Islamabad: The Higher Education Development in Pakistan (HEDP) project held its third Steering Committee (SC) meeting at the HEC office in Islamabad. Presided by the Executive Director HEC, Dr Shaista Sohail, the meeting was attended by key SC members from all provinces. The committee consists of senior officials from key federal ministries and provincial departments of higher education, Vice-Chancellors of universities from across Pakistan, and industrial representative.
HEDP is a five-year project (2019/20 – 2023/24) being implemented by HEC to expand upon its key higher education priorities. It aims to support research excellence in strategic sectors of the economy, improve teaching and learning, and strengthen governance in higher education. The project comprises five key components which include improving and expanding research grants, roll out of the new undergraduate education policy, extending Pakistan Education & Research Network (PERN) to universities and affiliated colleges, Higher Education Management Information Systems and Data Repository, and establishment/strengthening of National Academy of Higher Education – NAHE.
Project Coordinator, Ms Maryam Riaz gave an overview of the project, its restructuring and plans. The restructuring focuses on the changes necessary due to the circumstances higher education faces due to COVID. Extensive use of the latest technology in higher education is a key element of restructuring. The new technology initiatives include state of an art Learning Management System to help improve the quality of online learning and make it accessible even in the remote areas of Pakistan.
Blockchain technology will be implemented to ease the process of degree verification and attention thus saving the students money and time it takes to get degrees attested. It will help address and eradicate the issue of fake degrees. The latest Enterprise Resource Planning system including Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence will be deployed at HEC to improve the efficiencies of the organization. A central data warehouse linked to a powerful Business Intelligence platform will provide reports and insights to senior decision-makers in higher education thus supporting evidence-based policy and planning.
The research grants offered under the HEDP project during the year 2020 covered sectors where there is a dire need for research to find practical solutions to issues Pakistan faces. For example, a grant award under the Grand Challenge fund was awarded to a research proposal in the Food Security sector and will focus on making vaccines for animals to save their lives from ticks. Another grant focuses on finding the solution to the locust issue and saving crops from locust attack. Rapid Research Grants covered issues related to COVID.
Participants also discussed the new undergraduate education policy which has been rolled out nationwide. Dr Syed Zulfiqar Gilani informed the SC of the new distance and online learning policy and distance/online quality assurance framework. HEC has implemented its own MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) which will be soon opened to faculty members across Pakistan and they will be able to use it for developing their courses. Rector NAHE, Dr Shaheen Sardar briefed the members on the faculty and HEC employees’ training conducted over the last six months. NAHE also focused on training teachers on how to deliver courses online and use online learning management systems. NAHE is moving towards self-reliance and has generated significant funds through conducting some specialized training.
HEC provides internet and WIFI services to faculty and staff. This network has further expanded to remote universities and affiliated colleges.
Committee members were informed that despite the hurdles faced due to COVID the project is still on track and a successful World Bank mission has recently concluded.
SC appreciated the efforts of the HEDP team and offered their support and cooperation to resolve any challenges faced by the project team. The committee members expressed their interest to be more involved with the project and have frequent meetings. The meeting ended with a vote of thanks from the Executive Director (HEC).