Universities must focus on enhancing the quality of education and research in addition to increasing enrolments and publications, President Arif Alvi said on Wednesday. He was addressing the inaugural ceremony of the first-ever International Conference on Quality Assurance System, Standards and Policies: Issues and Challenges in Islamabad.

The conference is a joint effort of Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan and the United States Education Foundation Programme (USEFP).

In his address, Alvi said while education must focus on developing human intellect, “it should also try to ensure that it is relevant to needs of the society”.

He urged the universities to improve the curriculum and bring it in accordance with social as well as psychological needs of students. “Education must be a pleasure, which should not keep the students under a perpetual stress of achievement,” he added.

The president said that while education sector had seen remarkable infrastructural development in recent years, “a majority of parents want improvement in quality of education”.

He said quality improvement was a continuous learning process for individuals as well as institutions. “Let us identify our problems, reach solutions to them, and improve our ability to implement that solution within a specific timeline,” he said.

Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood said the government was committed to investing in education and it was a priority to develop a uniform education system across the country.

He lamented that Pakistan was declining in the Learning Poverty Index, adding that quality had become a challenge with the expansion of access to education. Mahmood said the government had launched the Kamyab Jawan Programme to promote start-ups and incubation activities. He maintained that 50,000 undergraduate scholarships per year had been announced under the Prime Minister Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship Programme.

He also praised the US Government in promotion of higher education in the country, adding that USEFP initiatives to promote higher education in Pakistan would deepen bilateral collaboration.

HEC Chairman Tariq Banuri said the conference’s themes corresponded with HEC’s reform agenda. “The goal of this conference is to start a national conversation about quality,” Banuri said, adding “quality is not a destination, it is a journey”.

In his remarks, US Ambassador Paul Jones said the US was proud of its educational linkages with Pakistan. “I have been in diplomacy for over three decades and have not seen more effective partner in education than HEC.” The ambassador said the US had recently entered into 23 partnerships with Pakistani institutions, adding that 100 Pakistanis had been sent to the United States under the US-Pakistan Academic and Cultural Exchange Programme.

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