A recent study has revealed that University College London (UCL) generated GBP9.9 billion of economic impact across the UK in 2018/19. This is equal to the trade boost delivered by the 2012 London Olympics.
For every GBP1 million publicly invested in research, UCL produced a benefit of GBP11.5 million. According to the UCL management, this could only be achieved in collaboration with the varsity’s partners as 77 per cent of UCL’s academic partners are based outside London.
Nothing exists in a vacuum, and higher education is no exception. This stands true for the tertiary education sector in Pakistan.
While the sector is growing fast – with more than 230 universities across Pakistan – the challenges of equitable access, quality and relevance continue to remind us of the potential this sector could possibly unleash and contribute back to society and the economy. A well-connected higher education sector is able to co-create, curate and cross-pollinate ideas, knowledge, experience, skills and learning across multiple platforms, and hence it is breathing, alive and always open for new interventions.
The Pakistan-UK Education Gateway is one example of such a comprehensive and dynamic strategic partnership between Pakistan’s and the UK’s higher education sectors. This partnership involves connections and collaborations in research, teaching and capacity building at the system-to-system and institution-to-institution levels, facilitated by a sector-to-sector agreement. The Gateway is meant to be an effective vehicle for developing human resource, knowledge and skills capital in Pakistan through mutual learning.
The key areas of collaboration under the Gateway’s umbrella framework are: research, faculty development, higher education leadership, quality assurance and standard setting, international mobility, distance learning, STEM, and transnational education.
Through collaborative programmes in the last 15 years, over 165 institutional links around teaching, research, mentoring and science have been developed, involving over 1,500 senior researchers and 1,000 academics from both countries contributing to sustainable development goals and institutional capacity building. As part of the mentoring, leadership and governance programmes, over 99 per cent of all VCs, rectors and senior higher education leaders have received training in the UK since 2010.
At the moment, eight large-scale research projects between the UK and Pakistan, worth around GBP3 million are active in contributing to local challenges in the areas of climate change, robotics, artificial intelligence, history and archaeology, medical and health sciences, food security and agriculture.
In July 2020, a new and practical policy around open and distance learning was developed in response to Covid-19. The policy is being implemented across Pakistan, reaching out to a minimum of two million students. The blended learning models and criteria developed through the Pakistan-UK Education Gateway is helping higher education institutions in Pakistan to tailor their offers meeting the needs of learners and students. The programme has also helped develop a new guide on transnational education (TNE), which will enable international education providers to offer programmes of international quality in Pakistani universities.
During the past two years of the Gateway, 21 travel and exploratory grants have enabled over 50 faculty members to explore further partnerships. More than 60 researchers have won travel grants from Pakistan to develop their research linkages under different travel grants programmes while over 1,500 researchers have been trained in developing sustainable research networks.
Mumraiz Khan Kasi, for instance, from the Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences is all set to collaborate with researchers in the University of Glasgow to design a wireless sensor network (WSN) based solution to combat deforestation in Pakistan. Similarly, Muhammad Mubasher Saleem from NUST will be furthering the development of nanomaterials based tactile sensors for tele-manipulation in robotic surgery in collaboration with a researcher in the University of Edinburgh. These are just some of the numerous exciting examples of the ongoing work under the Gateway.
Addressing long-debated issues around quality, the Quality Assurance Agency of the UK is closely working with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to help establish quality mechanisms, benefitting around 50,000 faculty members for the higher education sector of Pakistan.
To ensure opportunities for women to continue with their studies, the Scottish Scholarship scheme has facilitated over 400 women, in their masters’ study, all across Pakistan, in priority fields such as education, sustainable energy, food security and agriculture, health sciences and STEM education.
Despite all this, the aspirations of the Gateway are higher and bigger as it aims to contribute to a better learning landscape and ecosystem for young people who aspire and deserve to learn and contribute for a safe and brighter world for everyone.
While these numbers reflect huge efforts of the partners, these also remind us of the overwhelming scale that requires collective and consistent efforts at many levels.
I recall Sir Chris Husbands, the former vice chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University demanding “uniformity of outcomes” to cope 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 to nurture and grow and realise its true potential.
The writer is director education at the British Council, Pakistan.
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