Collaboration between Pakistan and Italy in the higher education sector can result in massive benefits for both sides, Ambassador of Italy to Pakistan Stefano Pontecorvo said on Thursday.

Pontecorvo was part of an Italian academic delegation that visited the Higher Education Commission office in Islamabad and held discussions with the commssion’s top brass and several vice chancellors of public and private universities. HEC Chariman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, Dr Arshad Ali, HEC Consultant Dr Mahmoodul Hassan Butt and HEC Administration and Coordination Director General Awais Ahmad were also in attendance.

The Italian ambassador said his country accorded high importance to its relations with Pakistan and there was a vast room for improvement in the bilateral relations. Pontecorvo added that the people of both countries understood each other well.

Other members of the Italian delegation included Unit for Internationalisation, Italian Ministry of Education Head Professor Federico Cinquenplami, Rector for Cooperation Delegate La Sapienza Prof Carlo Giovanni Cereti, Universita IUAV di Venezia Political Economy and Economic Policy Associate Professor Ms Margherita Turvani, Politecnico Di Milano Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director Prof Alberto Guadagnini and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice Department of Studies on Asia and Mediterranean Africa Director Prof Dr Marco Ceresa.

Addressing the delegates, the HEC chairman said the commission had been actively promoting higher education in Pakistan since its inception in 2002. Dr Mukhtar said HEC initially focused on ensuring equitable access to quality higher education as well as relevance of research to indigenous needs. He said the number of universities in Pakistan in 2002 was 59, which had now soared to 188 public and private sector universities combined. The chairman said Pakistani scholars had produced a mere 800 research publications before HEC came into being, but the number of publications had now risen to 12,000 a year. Dr Mukhtar said HEC valued foreign collaborations and it had reached various agreements with foreign countries for academic initiatives that had proven mutually beneficial.

The conference deliberated on bilateral collaboration between Pakistani and Italian higher education institutions. The two sides agreed to expand mutual collaboration through joint research projects, award of scholarships, student mobility and faculty exchange programme.

Prof Carlo Giovanni Cereti said Italy had a long tradition of education, adding that several prestigious rankings rated La Sapienza at the forefront of the Italian academic landscape for the quality of its research and teaching. The professor said Italy was contemplating converting its higher education teaching into English to attract more foreign students.

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