Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT) Rana Tanveer Hussain visited Higher Education Commission (HEC) Secretariat here on Wednesday. Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmed briefed the Minister on Commission’s performance during the last 20 years, different challenges faced by country’s higher education sector as well as steps being taken to improve the quality of higher education. The meeting was attended by HEC’s senior management.

The briefing included an overview of HEC’s performance since its establishment in 2002, especially in the areas of academia-industry linkages, improving the quality of education and research, enhancing access to higher education, encouraging diverse population to pursue higher studies, increasing female enrolment in higher learning institutions across all disciplines as well as financial challenges that have hampered the proper growth of higher education sector as per international standards.

The Minister acknowledged the fiscal pressure that HEC is facing and appreciated its performance despite all kinds of challenges. “We are here to support you. Education is one of our top priorities and I will make sure that the higher education sector does not suffer because of financial constraints.”

The Minister, however, emphasized introducing more stringent steps to ensure quality at all levels of higher education. He said that the institutions of higher learning should be regularly monitored and any institution that violates the quality parameters should be strictly advised to fulfill all basic requirements.

He said that the future funding must be linked to the performance of universities, and the universities should be advised to enhance quality of their teaching and research. “Our higher learning institutions must focus on enhancing skills of students and special measures should be taken to impart technical education as per latest industry trends.”

The Chairman informed the Minister that “since its inception, HEC has not only helped increase the number of higher education institutions to 249 but has also put in serious effort to ensure quality of education being imparted and increase volume and quality of research in Pakistan. Our universities are now technologically equipped as per the modern standards and Pakistan is emerging as a rising star in Asia”.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmed also elaborated scholarships projects HEC has been offering to make education accessible for students, particularly those from far-flung and less privileged areas. He also highlighted the international scholarship opportunities provided by HEC that enable Pakistani students to pursue higher studies in best universities of the world.

“Over 40% of the government’s total investment in higher education sector has been on human resource development and we have maintained the most transparent and cautious approach for selection of students. We have allocated funds for need-based scholarships in recurring budget for universities so no student who has made it to a university on merit has to discontinue studies due to financial constraints. As a result of all these initiatives, one of country’s recent achievements is that Pakistan won the greatest number of Erasmus+ Scholarships while India remained on the second number,” the Chairman added.

“We have also taken a number of steps to promote innovation and entrepreneurship among faculty and students, and a big funding is being provided to Pakistani startups so that our economy can prosper, and we ensure to contain the shinning talent within the country.”

Talking about the challenges faced by the higher education sector, the Chairman said, “Though we understand the financial challenges that our country is facing, still we request the Government to keep the higher education sector among topmost priorities while disbursing the funds.”

The briefing was attended by the Executive Director HEC Dr Shaista Sohail, Advisor Quality Assurance and Global Engagement Mr Awais Ahmed, Advisor Academics, Accreditation and NAHE Engr Raza Chohan, Advisor Planning, Development and Finance Dr Muhammad Mazhar Saeed and Director General Human Resource Management Ms Aayesha Ikram, DG Quality Assurance Mr Nasir Shah and Director IT Mr Naveed Tahir.

Related: MoFEPT purposes students, faculty exchange program with Oxford Pakistan

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Arshad Yousafzai is a Karachi-based journalist covering Education and Human Rights. He can be reached on Twitter @Arshadyousafzay

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