Gateway to a brighter future

A recent study found that University College London (UCL) generated an economic impact of £9.9 billion in the UK in 2018/19. This is equivalent to the commercial boost provided by the London Olympics in 2012.

For every £1 million publicly invested in research, UCL generated a profit of £11.5 million. According to UCL management, this could only be achieved in collaboration with university partners, as 77% of UCL’s academic partners are based outside of London.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and higher education is no exception. This is true for the higher education sector in Pakistan.

As the sector grows rapidly – ​​with over 230 universities across Pakistan – the challenges of equitable access, quality and relevance continue to remind us of the potential this sector could eventually unlock and contribute to society. and the economy. A well-connected higher education sector is able to co-create, curate and pollinate ideas, knowledge, experience, skills and learning across multiple platforms, and thus it breathes, is alive and always open to new interventions.

The Pakistan-UK Education Gateway is an example of such a comprehensive and dynamic strategic partnership between the higher education sectors of Pakistan and the UK. This partnership involves connections and collaborations in research, teaching and capacity building at system-to-system and institution-to-institution levels, facilitated by sector-to-sector agreement. The Gateway is meant to be an effective vehicle to develop human resource capital, knowledge and skills in Pakistan through mutual learning.

The main areas of collaboration under the gateway are: research, faculty development, leadership in higher education, quality assurance and standard setting, international mobility, distance learning , STEM and transnational education.

Through collaborative programs over the past 15 years, more than 165 institutional links around teaching, research, mentorship and science have been developed, involving more than 1,500 senior researchers and 1,000 academics from two countries contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals and building institutional capacity. As part of the mentoring, leadership and governance programmes, over 99% of all VCs, rectors and senior higher education officials have been trained in the UK since 2010.

Currently, eight large-scale research projects between the UK and Pakistan, worth around £3 million, are actively contributing to local challenges in the areas of climate change, robotics , artificial intelligence, history and archaeology, medical and health sciences, food safety. and agricultural.

In July 2020, a new practical policy around open and distance learning was developed in response to Covid-19. The policy is implemented across Pakistan and affects at least two million students. The blended learning models and criteria developed by the Pakistan-UK Education Gateway help higher education institutions in Pakistan tailor their offerings to the needs of learners and students. The program has also contributed to the development of a new Transnational Education Guide (ETN), which will enable international education providers to deliver international quality programs in Pakistani universities.

Over the past two years of the gateway, 21 travel and exploratory grants have enabled more than 50 faculty members to explore other partnerships. Over 60 researchers have been awarded travel grants from Pakistan to develop their research linkages under different travel grant schemes, while over 1,500 researchers have been trained in developing sustainable research networks.

Mumraiz Khan Kasi, for example, from the Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences is set to collaborate with researchers from the University of Glasgow to design a solution based on a wireless sensor network ( WSN) to combat deforestation in Pakistan. Similarly, Muhammad Mubasher Saleem of NUST will continue the development of nanomaterial-based touch sensors for remote manipulation in robotic surgery in collaboration with a researcher from the University of Edinburgh. These are just a few of the many exciting examples of the work being done as part of the gateway.

Addressing long-debated issues around quality, the UK Quality Assurance Agency is working closely with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to help establish quality mechanisms, benefiting around 50,000 faculty members in the higher education sector of Pakistan.

To ensure women have the opportunity to further their education, the Scottish Scholarship Scheme has supported over 400 women in their Masters studies, across Pakistan, in priority areas such as education, sustainable energy , food security and agriculture, health sciences and STEM. education.

Despite all this, the aspirations of the gateway are growing as it aims to contribute to a better learning landscape and ecosystem for young people who aspire and deserve to learn and contribute to a safe and better world for all. .

While these numbers reflect the tremendous efforts of partners, they also remind us of the overwhelming scale that requires collective and cohesive efforts at many levels.

I remember Sir Chris Husbands, the former Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, demanding “uniformity of results” to deal with complex challenges. Perhaps the Pakistan-UK Education Gateway using the best of the Higher Education Commission and the British Council is a starting point to seek collective power in helping the university sector grow, grow and achieve its true potential.

The writer is director of education at the British Council, Pakistan.

Norma A. Roth