Islamabad: On International Women’s Day, the USAID-funded Merit and Need-Based Scholarship Programme (MNBSP) celebrated the achievements of women scholars at a ceremony at the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Speaking to an audience of HEC officials, partner universities and MNBSP scholars, USAID Acting Mission Director Helen Pataki said, “Women represent half of Pakistan’s population and are integral to the country’s socio-economic development. It is unfortunate that we do not see an equal proportion of women in institutes of higher education. Pakistan faces many challenges. We have no idea how many solutions we are missing out on when half the population is left out.”
The programme’s 2017 goal was to provide at least half of its scholarships to women. “I am proud to say that through the combined efforts of USAID and the HEC, and the many women who stepped up to capitalize on their drive and talent, we exceeded our target,” said Pataki. “As of today, 52% of our scholarship recipients are young women. We began investing in the future of young women over ten years ago. It is heartening to see the results begin to pay off for both the scholarship recipients and for Pakistan.”
MNBSP funds full-tuition scholarships and stipends for talented yet financially disadvantaged Pakistani youth to earn their bachelor's or master's degree at one of 30 partner universities across Pakistan. The program recognized that it was more challenging for young women to pursue higher education and made concerted efforts to understand and address the barriers faced by young girls to access higher education. The programme proactively reached out to women colleges to encourage financially disadvantaged young girls to apply for scholarships and expanded the fields of study to include Agriculture Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering, Medicine, and Social Sciences.
Professor Dr. Mukthar Ahmad, chairman of the HEC, also spoke at the ceremony and thanked USAID for its support of higher education in Pakistan. “I am pleased to congratulate our strategic partner USAID, whose extended support in achieving the national targets through investment in various schemes of higher education complements the Government of Pakistan’s efforts to provide equal opportunities and quality education to all citizens,” he said. “It is also a welcome notion that USAID has arduously worked with the HEC and 30 partner universities to create opportunities for the female students to propel their journey towards higher education.”
In addition, two female scholarship recipients shared the challenges they faced in attaining higher education and discussed how the MNBSP scholarship transformed their lives. They emphasised that positive changes in society could only happen by investing in female education, and that empowered, educated women are critical to ensuring a bright future for Pakistan.
The USAID-funded Merit and Need-Based Scholarship Programme is consistent with the HEC’s objectives to support financially deserving meritorious students, improve access to quality education, and encourage academic interest in fields vital to Pakistan’s economic development. Since 2004, USAID has awarded more than 4,900 scholarships in the fields of agriculture sciences, business administration, engineering, medicine, and social sciences to young people living in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan.