The Nature opinion piece (by Athar Osama, Adil Najam, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Syed Zulfiqar Gilani & Christopher King) is an eye-opener! It describes (and to some extent, evaluates) the massive efforts by Pakistan since 2002: enormous increase in funding, lots of students sent abroad for doctoral degrees, increase in the number of PhDs from Pakistan's universities, etc.
These efforts have been spearheaded by the Higher Education Commission (which replaced that country's UGC). The current head of HEC, Atta ur Rahman, has a response highlighting what he thinks are the major achievements:
... Because there were not enough suitable PhD supervisors in the universities, we sent some 3,800 students abroad, mainly to the United States and Europe, to study for a PhD, at a total cost of about US$1 billion. [...]
There followed a huge increase in international scientific research publications, from 600 or so in 2001 to more than 4,200 in 2008. About 50 new universities and degree-awarding institutes were established during this period, and enrolment in higher education almost tripled to about 400,000 by the end of 2008, having been just 135,000 in 2003.
A digital library was established to provide free access to 25,000 international journals and 45,000 textbooks for all public-sector university students. In the 2008 Times Higher Education rankings, four Pakistani universities are among the top 600 in the world — an unattainable position before 2003.
In another response to that opinion piece, Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, is blunt in calling HEC's efforts 'a failed experiment':
the former government wasted enormous sums of money on prestige mega-projects. Nine new universities were abandoned after partial construction because of a lack of trained faculty, and expensive imported scientific equipment remains under-utilized many years later. The claimed 400% increase in publications was a result of salary bonuses awarded to professors who published in international journals, largely irrespective of substance and quality. These payments fostered a plagiarism culture that still goes unpunished.
The authors draw attention to a large increase in "relative impact" in some disciplines, based on citation of papers published in 2003–07. But were self-citations (a common ploy) eliminated from this count? I used an option available from Thomson Scientific and found the opposite result after eliminating self-citations.
The authors also praise the Higher Education Commission for increasing university professors' salaries. But this has created social disparities — a full professor now earns 20–30 times more than a school teacher. Professors, bent on removing barriers to their promotions and incomes, take on very large numbers of PhD students. To ensure that these students get their degrees, many professors seek the elimination of international testing, hitherto used as a metric for gauging student performance.
Pakistan's failed experiment provides a counter-example to the conventional wisdom that money is the most crucial element in the reform process. ...