The Oxford Pakistan Program (OPP) organized a week-long visit of a high-level delegation from the University of Oxford to all across Pakistan. The delegation also called upon the President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi during their visit.

From the University of Oxford, three senior officials accompanied the OPP team, Professor Stephen Blyth (Principal of Lady Margaret Hall), Dr Nick Brown (Principal of Linacre College) and Richard Hunt (Development Director at Lady Margaret Hall).

The OPP is led by Prof Adeel Malik (Associate Professor of Development Economics at Oxford), Dr Talha J Pirzada (Lecturer in Material Science & Junior Research Fellow at Oxford), Haroon Zaman (Lawyer at Travers Smith LLP), Minahil Saqib (Associate Director at Barclays), Mohsin Javed (Vice President at BlackRock) and Ahmed Owais Pirzada (Country Head of the OPP).

The OPP is the first initiative of its kind through which a concerted effort is being made to support a long-term presence for Pakistan-related activities at the University of Oxford.

The OPP has three core objectives; to address the underrepresentation of Pakistani origin students at Oxford; to raise the academic profile of Pakistan and Pakistan-related areas of interest amongst Oxford’s faculty; and to promote the global connectivity of Pakistani academic institutions by promoting faculty exchange between them and Oxford. The OPP is anchored at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and its supporters include Syed Babar Ali, Malala Fund, the World Bank and the British Council.

The OPP delegation had an engaging meeting with the President of Pakistan Mr Arif Alvi. The President commended the efforts of the OPP in increasing focus on Pakistan-related activities at Oxford University and described the OPP as a valuable investment in the most talented Pakistani students. The President also discussed developmental challenges facing Pakistan and how Pakistan can leverage the expertise of Oxford University in tackling the devastating impact that climate change is having on its people and its agricultural economy.

The OPP team met with a joint delegation from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the Ministry of Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT). Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain, Chairman of the HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmed and Secretary of the Ministry Mr Aamir Ashraf Khawaja agreed to create a dedicated window for joint activities with the University of Oxford. Under this arrangement, funding secured by the OPP would be matched by the government to double the impact of the OPP in its delivery of scholarships and research grants to students.

The OPP team also met with the Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiatives, Ahsan Iqbal, to discuss joint scholarship opportunities for Pakistani students at Oxford. Ahsan Iqbal praised the efforts of the OPP team in highlighting the importance of Pakistan at Oxford and reiterated his commitment to further broaden the scope and cooperation of the government with the OPP. The Minister highlighted that the OPP could help talented Pakistani students to “crack the code” for securing admission at the world’s best universities, such as Oxford University. He also directed the members of the Planning Commission, three of whom are former Oxford researchers, to partner with the OPP and explore possibilities for a joint scholarship scheme as well as wide-ranging collaboration on research projects.

In Lahore, the Oxford delegation met with former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Zaman Park and briefed him about various initiatives under the OPP umbrella to generate opportunities for Pakistani youth. The former Prime Minister appreciated the initiative, as well as offering his advice and support on fundraising from private donors. The following day, a high-profile panel discussion was held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Arranged in partnership between the LUMS School of Education and the OPP, the panel discussion revolved around the topic of “Building higher education institutions for the 21st Century” and the panel included Syed Babar Ali, Nobel Laureate Ms Malala Yousafzai, Professor Stephen Blyth, Dr Nick Brown and Professor Faisal Bari. Malala Yousafzai, who travelled to Pakistan to attend the OPP events, highlighted the importance of enhancing access to education in Pakistan, particularly for female students, as well as the need for female role models to inspire the next generation of girls in professional careers.

Later, the Oxford delegation was given a tour of the Walled City in Lahore, organized by Mr Kamran Lashari, Chairman of the Walled City Authority (WCLA) and Mr Osman Waheed, CEO of Ferozsons Laboratories.

The Oxford University delegation was hugely impressed with their Pakistan visit and expressed their strong resolve to address Pakistan’s underrepresentation in Oxford, one of the world’s premier seats of learning. They highlighted that, given its immense importance and potential, Pakistan deserves a seat on the academic high table in western universities. The evening concluded with a spell-binding musical performance by Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Oxford last year.

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Arsalan Haider is a reporter at Academia Mag and has worked with leading national dailies and news channels. He tweets @arsalanhaider14

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