previous year’s research grants, the publications which came out of this research and where they were published are presented. In addition the signing in ceremony also takes place on that day when new research grants and the recipients are announced. Last year King Abdulaziz University which is one of the three leading universities approved 815 research grants which itself shows the importance the Saudi leadership is giving to promote research culture. They have their priorities right and are moving forward in the right direction hence in the next ten years or so one will witness a lot of more developments which will tremendously improve the status of Saudi Arabia as regards their research out put among the Muslim countries.

It will be interesting to note that in 2015, Saudi Government has allocated 25% (SR 217 Billion) of total budget for Education. This includes setting up of three new universities, major refurbishment of other universities and upgrading of hundreds of new schools and children’s sports centers across the country. They are spending 19% (SR 160 Billion) for Health and Social Affairs. This includes funding for three new hospitals, three blood banks, a large number of primary care and specialists clinics across the country besides expansion and upgradation of existing facilities and associated training.1 All this is bound to result in an educational revolution in the coming years.

Most of the faculty members are PhD. In fact this is mandatory qualification for the post of Assistant, Associate and Professor and there is too much concentration on Research. Then every university has established various Centers of Excellence in different fields like Genome Research, Osteoporosis, Haematology, Immunology, Stem Cell etc. The way the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is encouraging and promoting research, they are moving  forward at a very fast pace.  KSA also provides funding, scholarship and boarding, lodging facilities, pays the fees of those postgraduates who get admission overseas in various leading universities. The postgraduates are also fully sponsored so that they can concentrate on their studies and training.

King Abdul Aziz University has its branch at Rabigh which is a small city near Jeddah. The medical college is also located at Rabigh but the teaching hospital is located at Jeddah. Hence, the basic sciences are taught at the Rabigh campus while for clinical teaching the students have to go to Jeddah. Now they are planning to establish a Girls Medical College at Rabigh. In principal what they have been doing is that first they establish a branch of a university and when it is fully developed, with adequate teaching, training facilities, it is made an independent university.

Admission to medical colleges varies from one institution to the other.  The newly established medical colleges may be allowed to admit from fifty to hundred students while the older institutions which have well established with adequate teaching and training facilities admit over two hundred students. At present many Saudis are getting higher training overseas and a large number of them are also enrolled as PhD students in various institutions.  Looking at the way they are moving, they may not be too much dependent on foreign faculty after another ten to twenty years time when they will have their own Saudi citizens in enough number qualified to take up the teaching jobs and head various departments, institutions.

Over all healthcare set up in Saudi Arabia is very good. Healthcare is absolutely free for the Saudi citizens and Hajj pilgrims.  For people like us who are affiliated with medical institutions, we also get all the facilities free. As regards the other foreigners, Health Insurance is a must and they can avail the medical treatment as per their category which is based on their job. Hospitals have very neat and clean environment with fully computerized set up.”

Responding to another question Prof. Mukhtiar Baig said that “some of the Saudi students are very brilliant and very efficient, have good knowledge of computers, internet. Hence they are outstanding. At times some of them ask searching questions which reflect the depth of their knowledge. As regards admission, the province wise merit list is prepared and they are short listed to be absorbed in different fields i.e. Engineering, Medicine etc. Then the university arranges one year’s preparatory classes for them when they are taught English, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology. This is their first year and when they come to Medical College it is their second year that is why they have a six years MBBS course. They have realized that knowledge of English language is very important hence now they are trying to introduce English as a subject from very early years in education.

Speaking about his professional academic career, Prof. Mukhtiar Baig said that “I had interest in teaching from my student days. I used to teach Tution to students and when in the medical college, there too I used to take Tution classes. After graduating from LMC in 1994 I had many options. My first job was at Hamdard Medical and Dental College. I was interested in teaching and the subject of biochemistry always fascinated me too much. Founder of Hamdard Hakeem Saeed had a policy that after someone serves there for three years, their post graduation was sponsored with full pay. Hence, after three years I applied for M. Phil in Biochemistry and was lucky that I got selected at the BMSI where I worked under the supervision Prof.Baseer, Head of the Dept.of Biochemistry. I was at BMSI from 1998-2001 and did my M.Phil in Biochemistry. My topic was Leptons and Thyroid Diseases. In the meantime I had published a book containing 500 MCQs in Biochemistry and I dedicated it to Prof.Shakir Ali Jafary who had joined Hamdard Medical and Dental College as Principal after retirement from Dow Medical College. Then I got enrolled for PhD at University of Karachi and did my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Abid Azhar who is another brilliant teacher of biochemistry. He is currently head of KIBGE at University of Karachi.

I left Hamdard Medical and Dental College after three years and joined University Medical and Dental College Faisalabad run and managed by an eminent industrialist Mian Mohammad Haneef. There I was one of the pioneer teachers and established the department of biochemistry. For some time I was also Vice Principal of this institution. I learnt a lot there and particularly meetings with Mian Mohammad Haneef provided me an opportunity to learn a lot. In 2004 I came back to Karachi and joined Liaquat College of Medicine and Dentistry where I served for three years. When Liaquat National Hospital decided to establish a medical college, I was one of the first four five faculty members to join them and I served there for four years. When Baharia University established its medical and dental college, I applied and was selected as Prof. of Biochemistry and helped to establish the department of biochemistry there. I was very keen to learn and teach as well, hence by this time I had already attended and conducted workshops on constitution of MCQs, how to design posters etc.

When Dow University of Health Sciences started MHPE programme, I got enrolled in the very first batch because medical education is one field where lot of innovations like Online Courses, Blended Learning etc., can be made. It was also a new field and an emerging discipline. The first batch got enrolled in 2009 and passed out in 2012. At that time there were posts at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah and I applied since it had much better prospects and remuneration. I got selected and joined there.

This year (2015) in May at the Annual Research Day of the university, I was awarded in recognition of having the maximum number (12) publications in Impact Factor Journal. I also got a certificate for supervising the highest number of students. I also got the Best Teacher Award out of the fifty five member faculty which has fifteen faculty members from Pakistan, about twenty five from Egypt. Then there are Saudis, Syrian, and Indians as well.

Answering another question he said that “I moved from one institution to the other for a higher post. Working at different medical colleges which all have different set up, some have their own universities while others are affiliated with public and private medial universities, hence it provided me an opportunity to work under different systems and learn their working. It was a great learning experience. It also offered me an opportunity to test my potential and capabilities. Currently I am quite happy. We have a very good talented, experienced faculty at King Abdulaziz University which is very cooperative and helpful.”