Nobel’s peace prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, was part of a distinguished panel discussion on Building Higher Education Institutions for the 21st Century which was organized by the Oxford Pakistan Program (OPP) and the Syed Ahsan and Syed Maratib Ali School of Education (SOE) at LUMS, the panel engaged a packed audience in discussing both challenges and opportunities.

Dr Talha Jamal Pirzada introduced the panel and said, “One of the core aims of the OPP is to increase Pakistani representation at Oxford, and also bring Oxford to Pakistan, and this discussion is a humble effort to do just that.” Much of the discussion focused on access to quality education.

Malala Yousafzai strongly advocated for greater access, particularly for female students. “The future for girls in Pakistan relies on the quality of education they receive. The biggest inspiration for girls is seeing women progressing in their professional careers. Their success stories inspire them.”

Joining Malala was LUMS Founding Pro Chancellor and visionary, Syed Babar Ali; Prof Stephen Blyth, Principal, Lady Margaret Hall and Dr Nick Brown, Principal, Linacre College from the University of Oxford (OX); and Dr. Faisal Bari, Dean SOE. The panel discussion was moderated by Prof Dr Adeel Malik, University of Oxford, and co-founder of OPP.

Dr Arshad Ahmad, Vice-Chancellor LUMS, emphasized the role of exceptional learning in addressing grand challenges facing Pakistan and shared how the University’s Learning Without Borders perspective has led to a number of national high-impact interventions. “At the heart of Learning Without Borders are systems designed to put learning first in not only governance and decision making, but also in LUMS shared ethos.” He added, “Three indicators of exceptional learning and its impact can be seen in addressing issues about access, relevance and collaboration, all of which are grounded in LUMS values”.

Sharing his experiences from Oxford, Prof Blyth said, “Oxford and Lady Margaret Hall have done tremendous work to reduce barriers so that education is accessible to the most talented scholars regardless of their background.” Dr Brown shared that Pakistani students are the least well-represented at Oxford, and OPP created by Pakistani academics aims to try and solve this problem. He added, “At Oxford, the debate has two pillars – access to quality education which is a basic human right, and access to talent.” Dr Bari shared his views on the importance of infusing quality in education. “The challenge is not only to improve access to higher education in terms of statistics but by providing good quality education to yield the intended results.”

The discussion paved the way for a question-and-answer session during which the audience expressed their concerns about the higher education system in Pakistan and made suggestions for its improvement. The event concluded with remarks from Syed Babar Ali, “My hope is that universities including LUMS will produce future leaders, who are tolerant, liberal, open-minded and respect merit, and will think about Pakistan first and provide educational opportunities for all.”

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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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